by Franz W. Kaiser

Karel Appel is born in 1921 in a modest neighborhood of Amsterdam as the son of a hairdresser. For his 15th birthday, his uncle, an amateur painter, gives him a box of oil paints and an easel. The uncle instructs him in the first steps, but soon refers him to his own instructor, who teaches Appel the craft.

Under the German occupation, Appel applies to study art at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam – not only because he wants to become an artist, but also because the certificate of enrolment saves him from being drafted into labor service. His first application fails, but in 1942 he is accepted. At the academy he meets his future Cobra companion Corneille. However, the protection of the art student status ends two years later. Soon, Appel is suspected of providing shelter to fugitives from the labor service. He has to go into hiding, escapes Amsterdam and disappears into the hinterland for the rest of the occupation.

After the end of the war, back in Amsterdam, Appel lives for several years without a permanent address – poverty and hunger are everyday companions. He discovers a portfolio featuring five post-cubists, published in Paris in 1943, one of them being Édouard Pignon. Pignon, a close friend of Picasso, then becomes Appel’s first contact in Paris in the autumn of 1947, when he visits him there with Corneille. Appel and Corneille meet Constant after their return to Amsterdam. Constant has encountered the Danish artist Asger Jorn in Paris in 1946, and Jorn in turn knows the Belgian poet Christian Dotremont, founder, in 1947, of the Surréalisme Révolutionnaire, an essentially literary avantgarde opposing André Breton’s somewhat petrified postwar Surrealism.

After forming, in the summer of 1948, the short-lived Dutch avant-garde group Experimentele Groep Holland, Constant, Corneille and Appel travel to Brussels to meet Dotremont and Jorn. From there, they all travel on to Paris for a conference on avant-garde art initiated by the poet. After disagreements with the French contingent, the five companions leave the conference, together with the Belgian poet Joseph Noiret, and found Cobra at the Café Le Notre Dame on 8 November 1948.

Later that same year, Jorn invites the three Dutchmen to the annual exhibition of the Danish avant-garde group Høst in Copenhagen. There, at the beginning of March 1949, the first issue of the Cobra magazine is published. At the end of the same month, the second one is published in Brussels. Eight issues will be published from 1949 to 1951 in various places; several exhibitions of different formats and very different compositions take place during these years in the four countries, the most important of which are the large Cobra exhibition in 1949 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and two years later the last Cobra exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège. After that, Cobra is officially disbanded.

In the autumn of 1950, Appel leaves the Netherlands for good and moves to Paris, where he visits an exhibition of drawings by mentally ill patients at the Hôpital Ste. Anne. Through drawing, he appropriates what he sees there for his own practice. He assembles his drawings in his Psychopathological Notebook and this primary imagery leaves a lasting impression on his pictorial language.

Constant and Jorn, who have also moved to Paris, leave again in 1951. Corneille and Appel stay. Appel makes his international breakthrough from there. He soon meets the French art critic, dealer, and exhibition organizer Michel Tapié, who has coined such epochal terms as ‘Informel’ or ‘Art autre’. He includes Appel in his exhibitions and publications and brings him into contact with international collectors, museum directors and with the New York gallerist Martha Jackson. Appel’s first exhibition at her gallery takes place in 1954. On the occasion of his third exhibition there in 1957, he crosses the ocean for the first time. From then on, he spends about half of his time in New York. However, his official residence remains in Paris until 1976.

Appel’s international breakthrough takes place while the status of the modern art capital shifts from Paris to New York. He moves in circles of both the Nouvelle École de Paris and the New York School yet is about ten years younger than most of the artists associated with them. From New York, he brings back the principle of action painting, painting on huge canvas formats unusual in Europe. This leads to spectacular implementations such as the monumental painting for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Appel also takes up rather more classical themes, such as the portrait, the nude, the landscape, which do not have much to do with Cobra or with action painting – they are painted, however, in his very own style. Never purely figurative, nor quite abstract, throughout his long career, he consistently moves back and forth between these two poles.

Another principle that he consistently maintains is experimentation. This principle once brought the Cobra artists together, and Appel early on recognizes that sticking to one’s own comfort zone inevitably leads to formalism and repetition. He consciously exposes himself again and again to the unknown. This can be a new material or a new method, but also the style of a current avant-garde, of which he takes up individual aspects and integrates them within his characteristic way of working.

In the 1960s, as painting is increasingly considered as outdated, Appel discovers usable aspects in the poster-like flat aesthetics of Pop Art, derived from advertising, to which he applies Cobra themes, picking them up for this purpose after a gap of more than a decade. He implements this in monumental reliefs, sculptures, and lithographs.

When around 1980 painting returns again, Appel’s focus shifts back to what he essentially is: a thoroughbred painter. In his late work, the nude and the landscape dominate again. His frequent excursions into the three-dimensional realm, in what is called ‘object paintings’ because of their essentially painterly approach, are now composed of debris and whole figures that he has found in studios for carnival parades, at flea markets or at household dissolutions, which is why they gain a completely new allure. Appel calls these assemblages ‘hybrids’.

In the last two decades of his life, the artist constantly moves between studios in New York, Darien in Connecticut, Monaco and Tuscany.

Karel Appel dies on 3 May 2006 in Zürich. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


by Franz W. Kaiser

The rapid development of large industries based on new technologies, standardization, and the rationalization of production processes increases prosperity. The new and exciting metropolis of Berlin competes with Paris as the capital of avant-garde culture. The Surrealist Manifesto (1924) is published in Paris by André Breton, introducing the notion of the unconscious as a source of inspiration.


Christiaan Karel Appel is born at 7 Dapperstraat, Amsterdam, on 25 April. He is the second of four sons born to Jan Appel and his wife Jo (born Chevalier, descended from a French Huguenot family). Jan Appel runs a barber shop in one of the city’s busy residential neighborhoods.

Three years after the end of World War I large parts of southern Belgium and northern France remain devastated. The Netherlands, having remained neutral, is not affected as severely as the surrounding countries.
In European art the reaction to the war is predominantly a “retour à lordre”, meaning a return to traditional craftsmanship and figuration. Avant-garde movements founded during World War I in neutral countries, such as Dada in Zurich in 1916 and de Stijl in the Netherlands in 1917, spread throughout Europe, but have comparatively little influence.


Appel works as an apprentice in his father’s barber shop. His mother’s eldest brother Karel Chevalier, a notable amateur painter, gives him a box of oil paints and an easel for his fifteenth birthday. Appel receives painting lessons from his uncle; they explore and draw the surroundings of Amsterdam. Upon realizing that he has taught his nephew all he knows, Chevalier takes Appel to his own instructor, Jozef Verheijen, who teaches the teenager his craft. Appel makes his first, somewhat isolated sculpture in 1936.

The world economic crisis occurs in 1929. In Germany this period is followed by Hitlers rise to power in 1933, characterized by the persecution of political enemies, Jewish people (Reichskristallnacht, 1938), avant-garde art (cf. the “degenerate” art exhibition, Entartete Kunst, 193741), and fringe groups.
At the World
s Fair in Paris (1937), the monumental pavilions of Germany and the Soviet Union face one another; the pavilion of the Spanish Republic shows Pablo Picassos Guernica and works by Alexander Calder and Julio González. Asger Jorn, who studied with Fernand Léger in Paris, assists Le Corbusier with the decoration of the Pavillon de lEsprit Nouveau (Pavilion of the New Spirit).


The Høst (Harvest) avant-garde group is established in Denmark. The group uses annual exhibitions to promote art inspired by Paul Klee and children’s drawings. Willem Sandberg joins the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam as a curator. He organizes exhibitions of Abstract and Surrealist art, featuring artists such as Arp, Brancusi, Calder, Kandinsky, Klee, and Mondrian. The Robert Gallery in Amsterdam shows the International Exhibition of Surrealism.


Appel leaves his father’s barber shop and his family home and moves into his first studio at 42 Zwanenburgwal (today 72–82 Zwanenburgwal), the address of the anarchist Henk Eikeboom. A long period of precarious life begins.

Soviet-German non-aggression pact; Germany attacks Poland; World War II begins; the Red Army invades eastern Poland and attacks Finland.


Appel attempts to gain admission to the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam (Royal Academy of Fine Arts). This is not only because he wants to become an artist, but also because the certificate of admission is respected by the Germans and would protect Appel from forced labor. He fails his first entrance examination in 1941 and continues portrait lessons with Verheijen, traveling all over the Netherlands to draw landscapes and to earn some money with portraits of farmers.

Germany occupies Denmark and Norway, and invades the Netherlands and Belgium, then France. The Armistice of 22 June 1940, signed at Compiègne, divides France into an occupied and an unoccupied zone. Germany declares war on and attacks the USSR in mid-1941.
Jorn, who returned to Denmark because of the war, starts the avant-garde magazine Helhesten (The Hell-Horse). The first issue begins with a commemorative article about the late Paul Klee.


Gains admission to the Rijksakademie upon his second try in June 1942, where he meets Guillaume Cornelis van Beverloo, better known as Corneille. They start a friendship that will last for about nine years during which time they discover modern art together. Corneille introduces Appel to modern Dutch poetry. Appel spends a lot of time in the academy’s library, where he reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror), the latter being an important reference for Surrealism. His favorite book is Multatuli’s Max Havelaar (1860).

The German campaign in Russia is successful at first but then comes to a halt in Stalingrad (now Volgograd). With the surrender of General Paulus in early 1943, the countries fortunes begin to change.
Official inauguration of the Musée National d
Art Moderne in Paris (National Museum of Modern Art) in the west wing of the Palais des Musées dArt Moderne (known today as the Palais de Tokyo) on 6 August 1942. German authorities in Paris shut down a Kandinsky exhibition at Galerie Jeanne Bucher. Most Parisian galleries of modern art refrain from exhibiting international modern art. An exhibition of works by Arno Breker, Hitlers favorite sculptor, is staged at the Musée de lOrangerie. In the Netherlands, information about the rest of the world and contemporary art remains scarce due to the war and the occupation.


The relative protection granted by Appel’s status as a student ends. Appel is suspected of sheltering individuals trying to escape forced labor and is placed under police surveillance. Late in the summer of 1944, Corneille and Appel go into hiding on a boat on the River Vecht (near Utrecht). Two months later, they return to Amsterdam. Shortly afterwards, Appel disappears into the countryside. Even Corneille loses contact with him.

Western Allies land in Normandy in June; Paris is liberated in August. In autumn, Allied troops reach the southern border of the Netherlands. During the extremely cold winter that follows, Dutch cities are ravaged by famine.
In Paris, the Salon dAutomne celebrates liberation with a Picasso retrospective. Galleries showing modern art (Jeanne Bucher, LEsquisse) slowly start to operate again. The G.I. Bill established by the American government enables American artists who have served in the army to study in Paris. Among the artists who will take advantage of this are Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, Sam Francis, and Shinkichi Tajiri.


Appel returns to Amsterdam where he subsequently lives for years without a permanent address. He discovers the portfolio Cinq Peintres d’Aujourd’hui (Five Painters of Today), published in 1943 by Éditions du Chêne in Paris. It features the five post-Cubist painters Léon Gischia, Maurice Estève, Édouard Pignon, André Beaudin, and Francisco Borès, and leaves a lasting impression on him.

In February, the Yalta Conference takes place, in which Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill draw the new borders of Europe; capitulation of Germany on 8 May; founding of the United Nations in New York in October. In Algeria, pacifist demonstrations are violently shut down by the French colonial police.
Galerie Drouin organizes Art Concret, the first postwar overview of non-figurative painters in Paris, featuring among others Jean Arp, Robert Delaunay, César Domela, Vasily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Antoine Pevsner. The press highlights that many of these artists are foreigners.


Appel has a brief relationship with Truusje (surname unknown), who dies the same year. He and Corneille spend several months in Brussels, where they meet Marc Mendelson and Louis Van Lint, members of La Jeune Peinture Belge (Young Belgian Painters), a group founded in 1945. First solo exhibition at Het Beerenhuis, Groningen; participates with Constant, Eugène Brands, and Anton Rooskens in the exhibition Jonge Schilders (Young Painters) at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. It is probably there that he meets Willem Sandberg, who has been director of the museum since 1945. There, Appel sees the Matisse/Picasso exhibition that Sandberg has organized.

Despite heavy war damage, the Netherlands recovers quickly. The Fourth Republic in France (194658); French colonialism comes under pressure in Algeria and in Indochina; from Hanoi, Ho-Chi-Minh leads the first Vietnamese war of independence (194654).
Abstract art is exhibited across Paris as a symbol of freedom.
Artists who have fled the war return to Paris (including André Breton, Alberto Giacometti, Wifredo Lam, Jacques Lipchitz, among others). Younger artists also arrive: Jean-Paul Riopelle from Canada, Asger Jorn from Denmark, Constant from the Netherlands. The latter two meet at a Miró exhibition at Galerie Pierre in Paris. Willem Sandberg shows international and national modern art at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.


In autumn, Appel and Corneille take their first trip to Paris to visit the French painter Édouard Pignon, one of the five French painters Appel discovered in the portfolio two years earlier. As a result of his close friendship with Picasso, much of Pignon’s pictorial language is influenced by Picasso’s later style, addressing themes such as the condition of the working class and peasants, the horrors of war, and olive tree stumps, all of which appeal to Appel. Appel visits Galerie René Drouin, where he is impressed by Jean Dubuffet’s work. Dubuffet’s presentation of outsider art, Le Foyer de l’Art Brut (Home for Outsider Art), is simultaneously exhibited in the basement of the gallery. Back in Amsterdam Appel meets Tonie Sluyter, who will later become his first wife. Appel and Corneille discover the work of Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys, better known as Constant, at the Kunsthandel Santee Landweer N. V. Appel starts making reliefs and three-dimensional works from found objects (objets trouvés), while simultaneously modeling sculptures in the vein of his early sculptural experiment of 1936.

The Cold War begins; the USSR and the US define their spheres of influence, thereby dividing Europe into two blocks. Second official inauguration of the Musée National dArt Moderne, where for the first time French and foreign artists have works on display in the same galleries. Corneille spends four months in Budapest, where he meets the French painter Jacques Doucet, who has links to artists such as Joan Miró, Jean Dubuffet, and Jean-Michel Atlan, as well as to the Belgian-French avant-garde group Surréalistes révolutionnaires (Revolutionary Surrealists) which, established in April in Brussels by Christian Dotremont, quickly becomes international. Asger Jorn also comes into contact with the group.


Appel and Corneille meet Constant during the winter of 1947–48. In February, they present a joint exhibition at Kunsthandel Santee Landweer N. V. in Amsterdam. They visit the Paul Klee exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The designer and early collector of works by Dutch experimental artists, Martin Visser, who works at the De Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam, shows works by Appel, Corneille, Constant, and Wolvekamp in the store’s furniture department. In March, the exhibition Amsterdamse schilders van nu (Amsterdam Painters of Today) is held at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, featuring works by Appel, Corneille, and Jan Nieuwenhuys (Constant’s brother). Willem Sandberg buys Matrozenmeisje (Sailor’s Girl, 1946) for the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the first of Appel’s works to enter a museum collection. Appel, Constant, and Corneille are invited to Copenhagen by Jorn to participate in the annual Høst exhibition, Høstudstillingen (19 November to 5 December). When returning to Amsterdam, Appel travels by train through Germany, which is in ruins, and sees children begging for food at a station. This view adds a new perspective to his theme Vragende kinderen (Questioning Children).

The Berlin Blockade (194849) is the first major crisis of the Cold War. The Customs Union of the Benelux Union comes into effect. The Marshall Plan, a US initiative to help rebuild European economies after the war and to secure its economic interests in Europe, is launched (194852). Queen Juliana ascends the Dutch throne. Harsh Dutch police actions against local independence movements in Indonesia are stopped by UN pressure.
Constant makes plans to form an avant-garde group meant to link up with the French, Belgian, and Danish groups he is in contact with. Inspired by Marxism, he wants to break open art conventions so that a popular art can emerge. He draws up a manifesto which he reads aloud at a meeting on 16 July with Appel, Corneille, Nieuwenhuys, Rooskens, and Wolvecamp present. Some support it while others reject it. Notwithstanding serious disputes during the meeting, the Experimentele Groep Holland (Experimental Group Holland) is born. In September the first issue of its magazine,
Reflex, is published, and Constants manifesto is included. Constant introduces Appel and Corneille to Christian Dotremont in Brussels. In November the four are in Paris for an international conference of avant-garde art. Organized by the Revolutionary Surrealists, of which the Belgian and French chapters were drifting apart, the conference is meant to reunite the group. However, the opposite happens: Disagreeing with the French, Dotremont, Jorn, Appel, Constant, Corneille, along with the Belgian poet and painter Joseph Noiret, leave the meeting and gather in the Café Le Notre Dame, where Cobra is founded (8 November), albeit without an official name. The name “Cobra” is later proposed by Dotremont, writer of the foundation charter.


Martin Visser organizes a more extensive exhibition than the previous year at De Bijenkorf. Appel and Corneille return to Paris, where Jacques Doucet mounts an exhibition of their and Constant’s work at Galerie Colette Allendy. The catalogue text is written by Christian Dotremont. During their stay, Appel meets Michel Ragon, who will become the critic associated with the Cobra group. Very likely in that same year Appel met in Brussels the young Flemish poet and writer Hugo Claus, a crucial encounter for Appel’s later international breakthrough. The commission of a mural for the cafeteria of Amsterdam’s city hall (today Hotel The Grand), in which he elaborates on his theme of Vragende kinderen, causes controversy (see pp. 92, 93): following massive protests, the painting is covered with wallpaper. Appel participates in the creation of another site-specific wall painting in Jutland (Denmark) in collaboration with Constant and Corneille. The three artists entirely cover the interior of Erik Nyholm’s trout farm near Silkeborg (walls, ceilings, doors) with paintings. Appel contributes three paintings to the Salon de Mai in Paris. Inspired by six questions in its catalogue concerning the concepts of “time” and “space” in art, he writes a counter-manifesto to Constant’s, which is, however, not published.

Founding of NATO. Roundtable conference in The Hague: the founding of the United States of Indonesia within the Netherlands-Indonesian Union.

In February, the second and last issue of Reflex appears. In March the first issue of Cobras magazine, edited by Asger Jorn and Christian Dotremont, is published in Copenhagen. Cobra thus emerges as a fusion between the Danish Høst, the Revolutionary Surrealists and the Experimentele Groep Holland, uniting all quests for the universally human in twentieth century art: for the primitive, the unconscious, the child, the outsider. Later in that same month, the second issue of Cobra magazine is published by Dotremont in Brussels as the catalogue of the first Cobra exhibition in a small gallery, Le Séminaire des Arts, an annex to the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Pierre Alechinsky visits the exhibition and joins Cobra. In May, Constant returns to Copenhagen to show his work, as well as works by Appel and Corneille, at Galerie Birch. The first Cobra exhibition in a museum, the Exposition Internationale dArt Expérimental (International Exhibition of Experimental Art), is held at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, organized by Willem Sandberg and designed by the architect Aldo van Eyck. The fourth issue of Cobra magazine is published in Amsterdam as the exhibitions catalogue.


Aldo van Eyck publishes Een appèl aan de verbeelding (An Appeal to the Imagination), a brochure published by Experimentele Groep Holland/Cobra, in defense of the Vragende ­kinderen mural at the Amsterdam city hall. Appel moves to Paris in September and settles in the rue Santeuil. Shortly after his arrival, he visits an exhibition of psychopathological drawings, presented on the occasion of a psychiatric congress at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne. The accompanying brochure features descriptions of the patients’ pathologies but no illustrations. Appel covers the texts with drawings and collages, and he keeps this transformed brochure Psychopathological Art with him for the rest of his life (see pp. 66-71). He meets the Dutch writer Simon Vinkenoog, who has lived in Paris since 1948 and who will publish a book on their encounter in 1963. Through Hugo Claus’ girlfriend, Elly Overzier, he meets the French art critic and impressario Michel Tapié

On 26 June, the day after the North Korean army (supported by the USSR and China) invaded South Korea (supported by the US), the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) convenes intellectuals and artists from across the anti-communist West to Berlin. The aim of the gathering is to discuss and formulate an independent program for the defense of democratic values. After the conference, the CCF incorporates itself as a permanent organization based in Paris, sponsored by the CIA and directed by CIA operatives. For almost two decades, the CCF holds conferences on political and cultural matters, sponsors festivals, concerts, cultural magazines, and exhibitions of abstract artists. As an early and efficient tool of cultural diplomacy and soft power during the Cold War, it is primarily targeted at Western intellectuals leaning toward communism but, as a side effect, also facilitates the breakthrough of American avant-garde artists in Europe. Cobra settles in Paris — Constant with his son but without his wife, who has left him the year before in Copenhagen to be with Jorn. Michel Ragon becomes their main promoter, but conflicts arise between Cobra artists. The disintegration of the group starts soon after its arrival in Paris. Hugo Claus, too, arrives in Paris to join his Dutch girlfriend and later wife, Elly Overzier. For some time, their postal address is Rue Santeuil. Overzier wants to become an actress and a foto model and has met the fashion photographer Paul Facchetti, who uses his studio for avant-garde exhibitions with Michel Tapié as advisor.


The Amsterdam city council commissions Appel to paint another mural for the foyer of the Stedelijk Museum’s auditorium, known since as “Appel-bar.” For Appel, the main outcome of the dissolution of Cobra, for him, primarily means breaking with Corneille, the friend of his youth, as Appel had always been less close to Jorn and Constant.

In February, Michel Ragon organizes the first Cobra exhibition in Paris at the Librairie 73, Boulevard St. Michel, followed two months later by an exhibition at Galerie Pierre. In March, Michel Tapié organizes the first exhibition in France to juxtapose some of the most advanced American and European artists of the day at the Nina Dausset Gallery, entitled Véhémences confrontées (Confronted Vehemences). The Tweede Internationale Tentoonstelling van Experimentele Kunst (Second International Exhibition of Experimental Art) is held in the fall of that year at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège. The tenth and last issue of Cobra magazine is published as its catalogue. It is the last exhibition of Cobra as an avant-garde group. The Cobra style and ideas are continued by artists internationally, while its founders go their separate ways. Jorn, impoverished and seriously ill with tuberculosis, returns to Silkeborg, where he spends two years in a sanatorium—together with Dotremont.


Michel Tapié includes Appel in his manifesto exhibition at Studio Paul Facchetti, entitled Un Art Autre (art of another kind), as well as in his groundbreaking book of the same title. Appel is the only Cobra artist to be supported by Tapié. Through Tapié he is associated with artists like Georges Mathieu, Henri Michaux, Jean Fautrier, Étienne-Martin, Wols, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Sam Francis, Marc Tobey, and Jackson Pollock. The materiality of paint, or “de materie” (the matter) as Appel calls it, becomes a central issue in his painting. He applies paint directly from the tube, or thickens it with substances such as sand.

In Paris, protests against intensive bombing by US forces and using napalm on the civilian population in Korea are violently repressed.The Museum of Modern Art in New York, operating at a remove from the CIA but nevertheless linked to it in many ways, launches an export program of American art under the auspices of its International Program. Constant returns to Amsterdam and receives a scholarship to spend three months in London.


First important solo exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. James Johnson Sweeney, director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and a friend of Willem Sandberg, visits Appel’s studio, buys two paintings, and selects him for the exhibition Young European Painters at the Guggenheim Museum later that year.

Historic flooding catastrophe in the Netherlands; amnesty of former Vichy functionaries in France; increasing crises in colonial empires. In the Parisian art world, a dispute continues between “warm and cold”, i.e. between the two abstract currents: the geometric or analytical abstraction (represented by the Denise René Gallery) versus the lyrical or expressionist abstraction (represented by Lydia Conti, Nina Dausset, Paul Facchetti, and Rodolphe Stadler).


Tapié organizes a solo exhibition at Studio Paul Facchetti in Paris and recommends that Martha Jackson visit Appel’s studio. Jackson buys two paintings and some gouaches, starting a relationship that will last for seventeen years. Appel represents the Netherlands at the Twenty-Seventh Venice Biennale and wins the UNESCO award; participates in the exhibition Caratteri della pittura d’oggi (Markers of Painting Today) organized by Tapié at Galleria di Spazio in Rome; joins Jorn in Albisola, where Appel creates a series of sculptures and reliefs based on the theme of the human head; brief reunion with his Cobra friends at the international meeting, Incontro internazionale della ceramic (International Encounter of Ceramics), organized by Jorn; first exhibition in the United States at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.

France withdraws from Indochina. The Algerian independence movement Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) starts a series of attacks against the French army. This marks the beginning of a war of independence that will last until 1962. Having resumed work in ceramics, Asger Jorn travels to Albisola in Italy to work at the reputed ceramics workshop Fabbrica Mazzotti Giuseppe. He organizes the international meeting Incontro internazionale della ceramica. The Italian painters Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo, who have helped him settle in Albisola, organize exhibitions featuring Jorn, Appel, and Corneille at Libreria Aturo Schwarz (later Galleria Aturo Schwarz) in Milan and at the Triennale di Milano. Jorn meets Guy Debord and becomes involved in the Mouvement international pour un Bauhaus imaginiste, or MIBI (International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus), which could be considered an offshoot of Cobra.


The progressive Dutch architects J. H. van den Broek and Jaap Bakema commission Appel to paint a brick wall, one hundred meters long, in Rotterdam. “The Wall of Energy” is for the exhibition E 55 Manifestatie van Nederlands Energie (E 55 Manifestation of Dutch Energy). This is the first of a series of collaborations with architects through the 1960s and 1970s, resulting in some forty architecture-related works for private and public buildings. Such projects allow Appel to experiment with a wide variety of materials and techniques, like ceramic and marble tiles, glass in concrete reliefs and stained glass. In Rotterdam, Appel meets Machteld van der Groen, who will become his second wife and later a model at Balenciaga in Paris. In November he has his first solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Beginning of the Vietnam War between North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh (supported by the USSR and China) and South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem (supported by the United States). The war will continue until 1975.


Commission of a mural for the new restaurant of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (today an exhibition gallery). The sculptures and reliefs made in Albisola are shown at Galleria dell’Ariete in Milan.

Dissolution of the Netherlands-Indonesian Union; escalation of the Algerian War; Morocco and Tunisia become independent. Inspired by MIBI and several other European avant-garde groups, and in opposition to the functionalism of postwar architecture, Constant begins his utopian project New Babylon, striving for the ideal of a human being liberated through technology and automation from the obligation to make his or her living.


First trip to New York, traveling with Martha Jackson, where Appel meets Abstract Expressionist painters and the jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie (see p. 113), and Sarah Vaughan, whose portraits he paints in Sam Francis’s studio. He spends the summer in a house on Long Island, where he meets Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline; also meets Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art and Herbert Read, director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, who will become one of his principal supporters.

Treaties of Rome for European Economic Unity (EEU) and for the use of atomic energy (EURATOM). Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, is launched by the USSR—a blow for the US that triggers the space race. In Albisola, the Situationist International movement is founded under the leadership of Guy Debord, absorbing MIBI, among other groups. Jorn and Constant collaborate with it for several years.


Commissioned to paint the mural Rencontre du printemps (Encounter in Spring) for the restaurant of the UNESCO building in Paris (the mural has been installed in its Conference Forum since 2009).

Political crisis in France, end of the Fourth Republic and beginning of the Fifth, with Charles de Gaulle as President.
The first headquarters of UNESCO are inaugurated in Paris. Many commissions to decorate the building are issued to internationally renowned artists like Karel Appel, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, Roberto Matta, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, et cetera.


Father Jan Appel dies. Appel wins the International Award for Painting at the Fifth São Paulo Biennial; participates in documenta II in Kassel; commissioned to realize a mural in cloth for the exhibition Vitalità nell’Arte (Vitality in Art) at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.


Guggenheim International Award for his painting Vrouw en struisvogel (Woman and Ostrich, 1957, today in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam); spends the summers of 1960 and 1961 at the Abbaye de Roseland, the estate of his French dealer Jean Larcade (owner of Galerie Rive Droite) in the south of France, where he unearths the roots of burnt olive trees and paints on them (see pp. 170-173).

OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) is formed against the group of multinational companies dominating the international oil market. The war continues in Algeria. Intellectuals of the French political left refuse military service. The manifesto of the Nouveaux Réalistes is signed by Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Pierre Restany, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Jacques Villeglé.


Feature film by the Dutch film director Jan Vrijman, De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel (The Reality of Karel Appel), with music by Dizzy Gillespie and Karel Appel; first nude series, a highly classical theme in the history of painting.

Putsch in Algeria against the government in Paris, led by extreme right-wing officers in the French army; De Gaulle overcomes the crisis; the war ends in 1962 with the independence of Algeria. The Cuban missile crisis brings the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Sidney Janis, a New York gallery closely identified with Abstract Expressionism, shows The New Realists, a Pop Art exhibition. As a reaction to what they perceive as a slight, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell sever their business relations with the gallery.


New work with found objects including plastic toys is criticized as paying tribute to Pop Art, the most recent trend, which Appel denies. Instead, he claims it has been inspired by the Nouveaux Réalistes in Paris, whose international breakthrough he had witnessed first-hand. Beginning of Appel’s cooperation with Jan Nieuwenhuizen Segaar and his Nova Spectra Gallery in The Hague; collaboration with Hugo Claus on a large book of art entitled Love Song and published by Harry N. Abrams in New York.

John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth President of the United States, is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The French-German treaty of cooperation is signed.


Participates in documenta III in Kassel; the Swiss graphic designer, architect, and future art publisher Johannes Gachnang is impressed by the huge untitled quadriptych (270 by 680 centimeters) improvised by Appel because the selected work did not arrive in time. Appel acquires and renovates the Château de Molesmes, near Auxerre, in the Bourgogne. In London he meets Francis Bacon. Their common project to paint together never materializes.

Robert Rauschenberg is the first American artist to be awarded the Grand Prize in Painting at the Thirty-Second Venice Biennale, an event that has a huge impact on the Parisian art world. The exhibition Nieuwe Realisten (New Realists), curated by Wim Beeren at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, brings together artists later associated with either Pop Art or Minimal Art. Asger Jorn is awarded the Guggenheim Award, which he refuses to accept.


Travels with Sandberg to the inauguration of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, whose art garden is designed by Isamu Noguchi, his neighbor in New York, where he uses Richard Lindner’s studio. His first retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam shows Appel’s work up until this point in his career. The exhibition travels to Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland.

At the Jewish Museum, New York, Kynaston McShine curates Primary Structures in 1966, regarded as the first exhibition of Minimal Art.


Appel receives a Dutch royal award (Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau).

Serious political student protests, sometimes joined by workers, in the US, South America, Japan, Europe, among other regions. In France, General de Gaulle resigns.
Documenta IV marks the definite breakthrough of Pop Art. At the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Enno Develing curates Minimal Art, the first Minimal Art exhibition under this label. The show was intended to travel to Paris, but this is cancelled at the last minute because of the general strike. It travels to Düsseldorf and West Berlin instead.


Martha Jackson, Appel’s New York gallerist for seventeen years, dies unexpectedly; mother Jo Appel passes away a few months later.

NASA’s Apollo program is the first space mission to successfully land humans on the Moon.
Two seminal exhibitions open in March: When Attitudes Become Form, curated by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern, which travels to Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld and to the ICA in London, and Op losse schroeven, curated by Wim Beeren at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, which travels to the Folkwang Museum in Essen. Both feature more or less the same artists, emphasizing the conceptual nature of art.


Machteld dies.


Appel travels with Eveline van Limburg Stirum through South America and Mexico; music recordings with Chet Baker and Pharoah Sanders in San Francisco; rents a penthouse in New York on 69th Street, in the building where Richard Lindner lives and works. When Lindner leaves the building shortly afterwards, Appel rents his apartment and studio.


Spends several months in New York, where Appel discovers his painting Machteld (1962, see p. 126) at Sotheby’s. He buys the painting back at the auction. The Canadian tour of a retrospective starts in Montreal. Acquires a large studio cum apartment in a residential building in Paris at rue Marie Pape-Carpantier, near Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Roger Cardinal publishes his book Outsider Art, coining this term to replace Dubuffet’s Art Brut and making by that token the concept of artists outside the realm of official art accessible to the English-speaking public, implying that they are holders of an authentic truth.


The sixth venue in the Canadian tour is in Toronto, where Appel meets and befriends Marshall McLuhan, who teaches at Toronto University and whose groundbreaking book The Medium is the Message has greatly impressed him. Appel’s relationship with Eveline comes to an end. Meets Hennie Sutopo, the daughter of an Indonesian shipowner.

The Arab OPEC members react to the Yom Kippur War with an oil embargo, thus revealing the limits of fossil fuels.
Asger Jorn dies in Aarhus, Denmark, on 1 May.


Travels with his new girlfriend through Japan and Indonesia; continues alone through India and Nepal; has stomach surgery in New York; hires an apartment for Hennie Sutopo in Monte Carlo.

A shift of interest becomes noticeable in the American art world. Interest in art from abroad, particularly with an expressionist approach, has declined. Now Color Field Painting, Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art dominate the scene. Exhibition of Constant’s New Babylon project at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.


New apartment on 7th Avenue at 55th Street; Karel Appel’s exhibition at Aberbach Fine Art, New York, showing recent paintings, is reviewed negatively by the influential art critic Hilton Kramer; travels again with Hennie to Indonesia.

End of the Vietnam War; the United States is defeated.
Hilton Kramer writes a scathing review in The New York Times of the important Hans Hartung retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


Realizes a monumental aluminum sculpture for the University of Dijon; travels with Hennie to Lima; realizes wall murals with children of the shanty town Villa El Salvador, near Lima in Peru; in Amsterdam, meets Harriet de Visser; resumes contact with Pierre Alechinsky and starts collaborating with him on works created in Alechinsky’s studio in Bougival, France; also starts his Visage-Paysage series—thirteen paintings of the same format (200 x 200 centimeters), in which he tries a fusion between human physiognomy and landscape-like scenes.


After Appel’s separation from Hennie, Harriet moves into Rue Marie Pape-Carpantier. It is the beginning of his most enduring partnership. He sells the Château de Molesmes and moves his official residence from France to Monte Carlo. Using a flat brush, he starts working in a rather atypical, disciplined style of more controlled, short brushstrokes, which are rhythmically patterned across the canvas.

In Paris, inauguration of the Centre Pompidou, new site of the Musée National d’Art Moderne.


Jury member of the Festival du Film Fantastique in Avoriaz, France; continuation of collaboration with Alechinsky in Appel’s New York studio.


Harriet establishes an archive and sets up a more professional administration of Appel’s work. Annina Nosei introduces Appel’s new paintings to the Paris art dealer Daniel Templon.

Beginning of the Afghanistan War between the USSR and the religious and tribal mujahideen forces (supported by the US). It is the last proxy war of the Cold War. Margaret Thatcher is appointed British Prime Minister. She is the first woman in this position, and it marks the beginning of a long tenure characterized by extensive privatization.
Christian Dotremont dies on August 20 in Tervuren, Belgium.


Paintings in his new style are shown at Galerie Daniel Templon. As a result of this new style, Appel begins a series of window paintings, adding rigor by means of the structure of the window frame.


On the occasion of Appel’s sixtieth birthday, there is an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; this exhibition travels to Brazil, Portugal, and Spain.

Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as fortieth president of the United States, beginning a tenure that constitutes a realignment toward capitalist and right-wing policies.
After painting has been considered outdated for years, a new generation of programmatic painters—the Transavantguardia in Italy and the Heftige Malerei or Neue Wilde in Germany—make their breakthrough with exhibitions like A New Spirit in Painting in London or Bildwechsel (Change of Scene) in Berlin.


Exhibition of paintings from 1978–81 at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam; drawing retrospective at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, travels to Baden-Baden, Florence, Stockholm, Toulouse and Oslo (until 1987). A collaboration with the poet Allen Ginsberg leads to an exhibition at the Boulder Center for the Visual Arts in Boulder, Colorado. Appel travels to Grand Canyon National Park and to the Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona.

Important Cobra exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, traveling subsequently to Chalon-sur-Saône and to Rennes.


Appel buys a new studio cum apartment in a former ink factory on 18th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), where he is able to paint very large formats. He deposits a large part of his drawing collection at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.


Retrospective at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels; as a result of an exhibition at the gallery of Annina Nosei, who re­presents Jean-Michel Basquiat, Appel starts being recognized by younger painters and their critics as still active and moreover living in New York. He begins a series of larger-than-life-size nude drawings on paper, working with live models.


Meets Rudi Fuchs, director of both the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven and the Castello di Rivoli in Turin. Fuchs had been the director of documenta 7 (1982), through which painting had returned to center stage. First of a series of exhibitions at Marisa del Re Gallery, New York.

Mikhail Gorbachev, first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union born after the October Revolution, launches glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring), demokratizatsiya (democratization), and uskoreniye (acceleration of economic development) at the Twenty-Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.


Begins series of paintings and wooden sculptures using life-size and larger Polaroid photos and ropes; collaboration with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka and the Vietnamese composer Dao for the ballet Can We Dance a Landscape? at the Opéra Comique in Paris—later performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Next Wave Festival, New York, and at Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam. Fuchs includes Appel in a group exhibition of younger artists in the Dutch village of Acquoy and organizes, together with his friend Johannes Gachnang, the solo exhibition Karel Appel: Dipinti, Sculture e Collages (Karel Appel: Paintings, Sculptures and Collages) at Castello di Rivoli in Turin.


Travels with Harriet through northern China; publication of Michel Ragon’s Karel Appel: Peinture 1937–1957 (published in English as Karel Appel: The Early Years 1937–1957) by Éditions Galilée, Paris, describing Appel’s development from his early years to his involvement with Art Autre; buys the Villa Licia at Mercatale, near San Casciano in Tuscany.


Again introduces a new method by applying thick paint onto a monochrome (black or white), smooth and almost industrially perfect ground. This isolates and foregrounds his signature pictorial style (see pp. 153-155). Gabriele Wimmer of the Viennese Galerie Ulysses visits Appel’s studio in New York: the gallery will become his main representation. Buys a plot of land in Darien, Connecticut, where he builds a house.

Fall of the Berlin Wall. Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the Earth), the first exhibition to juxtapose the work of contemporary artists from Asian, African, and Latin American countries with works from the United States and Western Europe, is held at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, and at La Grande Halle de la Villette.


Retrospective exhibition Ik wou dat ik een vogel was (If I Were a Bird) at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; the exhibition later travels to Germany, Spain, and Austria. Part of the exhibition in The Hague is a spectacular installation at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam (the former stock exchange), featuring several monumental paintings that have been produced in the stage set studios of the Paris Opera plus six leadlight windows realized in 1963 for a bank building in Amsterdam. In connection with these exhibitions, preliminary talks are held in The Hague about establishing a Karel Appel Foundation.

Reunification of Germany.


The new house in Darien, Connecticut, becomes Appel’s third studio, in addition to his studios in New York and Mercatale. He creates different series, on which he works more or less simultaneously, that are distinct in their style depending on where each series is painted (compare pp. 153 to p. 155); collaborates with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso for his Poetry-Painting Series.Disintegration of the USSR; end of the Cold War.


After forty-two years, the Psychopathological Notebook is shown for the first time in the exhibition Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (see pp. 66-71). Appel visits studios specialized in fabricating props for carnival processions in Italy and selects props to use for large-scale assemblage sculptures.

Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, launched by George H. W. Bush, forty-first President of the United States, following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The Maastricht Treaty is signed, establishing the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) as a formal objective.


Exhibition of the new series of large sculptures at the Paleis Lange Voorhout in The Hague, entitled Singing Donkeys: Nieuwe Beelden van Karel Appel (Singing Donkeys: New Sculptures by Karel Appel).

The Maastricht Treaty comes into force.


Stage design for the opera Noach by the Dutch composer Guus Janssen based on a text by Friso Haverkamp, featuring new choreography by Min Tanaka, at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam; travelling exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, in Seoul, and at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan.


Stage design for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the Nederlandse Opera. Mat van Hensbergen makes a documentary about Appel entitled If I Were a Bird. First exhibition at Galerie Ulysses, Vienna.


Johannes Gachnang publishes Appel’s Psychopathological Notebook, making this crucial inspiration accessible to a wider public.

Sensation, an exhibition of the Charles Saatchi collection of Young British Artists, takes place in London at the Royal Academy of Arts and later tours to Berlin and New York. The National Gallery of Australia cancels its presentation of the exhibition, judging it “too close to the market”.


Travels to Norway and Denmark, where he visits the Museum Jorn in Silkeborg. Health issues with his hip prevent him from working; he undergoes hip surgery.


Receives a second Dutch royal decoration (Ridder der tweede graad Commandeur in de orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw). The Karel Appel Foundation is established as Stichting De Gebogen Lijn (Curved Line Foundation) in Amsterdam; acquires as its seat the former building of the Institiuut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs (National Institute for Art Education) in Amsterdam.

Creation of the eurozone and adoption of a common currency.
The exhibitions of Constant’s New Babylon at Witte de With in Rotterdam and at the Drawing Center in New York mark the discovery of this body of work, which so far has been acknowledged in the world of architecture rather than in the world of contemporary art.


Sells Villa Licia at Mercatale. The name of Stichting De Gebogen Lijn is changed to Karel Appel Stichting (Karel Appel Foundation); transfer of the copyright of all works created so far to the Karel Appel Foundation. A research group at Utrecht University under the direction of Jan van Adrichem initiates work on a catalogue raisonné. Karel Appel: De Biografie (The Biography) by Cathérine van Houts is presented at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Exhibition of recent sculptures and poems, Recente sculpturen & gedichten, at the S.M.A.K., Gent.


On the occasion of Appel’s eightieth birthday, three coordinated exhibitions are mounted in the Netherlands: Karel Appel: Pastorale Chiaroscuro, showing recent paintings at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Karel Appel: Werk op papier (Karel Appel: Works on Paper), presenting drawings at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and featuring the Psychopathological Notebook for the first time in a monographic exhibition; and Karel Appel: Beelden 1936–2000 (Karel Appel: Sculptures 1936–2000), showing sculptures at the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen. The monumental sculpture The Fountain is installed on the Sandberg Plein in front of the Cobra Museum. Another monumental sculpture Frog with Umbrella is installed in front of the new city hall of The Hague, designed by Richard Meyer. Appel receives the Zilveren Penning, a distinction as honorary citizen, from the city of Amsterdam.

January: George W. Bush is inaugurated as forty-third President of the United States; 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC by Al Qaeda extremists causing the US to declare a “war on terror,” invading Afghanistan the same year and Iraq in 2003.


Increasing health issues necessitate a stay in an Amsterdam hospital; important retrospective at the Kunstforum Wien in Vienna; donates a large group of drawings to the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in recognition of the museum’s care for his works on paper.


Receives the French Légion d’Honneur, in the grade of Officier; due to health concerns, Appel moves his residence from Monaco to Zurich.


Shooting in New York for a Dutch TV film by Sonja Barend; monographic exhibition curated by Rudi Fuchs at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels: Karel Appel: Onderweg (Karel Appel: On His Way).


Returns to the nude theme, using for the first time neon tubes in combination with paintings; the series is shown in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Appel undergoes heart surgery, followed by rehabilitation in Switzerland. Constant dies on 1 August in Utrecht.


Appel dies on 3 May in Zurich; buried at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris.