20th Century Artists

Karel Appel famously declared that "If I paint like a barbarian, it's because we live in a barbarous age" - the sentiment of a man who had reached adulthood at the beginning of the second world war. Yet, like other members of Cobra group, Appel absorbed a variety of intellectual and artistic influences, out of which developed a frenetic style of sweeping brushstrokes and vibrant, even lurid, colours.


Karel Appel

Christiaan Karel Appel (25 April 1921 – 3 May 2006) was a Dutch painter, sculptor, and poet. He studied in Amsterdam in the 1940s during the darkest period of the war.

Appel had his first show in Groningen in 1946. In 1949 he participated with the other Cobra artists in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; this generated a huge scandal and many objections in the press and public. Like the surrealists, he created aggressive, disturbing forms apparently dredged from the depths of the unconscious, as in the ironically titled Hip Hip Hooray of 1949 (now in the Tate Modern). He was closer to the French painter Jean Dubuffet, who famously championed the "outsider art" of children and mentally-ill people.

In 1948 Appel joined Cobra, an acronym of "Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam", reflecting the origins of its members (Corneille, Constant and Jan Nieuwenhuys and with the Belgian poet Christian Dotremont). 

Karel Appel moved to Paris in 1950 and he developed his international reputation travelling to Mexico, the USA, Yugoslavia and Brazil. In 1954, he received the Unesco prize at the Venice Biennale, an achievement followed three years later by a triumphant visit to New York. 

Inevitably, Appel's work has suggested comparisons with the fluid, energetic styles of French art informel and American abstract expressionism. But his images always remained at least vaguely representational, with monstrous shapes and mask-like faces.

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