The painter and sculptor Karel Appel (Dutch, born April 25th, 1921 in Amsterdam – died May 3rd, 2006 in Zurich), the co-founder of the CoBrA group, is known for his vibrant and abstract works which contributed to the advent of a new form of expressive painting in Europe. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1940s. He was attracted by the primitive style, animated by Jean Dubuffet after the years of repression and isolation during the Second World War in Amsterdam.
In 1948, he founded the CoBrA movement, an acronym made up of the artists’ cities of origin, namely Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. With his fellow artists Asger Jorn, Guillaume Corneille and Pierre Alechinsky, he advocated expressive and spontaneous painting techniques inspired by popular art and primitive imagery.
Appel’s work met with both a large critical success and unfavorable criticism. At the request of the Amsterdam City Hall, he painted a fresco which depicted children smiling so ironically that workers asked to have it covered.
In 1950, he moved to Paris, where he continued to receive critical recognition for his ironic imagery, bold brush strokes and energetic colours. He received the UNESCO prize at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and the first prize at a Guggenheim exhibition in 1960. Years later, Appel also worked on sculpture, assemblage, poetry, lithography and scenography. He organised solo exhibitions around the world in cities such as New York, London, Paris, Milan and Tokyo. Appel died at his home in Zurich in 2006 at the age of 85.