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Karel Appel

1921 - 2006

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.

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Karel Appel in his studio, c.1950 - 1954 © Dirk de Herder / Nederlands Fotomuseum.

“A painting is no longer a construction of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a human being. It forms an indivisible whole.”

Karel Appel

In the late 1950s, Karel Appel gradually began to distance himself from the CoBrA group, which he co-founded in 1948. CoBrA, an avant-garde European movement in which he is often associated, initially aimed to liberate colour and form in response to the horrors of the Second World War. In the 1960s, Appel’s early expressionism shifted to new aesthetic concerns that shaped the art world across the Atlantic, discovering a closer affiliation with the tendencies of abstract expressionism and the work of Jackson Pollock, whom he had met in Paris in 1951. The dynamic and powerful brushstrokes he inflicted on the canvas were characteristic of this important phase of the artist’s career, signaling his rise to international recognition.

The Reality of Karel Appel. Documentary by Jan Vrijman, 1962, 15 minutes. Stedelijk museum Excerpt.

“After Van Gogh, Rouault, Kirchner, and the very current Dubuffet, we see with Appel the extent to which a work can be generous, with a temperament capable of translating the whole inner cosmology of human drama into power, both directly and deeply, using all the registers, in defiance of any purism, any restrictive system, opening every door to the most subtle violence, to the most complex demonstrability.”

Michel Tapié


Karel Appel

Femme, 1969
Oil on canvas
80 x 65 cm | 31 1/2 x 25 5/8 in.

Karel Appel, De Vliegende (Le vol)


Karel Appel, Trois têtes


Art Fairs


Karel Appel 100

April 25 - October 24, 2021

Musée d'Art Moderne CoBrA

On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Karel Appel (Amsterdam, 1921-Zürich, 2006), the museum opens an exhibition with the most beautiful works of Karel Appel from its own collection, supplemented with a number of special loans.   Read more

Karel Appel 100

Karel Appel, art as a celebration !

February 24 - August 20, 2017

Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris

Taking as its starting point a remarkable group of twenty-one paintings and sculptures donated by the Karel Appel Foundation in Amsterdam, the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris is presenting an exhibition covering the artist’s entire career, from the CoBrA years to his death in 2006. The cosmopolitan Dutch artist Karel Appel is […]

Karel Appel, art as a celebration !

Karel Appel | A retrospective

January 16, - May 16, 2016

Kunst Museum Den Haag

Internationally, Karel Appel (1921-2006) is perhaps the most renowned Dutch artist of the latter half of the twentieth century. In 2016 it will be ten years since his death: time for a new generation of visitors to look afresh at an oeuvre that many people still associate with Cobra and the 1950s, although it actually […]

Karel Appel | A retrospective

Karel Appel au Centre Pompidou

October 21, 2015 - January 11, 2016

Un art humaniste et expressionniste !

Cette exposition est consacrée à Karel Appel, l’un des fondateurs de CoBrA. S’il a beaucoup produit – peintures, dessins, sculptures – et beaucoup vendu, il a eu l’intuition de conserver beaucoup d’oeuvres – et pas les moindres –, aujourd’hui protégées par une fondation dirigée avec intelligence et générosité par sa veuve. Grâce à la liberté […]

Karel Appel au Centre Pompidou

KAREL APPEL: The early years 1937-1957

Paris, 1988

Michel Ragon

Michel Ragon, collaborateur de la revue Cobra dès son premier numéro, ami de jeunesse d’Appel, fait à la fois ici œuvre d’historien et de mémorialiste, appuyant ses propos de nombreux documents (manifestes, tracts, préfaces) et de lettres inédites de Christian Dotremont et de Asger Jorn. Ses souvenirs sur Cobra éclairent d’un jour nouveau l’histoire d’un moment […]

KAREL APPEL: The early years 1937-1957

Karel Appel 40 ans de peinture sculpture et dessin



Cet ouvrage rassemble, sous la direction de Claude Fournet, un ensemble de textes jalonnant l’œuvre et le parcours artistique de Karel Appel de 1947 à 1987. Il s’agit de documents, pour beaucoup inaccessibles jusqu’ici en français ou bien encore dispersés dans des revues devenues, avec le temps, introuvables. L’ensemble s’ouvre sur des « Poèmes, aphorismes, réflexions » […]

Karel Appel 40 ans de peinture sculpture et dessin

Street Art de Karel Appel


Pierre Restany

Sous-titré « Le second souffle de Karel Appel » et illustré de 24 documents et reproductions noir et blanc, ce livre fouille une part essentielle de l’œuvre de Karel Appel : « Quarante ans de street art, de promenade dans la rue, de collecte et de recyclages des objets trouvés, qui deviennent une foule de personnages, une infinie galerie […]

Street Art de Karel Appel

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