Born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on April 25th.1939
As a young artist he is influenced by Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and later by Comte de Lautréamont's The Songs of Maldoror and the teachings of Krishnamurti.1942 - 1944
Studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Amsterdam.1946
Visits Denmark, where he meets the Danish painters who will later become members of the Cobra group.1947
Abundant production of works; Appel develops a new style of assemblage using elements of wood and found objects in relief, and introduces elements of narrative representation.1948
On July 16, Appel and a group of young Dutch artists set up the Dutch Experimental Group in Amsterdam.
The Group publishes the periodical Reflex and some months later merges with the Danish and Belgian artists to become the International Cobra group. It is founded on November 8, at the Café de l'Hotel Notre Dame in Paris, by Dotremont and Noiret (Belgium), Jorn (Denmark), Appel, Constant and Corneille (The Netherlands). Later, Alechinsky (Belgium) joins the group.
At this time, Appel creates his objets poubelles (rubbish objects). These junk and found objects usually centre on a theme, which is openly poignant and characteristically expressionistic. For example, in the Vragende Kinderen (Questioning Children) of 1948-49, the innocence of children's masks confronts an oppressive and hypocritical society.
Publication of the periodical Cobra, edited by Jorn and the Belgian poet Christian Dotremont. Jorn also publishes a series of small monographs under the title Bibliothèque de Cobra.
Like Dubuffet, Appel and the Cobra artists reject the enlightened and rationalist western past, and momentarily shelve their faith in reason, due to the destruction of civilized values in World War II (thus echoing the Dadaist response after World War I). Like Dubuffet, Giacometti, and Bacon as well, the Cobra group pursues astonishingly diverse formal explorations as a comment upon the human condition rather than the abstract pictorial values, which had so oppressively dominated the post-Mondrian, Constructivist era in Europe in the late thirties. The Dutch Cobra painter, Constant, wrote: "We were aware that we had cut ourselves off from the past and enjoyed unfettered freedom. Only primitive people, children, and psychopaths could reckon on our sympathy".
In May, the three Dutch founding artists return to Paris, where the French painter Jacques Doucet introduces them to the Colette Allendy Gallery.
Appel becomes close friends with Dotremont, whom he continues to see until Dotremont's death in 1978.
Appel repeats the theme of Vragende Kinderen in the mural for the cafeteria of the Amsterdam City Hall. After public outcry, the city council orders the mural to be whitewashed. Architect Aldo van Eyck publishes Een appèl aan de verbeelding (An Appeal to the Imagination) in defense of Appel's work. For ten years the mural remains hidden under a layer of wallpaper.
“International Exhibition of Experimental Art”, the first Cobra exhibition in Amsterdam is held at the
Stedelijk Museum organized by Willem Sandberg and designed by architect Aldo van Eyck.
The turning point for the Cobra movement takes place when Michel Ragon becomes their spokesperson. In Paris, Ragon organizes the first exhibition of the Cobra group at the Librairie 73 in February 1951, followed by a show at the Galerie Pierre two months later.
Together with Constant and Corneille, Appel leaves Holland and settles in Paris, where they meet the Danish painter Jorn.
Foremost among Appel's friends during his Parisian period is Hugo Claus, the Flemish poet, novelist and playwright. In 1962, Claus writes an extensive study on Appel's work, published by Harry Abrams Inc., New York.
Appel meets the avant-garde art critic Michel Tapié, who curates a show at the Nina Dausset Gallery in Paris including American artists such as Pollock and DeKooning and other European painters such as Dubuffet, Wols and Hartung. Tapié later introduces Appel to the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York.
Appel participates in the exhibition entitled Significance of the Informal organized by Michel Tapié.
As compensation for the covered mural in the Amsterdam City Hall, the city counsel commissions Appel to paint the foyer of the auditorium of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, thereafter known as “Appel-bar”.
In breaking with his Amsterdam youth, Appel rapidly detaches himself from the Cobra group and becomes part of a group of artists known as Art Informel or Art Autre. Centred on Michel Tapié, the group includes artists such as Henri Michaux, Willem DeKooning, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis. Appel is the only artist from the Cobra group.
In the Art Autre period Appel’s associates are more often poets than painters.
Martha Jackson visits Appel's studio where she buys several of his works. This marks the beginning of a relationship that continues for more than twenty years.
He spends two summers in Albisola on the Italian Riviera, where he acquires the technique of ceramics. He makes a series of sculptures in terra-cotta, based on the human head.
Michel Tapié organizes a one-man exhibition at Studio Paul Facchetti, Paris.
First exhibition in America is held at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.
Appel meets the architects Van den Broek and Bakema, who commission him to paint a 100 meter-long brick wall called Wall of Energy for the exhibition entitled “E’55” (Energy ’55) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.1956
Commissioned by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam to make a mural for its new restaurant, Appel uses stained glass for the first time.
Later on the architect Bart van Kasteel commissions Appel to make six stained glass windows for the Kruis Church in Geleen, illustrating the Genesis.
Travels to the United States and Mexico. Appel is already aquainted with the work of the Mexican painter Tamayo, whom he befriended in Paris, were they both lived.
Meets the painters of the Abstract Expressionist avant-garde and is inspired by the jazz musicians, whose portraits he paints later that year: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan.
Commissioned by architects Breuer, Zehrfuss and Nervi, Appel paints Des oiseaux et des animaux, rencontre avec le printemps which is mounted as a mural in the restaurant of the UNESCO building in Paris.1959
Commissioned by the Italian industrialist Paulo Marinotti, Appel makes a “mural” of cloth for the exhibition Vitalità nell'Arte at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.
Through the 60s and the 70s, Appel continues his collaboration with Van den Broek and Bakema and other architects on projects for private and public buildings. Some forty projects are related to architecture for which Appel used different techniques such as painted murals, marble and ceramic tiles, glass-in-concrete-reliefs and stained glass.
While spending the summer on the estate of Jean Larcade in Nice, France (Appel's Paris dealer since 1955), Appel executes a series of sculpture from the roots of olive trees. These works are much more gestural than his earlier sculptures. His excited paintmarks make the surface of the exposed wood seem even more raw and are enough to transform the trunks into abstract sculpture.1961
The Dutch film director, Jan Vrijman, makes a documentary film about the artist in Paris, The Reality of Karel Appel, with music by Dizzy Gillespie and Karel Appel.1962
Publication of A Beast-Drawn Man, a portfolio with text by Bert Schierbeek and lithographs by Appel.1963
Appel divides his time between Rome and Paris.
He begins engaging in various experiments, such as inserting real objects in his paintings. These experiments with assemblage and mixed media pave the way for the lively and colourful sculptures, which he will later make.
References to landscape constitute the second significant theme of his iconography, making folk art central to his imagination.
Graphic elements linked to the technique of collage appear in several other works.
Appel and Hugo Claus collaborate on a larger than life scaled book entitled Love Song published by Harry N. Abrams, New York. The great kinship between Claus's literary work and Appel's pictorial oeuvre is evident in this collaboration.
Acquires and completely renovates the Château of Molesmes near Auxerre in France.1965
Begins large polychrome reliefs and free-standing figures made from cut-out plywood, which he assembles in layers, padding many with expanded polystyrene.1969
Between 1969 and 1971, Appel undertakes a series of cut-out assemblages of painted wood on canvas which he calls "psychological relief-portraits".1970
Records music compositions in collaboration with Chet Baker, Merrill Sanders and other musicians and singers in San Francisco.1971
Makes his first large-scale sculptures in polychrome aluminum.1972
Appel settles again in Paris.
Throughout 1972 and 1973 he travels through South America, Mexico, India, Nepal, Indonesia, and Japan.
Begins regularly employing extra-light materials, such as plastic foam and cubes of polyurethane which he carves, molds and paints, giving it the appearance of wood and the solidity of marble.1976
Leaves the Château de Molesmes.
Creates murals with the shantytown residents of Villa El Salvador near Lima, Peru. A color film is made of this event.
A collaboration with Pierre Alechinsky results in a series of works on paper which appear to be a complete symbiosis. These works are published together with poems by Hugo Claus in the book entitled Encre à deux pinceaux (Two Brush Paintings).
Takes up residence in the South of France.
Begins a series of paintings using a flat brush in rectangular strokes, rhythmically arranged across the canvas, depicting landscapes, still lifes, trees and later, figures. In these works Appel finds himself working with a new, more disciplined style of controlled, heavily emphatic and patterned brushstrokes.
Appel begins his series of window paintings. In these compositions, he produces the most abstract and contemplative paintings to date.
At the same time he makes several works using orange crates. These rather discrete and somewhat aesthetic works stem from his thoughts about painting.
He collaborates with the writer José Arquelles and the poet Allen Ginsberg, in creating a series of paintings and visual poems, which are later exhibited as part of On the Road: The Jack Kerouac Exhibit" at the Boulder Center for the Visual Arts, Colorado.1983
Begins a new series of paintings in which color has a vivid life, freedom and potency of its own, establishing a new theater of action; color generates form and subject matter and is liberated from drawing.
The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag receives a large group of early drawings.
Begins the Nude Series on paper depicting predominantly reclining nudes on a grand scale.1987
The Paris Opera commissions Appel to conceive and design the ballet Can We Dance A Landscape?, which is performed in collaboration with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka and the Vietnamese composer Dao.1988
During the summer, Appel visits China.1989
Can We Dance A Landscape? is performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Next Wave Festival, New York.
Collaborates with the children of Hiroshima to make a mural for their city.
Collaborates with Min Tanaka at the Summer Art Festival in Hakushu, Japan.1991
Creates Poetry-Painting Series with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso.
Appel's third period of sculpture production begins in the early nineties. They are a statement of his ideas and imagery, each a kind of "Gesammtkunstwerk", that is architecture, painting and sculpture combined. They are constructivist as well as expressionist and reveal a classical sense of dignity in their proportions.
Commissioned by De Nederlandse Opera, Appel creates the scenic concept for the opera Noach by the young Dutch composer Guus Janssen, and the librettist Friso Haverkamp. Again he asks Min Tanaka to collaborate.
Can We Dance a Landscape? is performed at Het Muziek Theater, Amsterdam.
He takes up the theme of the nude in his paintings, focussing this time on the moving figure, the use of strong color in quick-tempered vigorous strokes, and on a condensed scale.
Paints a series of landscapes from nature in Tuscany.
Commissioned by De Nederlandse Opera, Appel creates the scenic concept for Mozart's The Magic Flute in collaboration with Min Tanaka, the director Pierre Audi and lighting technician Jean Kalman.
A documentary film If I Were a Bird is made of the artist, directed by Mat van Hensbergen.
Divides his time between Toscany, where he paints large scale landscapes and the United States, where he continues to make sculptures.
Appel donates to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam a group of sculptures from the Cobra period.
Paints The Will to Power of the Planets, a series of paintings in which Appel primarily concerns himself with the luminacity of the light. This series is shown during the summer at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.2001
Three Dutch museums, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Cobra Museum, Amstelveen and the Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague celebrate Karel Appel’s 80th birthday with exhibitions.2002
In a series of non-figurative paintings Appel continues on the theme of the landscape. At the end of the year he starts with a series of assemblages, by adding objects to the canvas or placing them on the floor. These three-dimensional works are characterized notably by the use of tree branches, or stuffed animals. He continues this theme until 2004.
A second group of drawings has been chosen by the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag for its collection.
As knowledge centre for Karel Appel’s work on paper , the Gemeentemuseum is keeping the
greater part of Karel Appel’s own drawing collection as a long-term loan.
Another group of sculptures (from 1991-1993) is added to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Appel makes a series of paintings, titled Victory of Matter which are later shown at the exhibition at
the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Throughout his career he always occupied himself with the
possibilities of matter. In 1961 he wrote “When I paint, matter is my point of departure, because it
has been proven that matter is at least as rich in possibilities as the mind, if not richer”.
After this series his work develops in an opposite direction with thinly painted landscapes in light colours.2005
Appel returns once more to the theme of Nudes which results in a series of 5 paintings to which he
applies wooden constructions holding fluorescent lamps. This series is shown during the summer
months in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
On May 3rd Appel dies at his home in Zürich.
In baby carriage with his mother, brother Dik and unknown girl
Painting in the attic at the Dapperstraat.
Working on the mural. Questioning children in tge kantine of the town hall of Amsterdam
In his studio in the Rue Santeuil
In front of the Wall of Energy, Rotterdam
With Dizzy Gillespie working on his portrait, New York
With Paulo Marinotti and Willem Sandberg in front of the mural of cloth, Palazzo Grassi, Venice
In his sculpture studio on the estate of Jean Larcade, in the South of France
From the movie The Reality of Karel Appel by Jan Vrijman
In the studio of Pierre Alechinsky in Bougival, France
With Alan Ginsberg and the painting they made together, New York
With Min Tanaka and Jean-Louis Martinoty in front of the backdrop for the Ballet Can We Dance a Landscape, Paris
Studio in Italy with Tuscan Landscape paintings
With props from the opera The Magic Flute, Amsterdam
During the exhibition of the Series Will to Power of the Planets Paintings at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam