Friday, December 23, 2016

1889-1943: Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Max Ernst, Gala, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Paul Eluard, 1928
Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a multi-talented Swiss artist who worked in the first half of the 20th century. She was innovative and productive as a painter, sculptor, textile designer, interior designer, and architect, and she even did a little dancing. She was a key figure in the important art movements in Europe.

Background: Sophie Taeuber's mother, who was also called Sophie, was a powerful and capable figure. Sophie was the last of 5 children, and her father, a pharmacist, died when she was 2. This left Sophie, the mother, a single-parent with 5 children to support. She solved this problem by opening a boarding house.

Training: An amateur painter herself, Sophie's mother recognized her youngest child's talent, and sent her to private school for art and design when she was 15, in 1904. This is where she began to study textiles. She later attended art academies in Munich and Hamburg, in Germany. She also attended a School of Dance in Zurich.

Career: Sophie began her career by getting a steady job: From 1916 to 1929—13 years—she taught weaving and other textile arts at the Zürich University of the Arts. 

Even though she was Swiss, her early style in textiles and graphics, was influenced by the Russian Kasimir Malevich, founder of Constructivism. These sophisticated geometric abstractions reflect a subtle understanding of the interplay between color and form.

At the same time she was also working on projects with the sculptor, Jean Arp, who had come to Zurich in 1915 to escape the First World War.

During World War I, Zurich, Switzerland, became an important center for the Dada art movement. As a capital in a neutral country, it became a gathering place for advanced artists seeking refuge from the disastrous and disheartening war.

"Dada" is a deliberately nonsensical word to describe a movement that sought to upend the tenets of European culture, which the war had turned into nonsense. Both Sophie and Jean were central to the movement in Zurich. Sophie took part in Dada-inspired shows at the Cabaret Voltaire as a designer, dancer, choreographer, and puppeteer. In 1918, she co-signed the Zürich Dada Manifesto.

Some Dada art is angry about the pretensions of high culture or of politics, and seeks to expose and destroy them. Sophie and Jean Arp created joyous abstractions that create a kind of visual jazz. In a world being torn apart by war, her colorful abstract art was a blissful alternative reality.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp in 1927
In 1926 Sophie and moved to Strasbourg, a nearby town in France, with Jean Arp. From this time she began to specialize in interior design and received several commissions.

In 1928 Sophie and Jean moved to a suburb of Paris, where she designed their new house and some of its furnishings.

Sophie was at a high point of her career in terms of organizing, writing about, and exhibiting her abstract, multi-disciplinary art. During the 1930s she was active in advanced art groups and socialized with all the key artists in Paris. 

Sophie was not well known outside of Switzerland until the recent period of rediscovering women artists. One reason is the fact that she expressed her creativity in so many different forms, and many of these forms, like weaving, have not received much respect in the art world traditionally.

Personal life: It appears that Sophie had one stable romantic relationship throughout her life. In 1915, when she was 26, she met Jean Arp, a German-French artist who is best known for his sculpture, though he too worked in many media. Arp was born in France to a French mother and German father. When he spoke French, he called himself Jean. When he spoke German, he called himself Hans. After collaborating on artistic projects for several years, Sophie and Hans married in 1922, and Sophie changed her last name to Taeuber-Arp.

Sophie and Jean, with puppets made by Sophie
Sophie and Jean were together while she was teaching in Zurich, and in 1926, they moved together to Jean's home town of Strasbourg, and became citizens of France. In the 1930s, they lived in the house she designed in a suburb of Paris.

When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, Sophie and Jean, returned to Zurich because of Jean's German connections.

Sophie died in 1943, at the age of 54, from  accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty stove in the home of a friend.

Jean Arp lived on until 1966, which gave him two more decades to develop his art and his reputation. Partly because of this Jean Arp is a very famous artist, while Sophie is barely mentioned in his biography. Lately, however, the art world is coming to see that to apply the principles of Dada to the practical arts was an act of genius.

My photos of Sophie's art:


Dada Tapestry, Composition with triangles, rectangles and parts of rings, 1916
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Composition dada (Tête au plat), 1920
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Composition of circles  with arms and rectangles, 1930
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015


Internet Examples

Elementary Forms in a Vertical-Horizontal Composition, 1917 (goache)

Elementary Forms, 1917

Untitled (Composition with Squares, Circle, rectangles, Triangles), 1918

 Composition in Dense, Polychrome, Quadrangular Spots, 1921

Composition Of Circles And Overlapping Angles, 1930

Untitled, 1932

Composition, 1937