All painters who were in search to work on an international stage wanted New York to be the new expressionist scene

Karel Appel /   Christiaan Karel Appel

Netherlands 1921 - 2006

Sculpture, Abstract Art, Painting

Karel Appel
Christiaan Karel Appel
November 25, 2016
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Held in high regard for the way he was able to depict genuine expression through the use of uniquely vivid colors and strong forms, Karel Appel was an influential Dutch painter who created some of the most pivotal abstract works of the 21st century. Bearing the influence of Jean Dubuffet and the Art Brut movement, Appel’s work is a fantastic indicator of how the art of his time established a bold gestural style and rejected many cultural and artistic values of the post-WWII period. Besides of his contributions to the development of abstract expression, Karel was also a co-founder of the CoBrA group, a pivotal organization which formed many creative concepts with Asger Jorn and several other Danish, Belgian and Dutch artists at its creative helm. Even though Appel is fundamentally recognized for his paintings that merge elements of figuration and abstraction, this author also experimented with relief sculpture and design[1].

This artist made site specific and expressionist work
Karel Appel – People, Birds and Sun, 1954 – Image via

Developing His Art After WWII

With a full name of Christiaan Karel Appel, this painter was born in his parents’ house at Dapperstraat 7 in Amsterdam during the year of 1921. The entire family was supported only by Karel’s father who held a barbershop on the ground floor of their house. When he was about the age of fourteen, he produced his first complete painting on canvas. This was a still life composition as Appel opted to depict a rather classical and popular scene of a fruit basket. After the family picked up on his early talent, Karel’s uncle gave him a paint set and an easel. He also received some private tutorships which were intended to direct him down the right path of painting. During the years of the Nazi occupation, Appel studied at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Here, the young painter met Corneille and Constant – this newly formed trio of friends and artists shared many outlooks on art practices. Due to the wartime circumstances, Appel had to wait for the year of 1946 to hold his very first solo exhibition[2]. Two years later, Appel and his two painter friends joined CoBrA, an avant-garde group active in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. During the year of 1949, he participated with the other CoBrA artists in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, generating a huge scandal within the community and many objections in the press. His greatest inspiration at this point was the aforementioned French brute-art painter Jean Dubuffet. During these forming years, Appel also sculpted quite a bit, exploring what this kind of art making had to offer. He would frequently use disregarded materials in order to make such pieces.

Appel's work is in search of expression and in contact with emotions
Karel Appel – Dans la Tempête, 1960 – Image via

Later Years and Art Practices

As it was clued at previously, the CoBrA group was noted for their notorious artworks and activities. In that regard, Appel lacked no talent – for example, his fresco Questioning Children was painted in the Amsterdam City Hall in 1949 and stirred such a ruckus from the Dutch people that the town saw it necessary to cover the painting up a few years later. As a result of this controversy and other negative reactions to CoBrA, Appel left the group and moved to Paris in 1950. He would also travel to Mexico, the United States, Yugoslavia and Brazil during this period, all in order to find inspiration and right influences. All along the way, Karel never stopped painting murals as this seems to be the most constant kind of artworks of his career. He continued to develop his Brut art concepts for the next few decades, seemingly being a part of many movements and modern groups. When the 1990s began, he was finally accepted by the Dutch public as a crucial artist of modern expression, one without many of their movements would not be quite the same. Ultimately, he became the most famous CoBrA author despite being one of the first members to leave the group[3]. Soon after he was finally given the attention he deserved for the majority of his career, Appel started suffering from a heart ailment. This illness affected him for the rest of his days before belatedly ending his life on the third of May in 2006. He died in his home in Zürich, Switzerland, but was buried in Paris according to his wishes. A few years prior to his death, the author established the Karel Appel Foundation with goals of preserving and promoting his artworks[4]. In one of the more interesting cases concerning this foundation, a number of Appel’s works went missing in 2002. This situation was never truly solved but the paintings were recovered in 2012 after they were found in a disused UK warehouse.

Although he started his career during the mid-1940s, due to his notorious reputation and many controversies, Karel Appel was not fully accepted by the Dutch public till the 1990s

Between Amsterdam, Paris and New York, all painters wanted their works on these international stages
Karel Appel – Square Cat, 1951 – Image via

How Important is the Art of Karel Appel

Only a chosen few were able to use abstraction to the point this author was capable of – Appel’s paintings are not only some of the greatest Dutch abstract artworks but are counted within the most prestigious modern pieces of the entire Old Continent. His vibrant colors, violent brushwork and thick application of impasto paint had a massive echo throughout all modern and contemporary art history. Among other things, Karel Appel was responsible for the rejection of rationalism and geometry within a painterly composition, opting instead for more intuitive and expressive practices. After we combine that fact with all of his activities with both the CoBrA group and Informel, only then do we start assembling the entire picture of just how influential and crucial Appel’s art truly was.

This artist is represented by


  1. Appel, K., A Gesture of Color: Karel Appel. Paintings and Sculptures, 1947 2004, Sieveking, 2016
  2. Gachnang, J., Kuspit, D., Karel Appel: Psychopathological Notebook: Drawings and Gouaches 1948-1950, GACHNANG & SPRINGER, 2000
  3. Ragon, M., Karel Appel: Retrospective, Walther König, Köln, 2016
  4. Frankenstein, A., Karel Appel, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; 1st US – 1st Printing edition, 1980

Featured image: Karel Appel – Photo of the artist in New York – Image via
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2017Wir sind was wir sammeln (We Are What We Collect)Museum Lothar Fischer, NeumarktGroup
2017Was das Bild zur Kunst macht. Die SammlungKunsthalle zu Kiel, KielGroup
2017Rendezvous - Meisterwerke Aus Der Sammlung EsslEssl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, KlosterneuburgGroup
2016Karel Appel - ResetSlewe Galerie, AmsterdamSolo
2016Karel Appel - The OperaCobra Museum, AmstelveenSolo
2016Karel Appel: A Gesture Of ColorThe Phillips Collection, Washington, DCSolo
2015Karel Appel - Centre Pompidou Musée National d'Art Moderne, ParisSolo
2015Karel Appel. De Geverfde Man. Schilderingen en GedichtenDe Korenbeurs (bis Sept 05), SchiedamSolo
2014Imágenes Incorformistas. De Juan Gris A Karel Appel . Colección Beulas-SarrateCDAN - Centro de Arte y Naturaleza - Fundación Beulas, HuescaGroup
2014Rothko to Richter: Mark-Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. HaskellPrinceton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJGroup
2014Playgrounds. Reinventing the SquareMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, MadridGroup
2014Cobra RevisitedA Gallery Named Sue, The HagueGroup
2014Sammeln im NordenKunsthalle Wilhelmshaven, WilhelmshavenGroup
2013Crosscurrents in Modern ArtMoeller Fine Art Ltd, New York City, NYGroup
2013Hackordnung # 5 FormfreiheitWilhelm Hack Museum, LudwigshafenGroup
2013Modern Print Masters StockThe Watermill, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, ScotlandGroup
2013CoBrA dans les collections de l’artothèqueMusée des Beaux-Arts Brest, BrestGroup
2013MenagerieTierschau aus der Sammlung Würth - Kunsthalle Würth, Schwäbisch HallGroup
2013Sobre Papel On PaperCentro de Artes Visuales Helga de Alvear, CáceresGroup
2013Appassionata. Die Sammlung Selinka Im DialogKunstmuseum Ravensburg, RavensburgGroup
2013Chronicles Of DopobombaMuseo d`Arte Contemporanea Lissone, LissoneGroup
2013Artistic Relationships: Partners, Mentors, LoversBechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, NCGroup
2013Corneille - Appel - De Keyser - LindströmGuy Pieters Galleries, Knokke-HeistGroup
2012Karel Appel – I don’t paint, I hit!Museum Jorn (former Silkeborg Art Museum), SilkeborgSolo
2012Karel Appel: The Expression of ColorFlint Institute of Arts, Flint, MISolo
2012CoBrALEVY Galerie, HamburgGroup
2012Der Nackte MannLentos Kunstmuseum Linz, LinzGroup
2012CobraLAAC - Lieu d'Art et Action Contemporaine de Dunkerque, DunkerqueGroup
2012Out of the Racks: Not-Recent AcquisitionsJack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2012The Art of Summer: Contemporary & Modern WorksJack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2012The Biennial of Painting: The Image of ManMDD - Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, DeurleGroup
2012Cobra - 1000 Days of Free ArtSSM - Sakip Sabanci Müzesi, IstanbulGroup
2012Moments of a utopia - Sammlung HurrleMuseum für aktuelle Kunst, DurbachGroup
2012Transformation RevelationMemorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NYGroup
2012Expressions in Color: Selections from the Museum's 20th Century Collection Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, ILGroup
2012During TefafGalerie Wansink, MaastrichtGroup
2012Wolfsburger SammlerKunstverein Wolfsburg, WolfsburgGroup
2012Abstract Expressionisms: Paintings and Drawings from the CollectionBerkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive BAM/PFA, Berkeley, CAGroup
2011ColectivaGalería Rosalía Sender, ValenciaGroup
2011Narrative, critique, libre,..FRAC, Limousin, LimogesGroup
2011Karel Appel and Roberto BarniCobra Museum, AmstelveenGroup
2011CoBrA-expoMDZ Art Gallery, Knokke-HeistGroup
2011Genius without Talent de Appel arts centre, AmsterdamGroup
2011Europe at Mid-Century: Dubuffet, Giacometti, PicassoMFA - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MAGroup
2011Painterly Abstraction, 1949-1969: Selections from the Guggenheim CollectionsMuseo Guggenheim de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo, BilbaoGroup
2011Masterpieces Of The 20th Century From The Collection Of The Valencia Institute Of Modern Art (ivam)Moscow museum of modern art - MMOMA, MoscowGroup
2011Focus: Abstraktion - Werke Aus Der Sammlung EsslEssl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, KlosterneuburgGroup
201150 Meisterwerke. Das Kunstmuseum Bochum zu Gast in HeilbronnKunsthalle Vogelmann, HeilbronnGroup
2011All About DrawingGalerie Wansink, MaastrichtGroup
2011Black and WhiteMDZ Art Gallery, Knokke-HeistGroup
2011Künstler der GalerieGalerie Gabriele von Loeper, HamburgGroup
2010Karel Appel - Gazing HeadsGalerie Lelong - Paris, ParisSolo
2010Karel Appel - Paintings From Five DecadesGalerie Ulysses, ViennaSolo
2010Mixed_mediaGallery B15, CopenhagenGroup
2010CoBrA & CoTallinna Kunstihoone, Tallinn Art Hall, TallinnGroup
2010The Good, The Bad & the UglyCultuurcentrum Mechelen, MechelenGroup
2010Taking PlaceStedelijk Museum Amsterdam, AmsterdamGroup
2010Que du PapierL.A.C. - Lieu d'Art Contemporaine, SigeanGroup
2010Vinyl, disques et pochettes d’artistes, la collection Guy SchraeanenLa Maison Rouge, ParisGroup
2010Secret Writing, Hidden FacesGlynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, WalesGroup
2010Grands FormatsGalerie Lelong - Zürich, ZurichGroup
2009Karel Appel - Peintures 2000-2001Galerie Lelong, ParisSolo
2009Karel Appel - PinturaGaleria António Prates, LisbonSolo
2009Karel Appel: CatsEl Paso Museum of Art (EPMA), El Paso, TXSolo
2009Karel Appel. Jazz 1958 - 196Cobra Museum, AmstelveenSolo
2009Figures, Gestures and Substances, 25 chosen artworks from 1950 to TodayTornabuoni Arte, FlorenceGroup
2009Paint Made FleshMemorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NYGroup
2009Paper Proposes Pleasure & SculptorsAnita Shapolsky Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2009Paint Made FleshThe Phillips Collection, Washington, DCGroup
200920th Century MastersGrosvenor Gallery, LondonGroup
2009The Sweeney Decade: Acquisitions at the 1959 InauguralSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, NYGroup
2009I am a birdAMC Brummelkamp Galerie, AmsterdamGroup
2009Paint Made FleshFrist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TNGroup
2009Post COBRAEssl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, KlosterneuburgGroup
2008Cobra, Alechinsky, Appel et aprèsBaltazar | galerie d’art contemporain, BrusselsGroup
2008CoBrA Galleria Biasutti & Biasutti Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, TurinGroup
2008Wild ThingsKitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Kitchener, ONGroup
2008No Images Of Man: Curated By Mitchell AlgusSandra Gering Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2008An Exhibition of British, European and American PaintingsCrane Kalman Gallery, LondonGroup
2008Danish International Summer exhibitionGalerie Moderne, SilkeborgGroup
2008Monumental proportions ASU Art Museum - Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZGroup
2008Cobra & CiaMuseo Barjola, GijónGroup
2008Modern PrintsKlassische Moderne bis Pop Art - Galerie Proarta, ZurichGroup
2008Action PaintingFondation Beyeler, RiehenGroup
2007Karel Appel - The Cry of ColourArt Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, ONSolo
2007100 x KunstGalleri Profilen, AarhusGroup
20071-2-3 - The Collection in FocusLudwig Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art - Budapest, BudapestGroup
2007Collage Collages - from Cubism to New DADAGalleria Civica d´Arte Moderna e Contemporanea - GAM, TurinGroup
2007Bold Expressions in Modern Art: The Buddy Greenberg CollectionWichita Art Museum WAM, Wichita, KSGroup
2007A Faithful Eye: Modern and Contemporary Art from The Netherlands, The ABN AMRO CollectionGrand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MIGroup
2007Match Race - Modernistic remixes between now and thenKUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art, AalborgGroup
2007Carnival: Scenes from a SpectacleArt Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, ONGroup
2007A Summer SelectionCrane Kalman Gallery, LondonGroup
2007Modern(ist) Love - The Dorothy Lincoln-Smith and Harvey K. Smith CollectionScottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art - SMoCA, Scottsdale, AZGroup
2007InformalGalerie Leu, MunichGroup
2007LithographyScottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, ScotlandGroup
2006NudeJack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CAGroup
200660th Anniversary ShowGimpel Fils, LondonGroup
2006What happened to ArtStedelijk Van Abbemuseum, EindhovenGroup
2006One Cent LifeWoodward Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2005Karel Appel - DanubianaMeulensteen Art Museum, BratislavaSolo
2005Karel Appel: CatsOklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OKSolo
2005Karel Appel - The Cobra YearsGalerie Ulysses, ViennaSolo
2005Karel Appel - CatsUniversity of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, WYSolo
2001Karel Appel - Works on paper 1940-2000Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The HagueSolo
2001Karel Appel - Pastorale ChiaroscuroStedelijk Museum Amsterdam, AmsterdamSolo
2000Karel Appel - RECENT SCULPTURES & POEMSSMAK Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, GhentSolo
1999Karel Appel - Sculptures without a HeroStädtische Galerie Karlsruhe, KarlsruheSolo