Karel Appel, expressionist and passionate painter

Karel Appel, expressionist and passionate painter

Karel Appel paintings are wilde and free

‘I just mess around.’, this is probably one of the most well-known quotes in Dutch art history. Karel Appel (1921-2006) uttered the scentence during an interview for a documentary by Jan Vrijman in 1961. The documentary depicts Amsterdam-born Appel as a relentless painter animal. This image will stick with him throughout his life. Appel was closely involved with the conception and foundation of artist-movement Cobra in 1948, named after the three cities the member-artists, poets and writers originated from: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. And even though Cobra as a movement was short-lived – it was terminated in 1951, with their final bang a farewell-exhibition in Liege -, the influence of Cobra continued to shake the establishment for years to come.


Karel Appel is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most succesful Cobra-artists. He perceives primitive art, outsider-art and children ‘s drawings with complete and full openness. It’s the childrens unbiased view of the world that touches him. Appel’s painting is expressionist and boisterous, but – contrary to his earlier quote, his painting is not without a plan. They are in fact well thought through compositions with a clear lineage and an extravagant colorite. Even though his expressionist work looks abstracted, there’s always a figurative element present, be it a woman, bird or other animal. Throughout his life, Appel shuns no experiment. Apart from being a painter, Karel Appel is a sculptor as well as a poet.

In 1953, Appel makes his big break internationally with his entry in the Biennale of São Paulo. The appreciation from the Dutch audience is harder to come by apparently, since it is not until 1968, Karel Appel is granted his first solo-exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. But Appel then has long-since left the in his opinion ‘narrow-minded’ Netherlands. From the fifties on, Paris is his homestead. Lateron, he has ateliers in Monaco, New York and in the Tuscan country side. Karel Appel’s burial grounds lie in the famous cemetary of Père-Lachaise in Paris.