Karel Appel is a famous Dutch artist of the 20th century

Wild Horse Rider
Wild Horse Rider

Karel Appel is a famous Dutch artist of the 20th century, whose work was much earlier recognized abroad than in the Netherlands

Karel Appel (April 25, 1921 May 3, 2006) is a famous Dutch artist of the twentieth century, a prominent representative of avant-garde art. Appel is best known for his original sculptures that combine elements of abstract art, expressionism and figurative art. Among the masterpieces of the master’s work there are colorful paintings, relief textured compositions, and original frescoes, and his biography is full of interesting facts.

Karel Appel was an extraordinary creative person and a passionate follower of the revolutionary ideas of contemporary art. His unusual works have long been subjected to sharp criticism at home, but at the international level, the artist gained a reputation as a recognized master at the beginning of his career.


Karel Appel was born on April 25, 1921 in the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, in the family of the owner of a small hairdresser. His father was hereditary Dutch, and his maternal ancestors were French Protestants. From a young age, the boy dreamed of art, but his parents did not approve of his son’s hobby, and from the age of fifteen he was forced to help his father in a hairdresser. In May 1940, the troops of Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands, after which the future artist could repeatedly get to forced labor in the Third Reich, but narrowly escaped this fate. Having finally quarreled with his parents, he left home and began to live independently. The young man finally fulfilled his dream and entered the Academy of Arts, while simultaneously combining his studies with occasional part-time jobs.

People, Birds and Sun
People, Birds and Sun

As a student, Karel Appel met two young people Corneille and Constant Nieuwenhuijs, with whom he maintained close friendly relations for many years. Having received an academic education in 1944, the young painter was finally able to develop his own professional career.

First, he briefly left for France with Constant, and after returning to Amsterdam, he held his first solo exhibition of works in Groningen. Soon, together with his friends, he organized an association called the “Experimental Group in Holland” and moved from painting to sculptural art.

Horse and Flute Player
Horse and Flute Player

In 1948 Karel Appel became one of the founders of the Cobra Creative Union, which included artists from the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark.

But in his native Amsterdam, his works were sharply criticized, and in 1950 the artist first left for France, and then went on a long journey around the world. He has visited many countries, including Brazil, USA, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Italy, Denmark and Belgium. Soon he began to receive offers to organize personal exhibitions from different parts of the world, and by the end of the 1950s, Appel had already acquired a reputation as a popular contemporary artist.

By the early 1970s, the work of the master was finally recognized in his homeland, but Karel never returned to permanent residence in Holland. He constantly moved from one country to another, set up four studios in different cities of the United States, constantly took part in large-scale art shows and, as a result, became one of the most famous Dutch artist in the world.

Hip, Hip, Hoorah!
Hip, Hip, Hoorah!

By the end of the twentieth century, the recognized master of contemporary art finally decided to change his lifestyle. He bought a luxurious house in Zurich, where he spent most of his time making sculptures and painting. But soon the artist developed serious heart problems, and he almost completely abandoned active communication with colleagues and journalists. And on May 3, 2006, Karel Appel died in his Swiss mansion at the age of 85. According to his will, the remains of the Dutch genius were buried in the famous Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise, where his modest grave made of granite with an inconspicuous inscription is located today.

Heads in a Colourful Landscape
Heads in a Colourful Landscape
The most famous works of Karel Appel

One of the greatest masters of Dutch contemporary art left behind many spectacular works. Yet Karel Appel’s most famous works include:

  • Children Questioning (1949) is a work that creatively portrays the dire poverty of post-war Holland. The artist created this composition from wooden fragments, which he painted with bright colors and attached to the window frame.
  • “Composition” (1957) one of the most characteristic paintings by the master, painted in the style of abstract art. The work at the first display at the exhibition caused a negative perception of the Dutch public, but today it is rightfully considered one of the best masterpieces of contemporary art on display at the famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
  • “Frog with an Umbrella” (2001) is an animalistic composition by the artist that adorns the famous sculpture gallery in The Hague. In addition to the frog, the heroes of the work are also elephants, fish and other animals painted in bright colors.
  • Looking Through an Opened Window (2001) is a work installed in front of the office of one of the largest Dutch banks in Utrecht. The composition, which includes various symbolic objects, is made of bronze and painted by the author in contrasting colors.

Karel Appel is rightfully considered an outstanding sculptor and painter of the second half of the 20th century. During his lifetime, he became an authoritative master of contemporary art, and achieved wide recognition throughout the world solely thanks to his talent and hard work.

Face in a Landscape
Face in a Landscape
Karel Appel. Amorous Dance
Amorous Dance
Karel Appel. 1966
Karel Appel. 1951
Karel Appel. Two Young Girls
Two Young Girls
Karel Appel. The Whirling Sun
The Whirling Sun
Like this post? Please share to your friends: