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Artists Sophie Taeuber-Arp
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Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Swiss Multi-media, applied arts, performance artist, and textile designer

Movements and Styles: Dada, Constructivism, Geometric Abstraction, Performance Art

Born: January 19, 1889 - Davos, Switzerland

Died: January 13, 1943 - Zurich, Switzerland

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Timeline

Quotes

"It is not possible for us to take ourselves back to the exact circumstances of those in a past era, attempting to create art in the style of the past is always inauthentic"
Sophie Taeuber-Arp
"I met Sophie Taeuber in 1915 in Zurich. Like the leaves on a tree in a fairytale, her luminous works descended on my existence. Only a few days after our first meeting, we executed embroideries and collages together. Together we planned large montages. We had met in the beauty of the starry firmament and its mighty architecture had foreordained out work forever."
Hans Arp writing in 1949
"All around her is the radiance of the sun... She is full of invention, caprice, fantasy. . . . It was a dance full of flashes and fishbones, of dazzling lights, a dance of penetrating intensity. The lines of her body break, every gesture decomposes into a hundred precise, angular, incisive movements. The buffoonery of perspective, lighting, and atmosphere is for her hypersensitive nervous system the pretext for drollery full of irony and wit. The figures of her dance are at once mysterious, grotesque, and ecstatic."
Hugo Ball, on Taeuber-Arp dancing to his sound poems in 1917
"...combining the beauty of volumes with the mysterious moving power of color, which sometimes reinforces the voice of the simple forms and sometimes lowers its tone. It stresses the hardness of one form while endowing another with softness."
Wassily Kandinsky on Taeuber-Arp's wooden reliefs created between 1936-8
"Dada will last... The creation of the prophetic spirit found in the works of Arp, in the poetry and art of Klee, in my scrolls, in the abstract films of Eggeling and me, in the attempts in mural paintings, abstract plastics, mosaics, and in the beautiful tapestries of Sophie Taeuber."
Hans Richter

"The intrinsic decorative urge should not be eradicated. It is one of humankind's deep-rooted, primordial urges. Primitive people decorated their implements and cult objects with a desire to beautify and enhance....it is a sense emanating from the urge for perfection and creative accomplishment."

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Signature

Synopsis

Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a key figure in many of the important movements of the pre-World War II art scene in Europe, and was one of the most active figures around the Café Voltaire in Zurich. She dedicated her career to breaking down static, artificial boundaries between genres and forms, and celebrating the creative energy such liberation released. Her creations attempted to destabilize traditional norms in art and society, and question fixed notions of gender, class, and nationality. For Taeuber-Arp, art was both something political and something to be integrated into everyday life. She later embraced the principles of Constructivism, and became one of its most important practitioners outside of Russia. Taeuber-Arp's artworks, whether a marionette, a dancer's movement, or a textile pattern, presented the possibility of crafting a more beautiful world from the elements of the present one.

Key Ideas

Taeuber-Arp was one of the signers of the Dada Manifesto and remained dedicated to the ideas of Dada throughout her career. She applied Dada to a wide range of forms, fully embracing the utopian impulses and promises of the movement to radically transform society by transforming human perception with radicalized aesthetics.
Taeuber-Arp desired to break down the boundaries between applied and fine arts. She translated principles from one genre into another, creating beautiful and groundbreaking hybrids. For example, her work with Theo Van Doesburg in the Café de L'Aubette brought principles of applied textile design into the creation of architectural space and decor.
She also explored the relationship between fine art and performance - working with dance, movement and masks. She sought to bring the ideas of Dada and Abstraction to dance and puppetry, contrasting the restriction and freedom of movement and pose, while the masks and costumes highlighted the split between dancer and the dance.

Most Important Art

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Famous Art

Untitled (Dada Bowl) (1916)

This almost-minimal object of turned wood shows the possibility of infusing a functional object with a radical aesthetic. Note the upturned concave shape, perhaps reflecting the Dada belief in the topsy-turvy state of the world. Taueber-Arp applied the nascent Dada strategy of attacking the bourgeois sensibilities of a corrupt world to the decorative arts. This strategy accomplished several goals. The object straddles boundaries: it is representational and abstract, made by hand and uniform as if machine-produced, utilitarian, and aesthetic. At a time when abstraction was in the vanguard and the applied and fine arts strictly divided, this combination made the object impossible to categorize. Furthermore, the sleek upturned bowl translated the simple geometric forms then in vogue in avant-garde fine art into the three-dimensions of the material world, elegantly eradicating the division between art as representation and life.
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Sophie Taeuber-Arp Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Sophie Henriette Gertrude Taeuber was the fifth child in a middle-class Prussian family. Her father, Emil Taeuber, was a pharmacist who died of tuberculosis when Taeuber-Arp was still a child. Her mother, Sophie Taeuber-Krusi, opened a Bed and Breakfast in Trogen, Switzerland to support the family.

Early Training

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Biography

Taeuber studied drawing at the School of Applied Arts in Saint Gallen, Switzerland from 1908 to 1910, but desired exposure to a wider range of ideas, and headed to Germany to study textile design. In Germany, her schooling reflected her interest in diverse fields and her unhappiness with strict boundaries and programs, as she bounced back and forth between the Teaching and Experimental Studio for Applied and Liberal Arts in Munich and the School of Applied Arts in Hamburg. She studied not only design, but also dance, weaving, and bead work from 1911 to 1913.

Mature Period

By 1915, she had returned to Zurich where her sister lived. She began to create non-representational paintings and sculptures, influenced by her training in textile design and Cubism. At the same time, she continued her work in the applied arts and her study of modern dance. The French artist and poet Hans Arp had taken refuge in Switzerland because of the First World War, and the two met in the fall of 1915. They began collaborating on artistic works, and romance followed. Her life at this time consisted of three interwoven strands: Dada as a social circle and fine art production, a career in the applied arts, and the study of modern dance.

Taeuber-Arp was active in Dada's Zurich heyday from 1916-19. Switzerland had remained neutral during World War I, and attracted an international crowd of dissatisfied or refugee artists, with whom Taeuber-Arp socialized. Her participation in Dada took many forms including dancing in avant-garde performances at the Cabaret Voltaire, an important locus of Zurich's Dada scene. Cabaret Voltaire, founded by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, featured radically experimental poetry, and visual arts. Taeuber-Arp designed costumes sets, and even puppets for Dada performances. Her dances at Cabaret Voltaire incorporated radical Modernist principles of expressive movement. She collaborated with other Dada artists, especially her future husband Hans Arp, producing shows, dances, writings, and fine art works. In 1918, she was a co-signer of the Zurich Dada Manifesto.

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Sophie Taeuber-Arp Biography Continues
Sophie Taeuber-Arp Portrait

Starting 1916, Taeuber-Arp was also a professor of textile design and technique (a department she helped found) at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts. She wanted to establish herself as a forward-thinker in the applied arts community and joined the Swiss Werkbund, a professional association dedicated to promoting applied artists. Taeuber-Arp produced objects for use such as bead-work purses and embroidered pillowcases. Her work received critical acclaim and sold well. In February 1916, Zurich's Museum of Arts and Crafts exhibited a collection of her applied art works. Not only were critics enthusiastic, but sales were brisk enough to necessitate hiring help to execute her designs and expedite production. Because the School of Arts and Crafts did not want their professors to take part in Dada activities, Taeuber-Arp had to keep her involvement in the Dada world of Cabaret Voltaire, and later Galerie Dada, a secret. She performed in masks and under false names. This dual life ended when she felt financially comfortable enough to resign from the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts in 1928/1929.

Taeuber-Arp began studying dance with the Swiss Modern dance choreographer Rudolf von Laban in 1916 at the Laban School of Dance in Zurich. She joined the artist colony of Monte Verita in Ascona, a famous Christian-Communist community, in the summer of 1916. She returned in 1917 to participate in the Sun Festival, with the modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman. Laban considered movement a universal language, that connected all living things, reflecting similar ideas in abstraction in art. In his classes and through her friendship with Wigman, Taeuber-Arp learned to use dance as a space of intuitive movement and radically spatialized form.

On October 20, 1922, Taeuber married Arp and changed her last name to Taeuber-Arp. The 1920s was a period of frequent travel for the couple. Her vacations with Hans Arp included other friends from the Dada circle such as Tristan Tzara, Max Ernst, and Hannah Höch. The couple associated with an international circle of vanguard artists such as Francis Picabia, Lajos Kassak, and Kurt Schwitters. Notably, in 1926, Taeuber-Arp and her husband began working on a commission to design the interior of Café de l'Aubette in Strasbourg, France. They worked with Dutch artist and co-founder of De Stijl movement Theo van Doesburg to create an interior space like a Constructivist composition writ large on walls and ceilings.

After World War I, many of the couple's acquaintances had moved to Paris, then a center of the avant-garde. In 1928, Taeuber-Arp and her husband moved to Meudon, about 5 miles south of Paris, where they would live until 1940. Taeuber-Arp was at a high point of her career in terms of organizing, writing about, and exhibiting her abstract, multi-disciplinary art. She and Hans joined the Circle and Square (Cercle et Carre) group in 1930 and then the Abstract-Création group in 1931. Her work was included in the important Circle and Square exhibition at the Galeries 23 in Paris in 1930. Taeuber-Arp was the founder and editor of the Constructivist art journal Plastique (1937-39), which kept her in touch with important avant-garde figures. From the 1930s until her untimely death, she created a series of line pictures and wooden reliefs that continued to explore her long-standing interest in geometric abstraction as well as working in other mediums.

Later Period

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Portrait

Taeuber-Arp and her husband fled to southern France when the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940. There they created a short-lived artist's colony with Sonia Delaunay. In late 1942, the couple returned to Zurich. They attempted to obtain passage to the United States, but before they succeeded, Taeuber-Arp died in her sleep on January 13, 1943. The cause was carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas stove.


Legacy

To this day, Taeuber-Arp is not as well-known as other artists in her circle, including her husband Hans Arp, despite her deep involvement with the burgeoning European avant-garde and the presence of her works in museum collections across the world. Probable reasons for this lesser reputation include her being a woman, her work with craft and design - traditionally deemed lesser arts, and her premature death. However, this reputation is changing, as evidenced by the 1981 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that subsequently traveled to Chicago, Houston, and Montreal. Her work is now generally accepted as part of the story of modernism and Dada, and has drawn increasing attention from scholars and academics. Her work was influential to the growth of Feminist Art of the 1960's, who viewed her as a trailblazer. Artists and theorists working in post-Marxism and Critical Theory have also been influenced by her work and ideas. In 1995, The Swiss government redesigned their 50 Swiss franc note to include her portrait.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Interactive chart with Sophie Taeuber-Arp's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque
Hugo BallHugo Ball
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky

Friends

Tristan TzaraTristan Tzara
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Joan MiróJoan Miró
Hugo BallHugo Ball
Hans ArpHans Arp

Movements

DadaDada
ConstructivismConstructivism
Geometric AbstractionGeometric Abstraction
CubismCubism
Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Years Worked: 1915 - 1943

Artists

László Moholy-NagyLászló Moholy-Nagy
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Marcel JancoMarcel Janco
Richard HuelsenbeckRichard Huelsenbeck
Sonia DelaunaySonia Delaunay

Friends

Hannah HöchHannah Höch
Marcel JancoMarcel Janco
Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp

Movements

Geometric AbstractionGeometric Abstraction
BauhausBauhaus
ConstructivismConstructivism

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Content compiled and written by Linnea West

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Linnea West
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Books

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp Recomended resource

By Carolyn Lanchner

The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology

By Robert Motherwell

Dada

By Rudolf Kuenzli

Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art

By Matthew Affron, Leah Dickerman

More Interesting Books about Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Dada Dance: Sophie Taeuber's Visceral Abstraction Recomended resource

By Nell Andrew
Art Journal

A Dada Head of its Time

By Holly Gaboriault
January 5, 2013

Batiactu (in French)

Strasbourg Restaurant
29 July 2008

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