1886-1904. Hans Peter Wilhelm Arp was born on 16 September 1886, the first child of a German cigar-manufacturer, Jürgen Wilhelm Arp, and a pianist and singer, Marie-Josephine Koeberle, from Strasburg in Alsace. He early showed signs of a marked gift for drawing and poetry. From 1901 to 1903 the young Arp attended the Kunst-und Gewerbeschule in Strasburg, publishing his first poems.
1904-1910. The 1904 trip to Paris brought him for the first time into contact with contemporary art. From 1905 to 1907 he continued his studies at the Kunstgewerbschule in Weimar, becoming friends with Henry van de Velde and Harry Graf Kessler, both eager supporters of modern art as practiced beyond the confines of Weimar. In 1907 Van de Velde gave him the opportunity to exhibit at the Bernheim Jeune gallery in Paris, alongside Matisse, Signac and van Dongen. In 1901 Arp would – together with the Swiss painters Walter Helbig and Oscar Lüthy – found the Moderne Bund group, whose aim was to promote the ideas of the artistic avant-garde in Switzerland.
1911-1913. In 1911 the Moderne Bund held its first show in Lucerne, with the works including some by Gauguin, Klee, Matisse and Picasso. When the show moved to the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Wassily Kandinsky became one of the artists exhibited; he would ask Arp to go to Munich to collaborate on the Der Blaue Reiter almanac. In the German city, Arp would exhibit alongside Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Kandinsky, Klee, Marc and Münter.
1914. At the Deutsche Werkbund show in Cologne, Arp met Max Ernst. Caught unawares by the outbreak of the First World War, he took refuge in Paris to avoid the general draft in Germany. Here, he would meet Max Jacob, Picasso and Modigliani. Kandinsky stimulated his intense study of the mysticism.
1915-1918. In 1915 Arp left Paris for the neutral Switzerland. In November of that year he would exhibit alongside Otto and Ayda van Rees at the Tanner Gallery in Zurich. It was on this occasion that he met his future wife, Sophie Taeuber, whose geometrical works would have a constant influence on his own artistic development. In 1916 he was – together with Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara – one of the co-founders of the Zurich Dada movement. He worked on his first India ink drawings and wood reliefs, whilst the collaboration with Sophie Taeuber would produce collages, sculptures and works using fabrics. Together with Sophie Taeuber, Arp would become a member of the Das Neue Leben [New Life] movement, and be one of the signatories of the Dadaist manifesto and the manifesto of the Radikale Künstler [Radical Artists] group.
1919-1920. At the end of the war, Arp established contacts with the other main Dadaist groups. Together with Max Ernst and Johannes Theodor Baargeld, he founded the Dada group in Cologne, whilst in Berlin he would temporarily become involved in Dadaism’s ‘political’ version, alongside such figures as Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch and Johannes Bader. Through Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia, he would also become a member of the Paris group that centred around André Breton, Paul Éluard and Louis Aragon.
1921-1924. At Easter 1921 he travelled to Italy with Sophie Taeuber, visiting Florence, Rome and Siena. He spent the summer holidays of 1922 with Sophie Taeuber, Max Ernst, Luise Straus-Ernst, Paul and Gala Éluard, Tristan Tzara, Maya Chrusecz and others at the Austrian resort of Tarrenz, near Imst. On 20 October 1922 he married Sophie Taeuber at Pura.
1925-1929. Arp and his new wife rent a studio in Montmartre, Paris. Together with De Chirico, Klee, Ernst, Man Ray, Mason, Mirò and Picasso, he takes part in the Surrealists’ first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre. On 20 July he and Sophie became French citizens. Along with Theo van Doesburg, Arp collaborated with his wife on the design of the interiors of the café-dansant within the palais Aubette in Strasburg. The earnings from this project would enable the couple to build themselves a private home and studio at Calmart, near Paris, to designs by Sophie Taeuber. Arp would produce his first works using pieces of rope.
1930-1932. With his wife, Arp became part of various artistic groups: De Stijl, Cercle et Carré and Abstraction-Création. On the basis of an idea that came to him when ripping up damaged sheets of work, he developed his famous and very personal technique of papiers déchirés. He would produce his first free-standing sculptures, modelled in plaster. An exhibition of a substantial part of his artistic work to date was held at the Kunstmuseum in Basel.
1933-1937. He and Sophie left the Abstraction-Création group. Thanks to Eugène Gallatin, the work produced by the couple was being shown in America, where it was received with great interest. Jean Arp would exhibit in the shows “Cubism and Abstract art” and “Fantastic Art: Dada, Surrealism”, held at the MoMA in New York and at the Galerie Loeb in Paris. Together with Sophie he would produce the wood sculptures Wegweiser and Matrimonial Sculpture. The couple would become part of the Allianz group of Swiss artists. Together with Gallatin, Morris and Domela, they would become co-editors of the art review “Plastique”.
1939-1947. In 1940 the couple would flee from a Paris about to fall to the Germans; they took refuge at Grasse in the South of France, at the house of their friends Alberto and Susi Magnelli. Jean would turn the lack of work materials to his advantage: small, off-cuts of marble were transformed into sculpture and reliefs; fingers replaced paintbrushes in the dessins aux doigts; crumpled wrapping-paper was used with India ink or gouache to produce papiers froissés. When all hope of emigrating to the United States came to an end, the couple decided to move to Switzerland. The sudden death of Sophie in 1943 would plunge Jean into a deep depression. Then he would start work again, exhibiting at the ‘Art of this Century’ gallery in New York. At the end of the war he would return to Paris, where his first volume of French poems – Le Siège de l’air – was published.
1948-1953. After an interruption of four years, he would again start working on free-standing sculptural pieces. In New York, the collection of texts Arp – On my way 1912-1947 was published. For his first important one-man show in the United States, Jean Arp went to New York, where he met up again with Richard Huelsenbeck and Hans Richter, old friends from the Dada period in Zurich. His first monumental sculpture, The Shepherd of the Clouds was commissioned by the University of Caracas. In 1953 Arp would suffer his first heart attack.
1954-1957. In 1954 Arp won the Gran Premio per la Scultura at the Venice Biennale. He also made the baptismal fount for the Basel Allerheilgenkirche. His poetry was set to music by Wladimir Vogel and Boris Biacherre. The University of Caracas and UNESCO in Paris would commission large-scale mural reliefs in bronze.
1958-1966. Arp’s first sculptures-seuils [threshold sculptures] are produced. The MoMA in New York holds the first retrospective of his work. In 1959 Jean Arp marries Marguerite Hagenbach and buys the Ronco dei Fiori property at Locarno-Solduno, passing the later years of his life there. In Paris he is awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts. In Canton Ticino his sculptures Bucolic Landscape and Woman in a Landscape are produced. The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris holds a retrospective of his work, which then travels to Basel, Stockholm, Copenhagen and London. Arp donates a large part of his private art collection to the Lugarno, works that will be housed in the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. To commemorate the birth of the Dada movement there fifty years earlier, Arp produces a wall plaque for the former Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich; it is in the form of a navel. On 7 June 1966 Jean Arp dies in Basel, struck down by a heart attack.