Qualifying Karel Appel (b.1921, Amsterdam- d.2006, Zurich) as one of the internationally best renowned Dutch artists of the 20th century may be misleading, as he left the Netherlands already in 1950 for good to realize his long career predominantly between Paris and New York. In this perspective, he may be considered as truly international, not belonging to one particular country in the first place.
Appel was one of the founders of CoBrA. Then Michel Tapié, whom he had met in Paris through Hugo Claus, featured him in his Art Autre exhibition. Tapié, then, introduced him to Martha Jackson, who, starting with an exhibition in 1954 would become his New York gallery for almost twenty years. Also, Willem Sandberg, the then director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, was an early supporter: He sent his friend, James Johnson Sweeney, director of the Guggenheim Museum on visit in Paris, to Appel’s studio in the Rue de Santeuil. All this made Karel Appel in his early 30ies already a name in the international avant-garde of the 1950ies. His expressionist and intuitive approach to painting was fitting perfectly well within this context. However, as abstraction had almost become an orthodoxy, his painting style, not being entirely abstract, set him apart. The primordial example for the intermediate position between abstraction and figuration was of course provided by Picasso. Appel appropriated this in his own, very peculiar manner, oscillating between both, and became in turn a reference for younger artists, who opposed abstraction but wouldn’t return to figuration for that matter.
Appel once said that, while Amsterdam had been the city of his youth, Paris was the city of his development – what he had learned in Paris was crucial. So, it would seem only natural, that after a long and entirely international career, he is buried at Père-Lachaise in Paris. However, in the course of the globalization of art, this very peculiar role of its historical capital for Appels oeuvre had fallen somewhat in oblivion, but in recent years, several important exhibitions in Paris, The Hague and Washington have contributed to rectify the record.