sophie taeuber


In december 1915, I met in Zurich Sophie Taeuber

who had freed herself of conventional art.

Starting already in 1915, Sophie Taeuber divides

the surface of her water paintings into squares

and rectangles which she juxtapposes in a horizontal

and perpendicular fashion. She builds them as a piece of masonry work. The colours are luminous, going from

the most crude yellow to a deep red or blue. In some

of her compositions, she introduces, at different planes, stocky and massive figures which ar reminiscent of those which she would later shape into turned wood.


Jean Arp, Jours effeuillés




Sophie Taeuber was born on January 19th, in Davos-Platz in Switzerland. Her father, a pharmacist, dies

in 1891. Her mother, open to the arts and to the society of her time, then decides to move to the canton

of Appenzell.



Sophie undertakes studies at the Saint Gall Applied

Arts school in 1907. She attends the Lehr-und Versuchs- Ateliers für angewandte und freie Kunst (Learning and Experimenting Workshops for the Liberal and Applied Arts) in Munich in 1910, and she joins

in 1912 the Hamburg Applied Arts School.

The versatile vocational training she receives

in these progressive schools which are sensitive

to the contemporary currents will be having a major impact on the orientation of her career.



At the end of her studies, she settles down in Zurich, paints portraits and still lives, produces artifacts (candlesticks, scarves, toys...). But from the following year on, she renounces figurative subjects and makes

a solitary breakthrough toward abstraction, in parallel

to the movements that spring up in Russia (Malevitch), in the Netherlands (De Stijl group with Doesburg, Mondrian and Rietveld) and in Germany (Johanes Itten). The vertical-horizontal compositions which she starts painting during this period impress greatly Jean Arp, whom she met in 1915.



Sophie is appointed professor at the Applied art school in Zurich, of which she runs the textile department.

But the years of war are most of all marked by its active participation in the Dada movement. She attends

the “Cabaret Voltaire”, the movement’s birth place,

and makes friends with Hugo Ball and von Laban’s dancers, in particular with Mary Wigmann.

She cooperates in the production of choreographies, produces costumes and takes part in dance shows.

It’s at that time that she is the guest of the C.G. Jung circle in Zurich, that she discovers the works of the art historian Wilhelm Worringer ans makes friends

with the architect Adolf Loos.



Arp and Sophie Taeuber adheres to the group

Das Neue Leben (The New Life) founded

by Marcel Janco and by Fritz Baumann, whose objective is to integrate abstract art into daily life. It’s during

this same year that she produces her first

"Têtes Dada" (Dada heads), as well as the persona puppets of the satarical story entitled "The King-stag", adapted from Carlo Gozzi and integrating openly Dada and psychoanalysis. These abstract puppets represent her most original contribution to the Dada movement. Between 1916 and 1918, Arp and Sophie Taeuber produce together orthogonal paintings and textiles,

as well as turned wood sculptures-containers.



Sophie Taeuber exhibits with Das Neue Leben

in Kunsthalle Bern and Basel and at the Decorative Arts Museum in Zurich. It’s the period of the "Rythmes libres" (Free Rythms) and "Taches quadrangulaires"

(Quadrangular Stains). During the twenties,

she undertakes numerous trips, to Florence, to Siena, which inspire her the "Paysages de Sienne" (Siena landscapes) series.

In St Moritz, she produces in 1921 the furniture

of the "Suhaglia" villa for her theosoph friends

Aor et Ischa Schwaller.



It’s in secret that, ion October 20th, she marries

Jean Arp in Pura in the Ticino districts. The trips follow each other (the isle of Rügen, in the Baltic sea, again

in Italy, Paris, the Ticino destrict).



She settles down with Arp in Paris, villa des Fusains,

in Montmartre, in the vicinity of Max Ernst, Joan Mirò, Paul Eluard, Magritte, Tristan Tzara. It’s the time

of the "Compositions figuratives géométriques"

(Geométric figurative compositions).



The couple leaves for Strasburg, where it must reside

in order to acquire the French nationality

(Sophie Taeuber, Jean Arp and his brother François

will become naturalized as French citizens on July 20th).

That same year, Sophie Taeuber undertakes,

together with Jean Arp and Theo van Doesburg,

the transformation and renovation of the Café

de l'Aubette which was at this time converted into leisure centres. The three artists carry through a collective work of art without any equivalent in XXth century art, which had disappeared a few years later and which to-day,

is partially restored. That same year, Sophie Taeuber had been entrusted with the decoration

of the André Horn’s appartment (meanwhile destroyed) and that of the Heimendinger house, still in Strasburg.



With the fees received in Strasburg, the Arp couple buys in 1927 a plot of land in Clamart-Meudon, where

they will build an studio house, of which Sophie Taeuber designs entirely the plans. At the same time,

she produces the "Compositions concrètes" (Concrete compositions) and the "Abstractions constructives"

(Constructive abstractions). With Blanche Gauchat,

she publishes a teaching guide for textile drawing.



The beginning of the thirties, marked by the advent

of surrealism, is the time of the involvement

in the groups which defend abstraction. In 1930, Sophie becomes a member of "Cercle et Carré" (Circle

and Square), founded by Michel Seuphor

and Joaquín Torres García, and exhibits with

the members of the group. "Compositions statiques"

(Static Compositions) period. The danse rythm is all-present in Sophie Taeuber’s visual creation.



After an exhibition at the Lodz Museum in Poland, Sophie Taeuber donates two paintings and a gouache

to the museum, which are the first entry of her works into a public collection.

This same year, Sophie participates with Auguste Herbin and Georges Vantongerloo in the creation of

a new grouping : Abstraction-Création. " Compositions dynamiques" (Dynamique compositions) time, "Espaces multiples" (Multiple spaces),  "Formes irrationnelles"

(Irrational Shapes), of which she eliminates

the geometrical rigour, by using no longer anything

but the circle.


In the mid-1930s, Sophie Taeuber and Arp are increasingly supported by Swiss collectors who buy works from them, including Annie and Oskar Müller-Widmann, for whom Sophie designs a house project

in Basel in 1932 (not realized).



Taeuber presents her latest ideas in a collective exhibition at the Galerie des Cahiers d'Art in Paris.

Her work is particularly noticed by Jan Brzekowski.



Sophie achieves international fame thanks

to Georg Schmidt’s "Constructivistes" exhibition

at the Kunstmuseum in Basel where she exhibits

twenty-four works. She associates with the swiss group "Allianz", founded around Max Bill and Leo Leuppi.

Sophie Taeuber runs a new international contemporary art magazine, «Plastique/Plastic», created

by César Domela. The magazine, which was discontinued in 1939, is a link between European

and American art.
Period that saw the production of "Compositions dans un cercle" (Composition in a circle), of the first reliefs,

of turned wood sculptures, of new "Duo" drawings

by Arp, of "Lignes d'été" (Summer lines).



In a more and more unbearable climate for progressive artists, Jeanne Bucher dedicates an exhibition

in her gallery to the Taeuber-Arp couple. In 1940,

both artists leave their house in Clamart-Meudon

and end up finding themselves in the South, near Grasse, in the Magnelli couple’s house, where they will later be joined by Sonia Delaunay, after the death

of her husband. With Arp, Magnelli and Sonia Delaunay, she produces a series of lithographies with two, three

or four colours, which will be published in an album

in 1950.



She gets back to Switzerland with Jean Arp, hoping

to emigrate more easily to the United States, where

she now counts fervent admirors.

She dies by accident, in Max Bill’s house, on January 12th, at the age of 54, asphyxiated by emanations

from a coal stove.

Her last series of works – about thirty Indian ink and pencil drawings – are great intensity variations around

a circle.


sophie taeuber, Ascona,1925
© Fondation Arp, Clamart

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