The Dutch painter Karel Appel (1921-2006) was born in Amsterdam and studied there from 1940 to 1943 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He had his first show in his native city in 1946.
He was inspired at the outset by Picasso, Matisse and Dubuffet, but his career really began with the excitement of the Cobra Group, which he founded in 1948. It included painters like Corneille, Alechinsky and Asger Jorn. His sculpture of the “Cobra-Bird” was made as the emblem of a movement which celebrated a new kind of baroque expressionism that had broken free from the post-cubist tradition.
The fifties and sixties marked the great flowering of Appel’s talent and of his work, producing commissions and important awards that made him an international name. He painted murals for the Amsterdam City Museum and the Unesco Building in Paris, and won both the Venice Biennale and the Guggenheim Prizes.
Amsterdam, Paris, where he moved in 1950, and finally New York where he lives today, have all fuelled his imagination. Driven by a passionate curiosity he has walked their pavements, fascinated by the anarchy of their swarming crowds, the unexpected flotsam and jetsam of their streets. “The city’s deafening din that howled about my head”, wrote Baudelaire, and Appel recreates that howling with the natural elements of “Street Art”, using every kind of material to help him : twisted planks, old iron, ceramics, collages made of wildly disparate objects, violently coloured oils and acrylics. “Savage Expressionism” was the phrase he has used himself: work of powerful originality, provoking the eye and the mind with a wild kind of joy, preserving and conveying all the thrill of creation. In recent years, in nudes and landscapes, he has turned to a more formal and serene style of painting but his original energy es undiminished.
Karel Appel is the first Dutch painter to illustrate a Mouton Rothschild label. For the 1994 vintage he has conceived a pair of drinkers performing a wild dance round a totem bottle, as if to liberate the spirit of the wine still imprisoned within.