Authors: Hans Arp

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German-born French poet and artist

Author Works


Der Vogel Selbdritt, 1920

Die Wolkenpumpe, 1920

Der Pyramidenrock, 1924

Weisst du schwarzt du, 1930

Des taches dans le vide, 1937

Sciure de gamme, 1938

Muscheln und Schirme, 1939

Rire de coquille, 1944

Le Siège de l’air, 1946 (as Jean Arp)

On My Way: Poetry and Essays, 1912-1947, 1948

Auch das ist nur eineWolke: Aus dem Jahren 1920 bis 1950, 1951

Beharte Herzen, Könige vor der Sintflut, 1953

Wortraüme und schwarze Sterne, 1953

Auf einem Bein, 1955

Unsern tag¨lichen Traum, 1955

Le Voilier dans la forêt, 1957 (as Jean Arp)

Worte mit und ohne Anker, 1957

Mondsand, 1959

Vers le blanc infini, 1960 (as Jean Arp)

Sinnende Flammen, 1961

Gedichte, 1903-1939, 1963

Logbuch des Traumkapitäns, 1965

L’Ange et la rose, 1965 (as Jean Arp)

Le Soleil recerclé, 1966 (as Jean Arp)

Gedichte, 1939-1957, 1974

Short Fiction:

Tres inmensas novelas, 1935 (with Vicente Huidobro)

Le Blanc aux pieds de nègre, 1945


Onze peintres vus par Arp, 1949

Dreams and Projects, 1952

Collected French Writings, 1974


Gesammelte Gedichte, 1963-1984 (3 volumes)

Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, Essais, Souvenirs, 1920-1965, 1966 (as Jean Arp; Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories, 1972)

Arp, 1886-1966, 1986 (English translation, 1987)


Hans Arp, known also by his French name, Jean Arp, was born in a middle-class family in a culturally divided society. Strasbourg is the largest city in the French region of Alsace, which had been annexed by Germany after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and was returned to France by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Arp was fluent in German and French as well as the German-based Alsatian dialect that was spoken at home. He spent most of his life in the Paris area yet lived for extended periods of time in Germany and in German-speaking Switzerland. While most of his poetry is in German, he wrote many important works in French and became a French citizen in 1926.{$I[A]Arp, Hans}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Arp, Hans}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Arp, Hans}{$I[tim]1887;Arp, Hans}

Arp was attracted from an early age to the world of art and studied drawing, first in his hometown of Strasbourg, then in Weimar (Germany). He then lived briefly in Paris for the first time, continuing his art training, before moving to Switzerland, where he began to make a name for himself in avant-garde circles. He exhibited with the influential groups of expressionist and abstract painters Moderner Bund (modern league) in 1911 and Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider) in 1912. Although he published a few poems as early as 1904, his literary career did not begin in earnest until the World War I period.

While Arp is best known as a visual artist, especially as a sculptor, his poetry is recognized as a milestone in modernist literature. He was one of many artists of his era who participated in a radical assault on the aesthetic and philosophical conventions inherited from the nineteenth century. He belonged to the Dada movement, headed by a group that began in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916. The Dadaists staged performances at a café called Cabaret Voltaire that included declaiming “sound poems” made up of nonsense syllables. The uncompromising radicalism of the Dadaists, their antimilitarism, and their hostility toward all aspects of modern society helped change the direction of twentieth century art. During his Dada phase, Arp published his first major volumes of poetry, the highly experimental Die Wolkenpumpe (the cloud pump) and Der Vogel Selbdritt (one bird in three). For him, poetry was a creative outlet just as much as painting, sculpture, collage, and other forms of expression. He spent his entire career moving seemingly at will from one medium to the other, and he perfected certain techniques that he applied to his visual as well as his literary work: the systematic yet playful experimentation with chance, the emphasis on form (color, shape, sound) over content, and a strong sense of humor. Several of his poetry books were published in small print runs with Arp’s illustrations, and the poems are intimately connected to the images.

Though profoundly influenced by the Dada movement, Arp did not share his colleagues’ desire to shock the public. He found a more congenial environment among Dada’s immediate inheritors: the Surrealists, a group of writers and artists based in Paris and tightly controlled by founder André Breton and to which Arp belonged from 1925 to 1931. He and the artist Sophie Taeuber, whom he married in 1922, settled in a suburb of Paris and enjoyed a period of relative stability and creative productivity that lasted until the outbreak of World War II. They then fled Paris and eventually settled in Zurich, where Taeuber died in bed of asphyxiation because of an accidental gas leak in 1943. It is generally acknowledged that Arp’s literary work took a more lyrical and emotional turn for several years in response to this tragic event.

He returned to his Paris suburb after the war and spent the rest of his life there and in a second house near Basel, Switzerland. He continued to create major works, including large-scale sculptures and murals, throughout the 1950’s, a period during which he enjoyed recognition as one of the world’s most important living artists. He was consequently busy traveling abroad, receiving major commissions and awards, culminating with first prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale art exhibit in 1954. He was an authoritative critic of twentieth century art and wrote many essays and articles for exhibition catalogs on fellow artists. He married Swiss art collector Marguerite Hagenbach in 1959 and continued to write almost until his death in 1966. His later poems, while they show that he was committed until the end to a radically experimental form, also contain more developed imagery and narrative elements than much of his earlier work.

BibliographyCathelin, Jean. Jean Arp. Translated by Enid York. New York: Grove Press, 1960. A short introduction to Arp’s life and art, with many photographs of his artwork.Fauchereau, Serge. Hans Arp. Translated by Kenneth Lyons. New York: Rizzoli, 1988. Biographical and critical introduction to Arp’s artwork and poetry.Jean, Marcel. Introduction to Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories, by Jean Arp. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. New York: Viking, 1972. This introductory essay is an excellent summary of Arp’s life and work, and the rest of the book consists of English translations of his collected French poetry and prose.Last, Rex W. German Dadaist Literature: Kurt Schwitters, Hugo Ball, Hans Arp. New York: Twayne, 1973. This clear, thorough study of the three major German-speaking poets of the Dada movement helps to dispel the mistaken notion that it was mostly a French phenomenon after the Zurich period ended. Contains useful chronologies and succinct bibliographies.Last, Rex W. Hans Arp: The Poet of Dadaism. London: Wolff, 1969. Makes the criticism of Arp’s poetry, most of which has been published in German, accessible to an English-speaking audience. The second half consists of translations of many of his German poems.Lemoine, Serge. Dada. Translated by Charles Lynn Clark. New York: Universe Books, 1987. Introduction to Dadaism with biographical information on Arp and other artists. Includes biblography.Mortimer, Armine Kotin. “Jean Arp, Poet and Artist.” Dada/Surrealism 7 (1977): 109-120. Explores the important symbiotic relationship between Arp’s poetry and his visual art.Motherwell, Robert, ed. The Dada Painters and Poets. 2d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. A collection of texts and illustrations by Arp and others in the Dada movement with a critical bibliography by Bernard Karpel.Richter, Hans. Dada: Art and Anti-Art. Translated by David Britt. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997. A historical and biographical account of Dada by one of the artists involved in the movement. Includes bibliographical references and index.Rimbach, Guenther C. “Sense and Non-Sense in the Poetry of Jean Hans Arp.” The German Quarterly 37 (1963): 152-163. Argues that Arp is at root a religious poet and that the lack of reference to reality in his work is an attempt to come closer to God.
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