Hans Arp Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Hans Arp, also known as Jean Arp, was born in Strasbourg on September 16, 1887. At the time of his birth, Alsace-Lorraine, the region in which Strasbourg lies, belonged to Germany, although culturally it was tied to France, to which it presently belongs. Arp’s bilingualism, his equal ease with both French and German, which was a product of the history of this region, helps to account for the confusion concerning his Christian name. As Arp explained it, when he wrote in French, he called himself Jean Arp; when he wrote in German, he called himself Hans Arp. In his view, neither name was a pseudonym—the change was made simply for convenience, as one shifts from speaking one language to the other according to the language of the auditor.

This mingled French and German heritage was also reflected in Arp’s home and social environment. His father, Pierre Guillaume Arp, who operated a cigar and cigarette factory in Strasbourg, was of Danish descent. His mother, Josephine Köberlé Arp, was of French descent. At home, Arp recalled, French was spoken. In the state-operated primary and secondary schools he attended, however, standard High German was used, and taught, the Alsace-Lorraine being at the time under German annexation. With his friends he spoke the Alsatian vernacular, a dialect of different derivation from the standard German used in education and for official business.

Arp’s first published poem appeared in 1902, when he was only fifteen. Like most of his earliest poetry, it was written in the Alsatian dialect, although only two years later he had completed, in standard High German, a manuscript volume of poems. This manuscript, entitled “Logbuch,” was unfortunately mislaid by the publisher to whom it was sent. Three poems by Arp in German did appear the same year, however, in Das Neue Magazin.

About 1904, Arp’s involvement with the plastic arts began in earnest. He visited Paris for the first time, and for the next five years he studied art not only at Strasbourg but also in Weimar and Paris. In 1909, Arp, having served his artistic apprenticeship at various academies, moved with his family to Weggis, on the eastern shore of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. In the five years Arp spent at Weggis, two important developments occured. Isolated from the influences of the academies and their avant-garde faddishness, Arp began to develop the personal aesthetic he called “concrete art,” which was to influence...

(The entire section is 1005 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 741 words.)