Born in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine in 1886, Jean (Hans) Arp studied at the Strasbourg School of Arts and Crafts at Weimar (1905-7) and at the Academie Julian in Paris (1908) before exhibiting with the Blaue Reiter group led by Wassily Kandinsky in Munich in 1912. When World War One broke out, he moved to Zurich to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. While in Zurich, Arp became a founding member of the Dadaist group. After World War One, when Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, French law determined that his name should be changed to Jean from the German Hans. Arp moved to Paris, and began exhibiting with the Surrealist group at the Galerie Pierre in 1925. Then, in 1931, he became a founding member of the Paris-based group, Abstraction-Creation, and participated in the periodical Transition. During World War Two, he once again fled from his home in the Parisian suburb of Meudon to Zurich until the war ended. He died in 1966 in Basel, Switzerland.

Although Arp was associated with various art movements, he never dramatically or abruptly altered his style. Instead, he gradually and smoothly developed his themes and motifs throughout his career. Among Arp's earliest works were his abstract wood reliefs begun in 1914, characterized by whimsical shapes and ambiguous forms. He transitioned from relief sculpture to sculpture in the round in 1930-1, continuing his exploration of the same organic, abstract shapes into three dimensions. Arp developed his sculptures without pre-determined plans or agendas, instead preferring to let his forms grow "naturally" and only naming them upon their completion. In addition to his paintings and sculpture, Arp published poetry and essays throughout his life.

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