Tauber-Arp, Sophie (1889–1943)

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Tauber-Arp, Sophie (1889–1943)

Swiss artist and member of the Dadaist movement who used purely geometric forms repeated many times against a plain background. Name variations: Sophie Taeuber or Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Sophie Täuber or Sophie Täuber-Arp. Born in 1889 in Davos, Switzerland; died following a heating accident in 1943 in Zurich, Switzerland; educated at Saint-Gall, Munich, and the Kunstgewerbeschule, Hamburg; also studied dancing with Rudolf von Laban; married Jean Arp (a sculptor), in 1921.

Born in Davos, Switzerland, Sophie Tauber trained in the decorative arts at Saint-Gall in Munich and at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg. In 1915, she joined the Schweizerischer Werkbund, where she met her future husband, the Alsatian sculptor Jean Arp. They were married in 1921.

Tauber-Arp taught weaving and embroidery from 1916 to 1929 at the School of Arts and Crafts in Zurich. She also joined the Dadaists at the Café Voltaire in Zurich, mainly as a dancer but also collaborating with her husband on the café's abstract interior decorations. During this time she created theatrical sets, marionettes, stained glass, embroideries, collages, and furniture designs. She coauthored and published Dessin et arts textiles (1927), a book about decorative arts, and in 1937 founded a short-lived magazine on the subject.

Devoted to the decorative arts throughout her life, Tauber-Arp also became interested in abstract painting in 1915 and wood relief sculpture in 1931. According to Women Artists: 1550–1950, she was one of the first artists to recognize abstraction as a beginning point rather than an end result. With her husband, she created abstract designs in embroidery and weaving and experimented in torn-paper work from 1914 to 1918. Tauber-Arp's first abstract paintings were watercolors and drawings of rectangles and curved forms. She gradually reduced this to rectangles and triangles, culminating in the powerful large-scale Triptych: Vertical-Horizontal Composition with Reciprocal Triangles (1918). A year later, Little Triptych, Free Vertical-Horizontal Rhythms, Cut and Pasted on a White Ground (1919) employed a softer and more fluid approach.

In 1928, Tauber-Arp and her husband moved to a suburb of Paris, where she designed both the plans for their new house and the furnishings. She created further distinctive paintings came in the 1930s, using circular forms in both paintings and wood reliefs. Nancy Heller indicates that these circles, whether conical, segmented, or placed against rectangles, suggest space and movement with a subtle rhythm of color; their purely geometric forms hint at mathematical formulas. The relief sculptures featured bright colors and irregular edges, notes Heller. In them, the empty spaces were just as important as the solid areas.

In the 1930s, Tauber-Arp was associated with the Cercle et Carre group and the Abstraction-Creation group, both advocates of non-figural art. In 1940, during World War II, she and her husband left Paris and settled in Grasse until 1942, when they returned to Switzerland. The following year, Tauber-Arp died because of a faulty heating system in her bedroom.


Harrap's Illustrated Dictionary of Art and Artists. Kent, GB: Harrap's Reference, 1990.

Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists: 1550–1950. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976.

Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: An Illustrated History. NY: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Martha Jones , M.L.S., Natick, Massachusetts