“year upon year are years without years”

The Artists in Exile

After September 1, 1939, nothing in Europe remained the same as it had been before. At the time, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp were still living in their house in Clamart outside Paris, but the following year they fled. They were first taken in by Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, then by Peggy Guggenheim in the South of France. In Grasse, the couple found more long-term accommodations, and later took in the widowed Sonia Delaunay in turn. Taeuber-Arp’s letters to her sister testify to her growing fear and worry – in December 1940, for example, she wrote: “Outside, a storm is raging as if nature were revolted by humanity; it really takes quite a lot of courage not to fall into despair.” In 1942, the couple finally gave up their original plan of emigrating to the United States, and toward the end of that year they moved to Switzerland. While Arp stayed with his friend Max Bill and his wife Binia, Taeuber-Arp moved in with her sister.


During their time in exile, Arp and Taeuber-Arp were limited to the bare essentials. But having to use the simplest possible materials, such as pencil and paper, did not prevent them from continuing to be artistically productive. Among other works, they even created collaborative pieces with Delaunay while still in Grasse. With his papiers froissés, Arp developed a new technique in the 1940s that involved crumpling paper and elaborating the chance structures that resulted. Meanwhile, Taeuber-Arp devoted herself to the line as a design element. An encyclopediaof concrete artists that she had planned to publish with Nelly van Doesburg remained unrealized due to the larger situation.

In a tragic accident in early 1943, Sophie Taeuber-Arp died of carbon-monoxide poisoning at the home of the Bills. Her sudden death plunged Hans into a severe creative crisis. Four years would pass before he would return to sculpture in the round. He worked through his grief in his poems.

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