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Ferdinand Springer, 1907 – 1998


1907. Born October 1 in Berlin. Father a scientific publisher, mother Swiss.

1918. Secondary school in Potsdam.

1923. First trip to Italy. Meets R.M. Rilke in Lucerne.

1926. Baccalaureate in Potsdam. Studies art history at the University of Zurich.

1927. Introduction to painting with Carlo Carrà in Milan. Meets Morandi.

1928. Works with Bissière in Paris at the Académie Ranson where Severini also teaches.

1932. Learns etching at the l’Atelier 17 with Stanley Hayter.

Marries  Marcelle Behrendt, his lifelong companion.

1935. Meets Wilhelm Uhde who buys several works.

1937. Publication of the Symposium of Plato with 7 etchings in an edition aimed at booklovers.

Trip to New York. Solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery.

Meets with Calder, Dali and the gallery owner, Pierre Matisse.

The Hartford (Conn.) and the Fogg-Art (Cambridge, Mass.) Museums purchase his works.

Takes part in the Contemporary French Drawings exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute.

1938. Settles down in Grasse (southern France).

Solo exhibition at the Delius Guise Gallery in London.

1939. Imprisoned in the Camp des Milles close to Aix-en-Provence with Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer, and Wols.

Mobilised in Forcalquier. Meets Pierre Seghers.

1940. Demobilised. Returns to Grasse. Becomes friends with Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber, Alberto Magnelli, Sonia Delaunay

and the sculptor, François Stahly. First abstract works.

1942. Exile to Switzerland. Discovers Paul Klee’s last works.

The Swiss authorities forbid him to exhibit his works.

1945. Returns to Grasse. Most of his work prior to 1939 disappears.

Participates in the exhibition Ausländische Maler in der Schweiz with Marino Marini, Wotruba, et al.…

1947. With15 etchings, illustrates the Eupalinos ou l’architecte by Paul Valéry published by Gallimard.

1948. Solo exhibition of books and prints at the Museum of Winterthur.

Participates in the exhibition Wartime French Printmakers at the Philadelphia Art Alliance (Pittsburgh) Acquisitions by the Rosenwald

Foundation of the National Gallery, Washington.

1950. Settles down in Paris. With 17 etchings illustrates the Tao-te-Ching of Lao-Tzu (published by Vrille).

Develops an abstract language on the fringe of the lyric abstraction of the Ecole de Paris.

Long period of graphic work combining chisel, soft varnish, and aquatint.

1953. Exhibition at the Kunstmuseum of Bern Drei Meister zeitgenossicher Graphik with Villon and Vieillard. Tapestry based on his

etching Traits croisés.

Exhibition Jeune Art Graphique de Paris at the Kestner Society in Hannover.

1954. Exhibition of books and graphic works at the Wittenborn Gallery, New York.

Tapestry based on his etchings from the Tao-te-Ching.

1956. Returns to painting.

Participates in the exhibition Ausgewanderte Maler, Castle of Morsbroich, Leverkusen.

1958. Participates in the 39th Venice Biennale event.

1959. Participates in the Documenta II, Kassel.

Starts to cut up rectangular copper plates into innovative forms.

1960. Exhibits regularly in Europe (Paris, Rome, Florence, Cologne, Bochum, etc…) and the United States.

Tapestries woven by the Plasse-Lecaisne workshop.

Lives mainly in Grasse.

1967. André Malraux, as Government Minister, awards him the medal “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres”.

First retrospective exhibition in Heidelberg.

1973. Retrospective at the Museum of Caen.

1975. Begins to reflect on the juxtaposition of painted, coloured volumes 

1976. Solo exhibitions at the galleries Art Conseil, Paris, and at the Wittemann Gallery, Munich

Exhibition at the gallery « Ursus-Press »in Düsseldorf.

1980. Large watercolours of imaginary landscapes of the Grasse countryside.

First large exhibition at the Ludwig Lange Gallery, Berlin.

1981. Exhibition at the Greive Gallery, Cologne.

1984. Second exhibition at the Ludwig Lange Gallery, Berlin.

1989. Death of his spouse who adopted Irène Mathias as her artist name.

1990. Paints large compositions in which spherical forms dominate.

1992. Moves towards a « free abstraction» where landscapes appear in a recurring way.

1995. Ides et Calendes publishes his conversations with Emmanuelle Foster.

1998. Death of Ferdinand Springer.



André Villers © ADAGP

Ferdinand Springer – key dates

The Main Stages

Early Development (1907-1926)

Born October 1, 1907 in Berlin to a German scientific publisher father, and a Swiss mother.  After his secondary school in Potsdam (Brandenbourg, north-western Germany), he studies art history at the University of Zurich from 1926 onwards.


Training (1927-1935)

From 1927 onwards, he devotes himself to painting, firstly in Milan at the workshop of the futurist Carlo Carrà, where he meets Morandi. In 1928, he joins Roger Bissière at the Académie Ranson, where Severini and Kisling are teaching.

He undertakes copies at the Louvre and in 1932, learns etching with Stanley Hayter at the Atelier 17. In 1935, he becomes acquainted with Wilhelm Uhde who acquires several of his works which were later confiscated by the Gestapo.


The First Exhibitions (1935-1938)

In 1936, his first solo exhibition takes place followed by a show at the Salon des Surindépendants with his friends Hans Hartung, Victor Brauner, Maria Elena Viera da Silva. In 1937, he illustrates the Symposium of Plato with etchings and has a show at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York where he meets Alexander Calder, Salvador Dali, and the art dealer, Pierre Matisse. In 1938, he settles down in Grasse.


The War (1939-1945)

He is imprisoned in the Camp des Milles close to Aix-en-Provence with the painters Hans Bellmer, Max Ernst, Henry Gowa, Robert Liebknecht, Leo Marschütz, and Wols. He is then mobilised in the French army as “prestataire”(companies of foreign workers) in Forcalquier (southern France) where he gets to know the poet and publisher, Pierre Seghers. Demobilised in 1940, he returns to Grasse where he makes friends with Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Alberto Magnelli, Sonia Delaunay and the sculptor François Stahly thereby forming the so-called “Groupe de Grasse”. It is during this period that he makes his first abstract works. In 1942, feeling “the ground burning under his feet, here, in Grasse” he leaves for Switzerland with his wife just a few weeks before the German Army invades the free zone. The Swiss authorities forbid him to exhibit and sell his works.


Paris (1945-1959)

In 1945, Ferdinand Springer returns briefly to Grasse where most of his works prior to 1939 have disappeared. He develops a personal abstract language on the fringe of “lyric abstraction”.  Using etchings he illustrates the Eupalinos of Paul Valéry published by Gaston Gallimard who was introduced to him by Raymond Queneau. In 1950, he moves back to Paris and illustrates Lao Tzu’s Tao-te-Ching and the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan book of the dead) with his etchings. Follows a long period devoted to graphic work. In 1955, he returns to painting. The exhibition which he presents in 1959 at the Pierre Droulez Gallery in Reims is prefaced with a text by Francis Ponge.  In the same year, he makes his first etchings on cut up copper plates, which he considers to be a graphic transposition of the spirit of magical objects from traditional cultures. The workshop Plasse Le Caisne organises for two tapestries based on his designs to be woven. He exhibits regularly in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland) and the United States. The first retrospective exhibitions of his work are shown in Heidelberg, Dortmund, Bremen, Grasse, and Caen.


Grasse (1960-1998)

Ferdinand Springer moves permanently to Grasse, continuing his graphic work and undertaking large watercolours of “imaginary landscapes” inspired by Grasse’s surroundings. In 1990, after completing a new set of geometric abstract compositions in which spherical forms and mixed tones dominate, his painting turns towards a kind of free abstraction where the lights and the horizons of reinvented landscapes are constantly present. After a retrospective exhibition in La Ciotat (southern France) in August, Ferdinand Springer dies in Grasse on December 31.


© Alkis Voliotis

© 2014 Mathias Springer-All rights reserved

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