Rolf Cavael Biography

Rolf Cavael




Painter and printmaker Rolf Cavael was born in Konigsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) on February 27, 1898. His father was an architect and his mother was a children's counselor. In 1907 his mother passed away and the surviving family moved to Strasbourg, France, where Cavael enrolled in courses at the Lycee Technique. After serving in the First World War in 1919, Cavael moved to Berlin, by then a burgeoning hub for the arts in Germany. His experience in film and theater led to an interest in art and, encouraged by his father, he entered the Ecole Stadel, Frankfurt, where he majored in graphic arts and typography. Following graduation, he was given a position at the Stadtische Handelsschule as a professor of applied graphics as well as Abstract painting.

Cavael enjoyed success throughout the 1920s and into 1930, making connections with Wassily Kandinski and the Bauhaus school as the wave of Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, and other new and exciting genres arose in Europe. This began to change as Nazi Germany came to power, however, and due to his work in what was labeled "degenerate" art by the new regime he lost his professorship. Cavael continued to work independently in Berlin, even as he was banned from exhibiting and fellow artists, including his friend Joseph Albers, were fleeing to the United States and elsewhere. In 1936 he was arrested by the Gestapo for his continued attempts to hold shows; he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp for one year as punishment. It wasn't until the end of the war that Cavael was able to exhibit publicly once more.

In 1949 he formed the ZEN 49 artists' group with Willie Baumeister, Fritz Winter, and Ruppert Geiger, inspired by Buddhist philosophy and with the aim of boosting the post-war German art scene. They held their first exhibition at the Central Art Collecting Point in Munich in 1950, and then annually until 1955. In 1953 Cavael was awarded the Prix de l'Art, Munich, and in 1954 he began teaching once again. He secured a post at the Volkshochschule in Munich in 1956, where he remained until his retirement in 1973. Throughout his career he would work in painting, lithography, intaglio, and experimental photography, and his style would range from figurative to pure non-represetnational Abstraction. 

Later exhibitions included the 29th Bienalle, Venice, and the International Triennal of Graphic Art, Switzerland (First Prize). Solo exhibitions took place at the Lenbachhaus, Munich; the Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover; and the Kunsthalle of Baden Baden. Cavael was awarded the Lovis-Corinthe Prize and the Cross of Merit Prize of the German Federal Republic, both in 1979; he died that same year on November 6.

Cavael's work is held in museums and collections throughout Europe and the U.S.