Willi Baumeister was born January 22, 1889, in Stuttgart. From 1905 — 07 he was apprenticed as painter and decorator and received his journeyman certificate. Already in 1906 he had also become a student at the Art Academy Stuttgart. Interrupted by his military service (1907/08), he remained a member of the composition class of Adolf Hoelz until 1920. There he met Oskar Schlemmer in 1911, and a friendship developed that lasted for a lifetime. Especially in his Mauerbilder / Wall Pictures, which he created in the 1920s, Baumeister engaged with Schlemmer’s work. In 1913 Baumeister participated in the »1. Deutscher Herbstsalon« / »1st German Autumn Salon« at the Galerie Sturm in Berlin. Yet Baumeister was exposed to the most important artistic impressions of the time during his first journey to Paris in 1912. At the time still influenced by Impressionism, in Paris Baumeister started to focus on the work of Cézanne, on Cubism, but also on the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin. In 1914, at the beginning of the war, Baumeister again went to Paris, a stay that led to a reduction of form in the realm of the representational and eventually towards geometric abstractions. At the same time, shapes and colors broke loose and took on their own specific mimetic qualities. At the outbreak of the war, Baumeister was drafted and served as a soldier until the war ended.
After 1919 Baumeister started to add sand and gravel to his colors. These experiments were influenced by contemporary artists (Dubuffet, Le Corbusier) and by his reception of prehistoric cave paintings. They provided the Mauerbilder with their very own naturalistic appearance. In the years to follow, Baumeister also did 17 stage settings. In the mid-1920s, he started to become internationally successful as an artist. In 1925 his work was exhibited at »L’Art d’aujourd’hui« in Paris, and in 1926 he participated in an exhibition in New York. Beyond the many existing contacts with artists in Paris – of special importance was his contact with Léger with whom he had an exhibition at the Galerie Sturm in Berlin in 1922 – he got to know Kasimir Malewitsch in 1926. In 1927 Baumeister received an appointment at the arts-and-crafts school (later: Städel-Schule) in Frankfurt, where he taught applied graphic arts, typography, and textile printing until his discharge in 1933. Since 1927 he had already been a member of the »ring neue werbegestalter« (»new advertisement designers«), founded by Kurt Schwitters. In 1930 he joined the two Paris artist groups: »Cercle et Carré« and »Abstraction-Création.« At that time, his strict geometricism had been superseded by abstracted organic forms and was permeated with symbolic forms derived from archaic cave painting.
In 1937, Baumeister too was subjected to the National Socialist verdict of »degenerate art.« After being discharged from his teaching position, he worked as a commercial graphic artst and, in 1937, became an employee at the »Lackfabrik Dr. Hurt Herberts & Co.,« a paint factory. There he found a niche protected by art patrons and was able to continue with his material experiments. After 1941, however, he was forbidden to paint and exhibit his work. Yet at that time, he already enjoyed international renown. Inspired by Goethe’s ontological idea of the »Urpflanze« (»Urplant«), Baumeister became interested in African and Pre-Columbian American sculptures which he also collected. In 1945 he completed his theoretical work entitled Das Unbekannte in der Kunst / The Unknown in Art which was published in 1947. In 1946 he received an appointment at the Stuttgart Art Academy where he taught the class of decorative painting until the year of his death. As spokesman of abstract painting in post-war Germany he founded the group of the »Gegenstandslose« (»Nonrepresentationalists«) in 1949. In 1950 the group organized a joint exhibition under the name »ZEN 49.« His work now showed gestural All-Over structures. Spatialities of color provided suggestions of landscape forms that eventually came to be known as »metaphysical landscapes.«
Willi Baumeister died – literally, in front of his easel with brush in hand – on August 31, 1955, in his Stuttgart studio.
Laboratorium Lack: Baumeister, Schlemmer, Krause: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, bearb. v. A. Matyssek, Tübingen 2007
Wyss, B.: Die Wiederkehr des Neuen, Hamburg 2007
Im Rampenlicht. Baumeister als Bühnenbildner: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, hg. v. M. Ackermann, München 2007
Doll, N. (Hg.): Kunstgeschichte nach 1945: Kontinuität und Neubeginn in Deutschland, Köln 2006
Willi Baumeister 1889 — 1955. Die Frankfurter Jahre 1928 — 1933: Ausst.-Kat. Haus Giersch, hg. v. M. Großkinksy u. B. Sander, Frankfurt/M. 2005
Schürle, W.; Conrad N.J. (Hg.): Zwei Zeitalter. Eiszeitkunst und die Bildwelt Willi Baumeisters, Ostfildern-Ruit 2005
Beye, B. und Baumeister, F.: Willi Baumeister. Werkkatalog der Gemälde, Ostfildern-Ruit 2002
Willi Baumeister et la France: Arp, Cahn, Cézanne, Delaunay, Gleizes, Hélion, Le Corbusier, Léger, Miró, Ozenfant, Picasso, Mondrian, Seuphor: Ausst.-Kat. Musée d’Unterlinden Colmar, hg. v. S. Lecoq-Ramond, Paris 1999