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(b Berlin, 27 May 1913; d Champigny-sur-Marne, nr. Paris, 1 Sept. 1951).

German-born painter active mainly in France; he adopted the pseudonym Wols in 1937 from fragments of his name on a torn telegram. In 1932 he studied briefly at the Bauhaus, then moved to Paris, where he worked as a photographer. He lived in Spain 1933–5, but after being imprisoned for political activities he returned to Paris. As a German citizen he was interned at the outbreak of war, but he was liberated in 1940 and lived in poverty in the south of France. At the end of the war he returned to Paris and was befriended by the writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, for whose books he did illustrations. In the late 1940s he began to make a name for himself as a painter, but his irregular life, poverty, and excessive drinking undermined his health and he died aged only 38. His posthumous fame far outstripped his reputation during his lifetime and he came to be regarded as the ‘primitive’ of Art Informel and one of the most original masters of expressive abstraction.

Subjects: Art.

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