Karl Zerbe


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Painter. Although much of his work employs the traditional oil medium, he was known for reviving the ancient technique of encaustic, or wax painting. However, because of its negative effect on his health after about a decade of exposure, in 1949 he turned instead to polymer tempera and then, several years later, to acrylic. Stylistically, Zerbe's predominately figurative work reflects broad acquaintance with modern art, including the work of Picasso, Max Beckmann, and the Mexican muralists. Expressionism proved a significant source, but he sometimes incorporated imaginative elements suggesting surrealism. He often painted clowns whose melancholy demeanor suggests their human plight. Zerbe also produced more abstract work, which draws on cubism and other modern traditions. Born in Berlin, he moved with his family as an infant to Paris, then to Frankfurt in 1914. In 1921 he began training in Munich, where he continued to live, except for a sojourn in Italy from 1924 to 1926 and an extended visit to Paris in 1930–31. Recognized as a leading young painter in his native country, as a Jew he fled the Nazi takeover. Following a visit to the United States in 1934 and subsequent return to Paris, in 1935 he settled in Boston. There he soon accepted an invitation to head the painting department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He was naturalized as a citizen in 1939. After 1955 he taught at Florida State University in Tallahassee but continued to summer on Cape Cod. He died in Tallahassee.

Subjects: Art.

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