Swiss artist, designer of puppets and sets for a production that signalled the 20th century avant-garde in theatre. Sophie Taeuber-Arp originally specialized in textile design at the Stauffacher school in St. Gallen (Saint-Gall). She later studied in Germany, first at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Hamburg and then to the Lehr- und Versuch-Atelier für Angewandte und Freie Kunst (the experimental studio of applied and fine arts) run by Wilhelm von Debschitz in Munich. In 1915, she met Jean Arp, painter, sculptor, writer and co-founder of Dada, whom she married in 1922.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s work covers the gamut from abstract modern dance forms, inspired by Rudolf von Laban, to figurative art, puppets, textile design, to handicrafts. She exhibited her work with the Constructionists, the Concretists and the Surrealists, and was active in the Dada movement and the avant-garde in general. She was also interested in primitive art, radical psychology and the Bauhaus. She was director of the textile section of the Kunstgewerbeschule of Zurich from 1916 to 1929, the year she joined her husband in France.
In 1918, Alfred Altherr, director of the Kunstgewerbeschule, entrusted her with the design of sets and puppets for the production König Hirsch (The King Stag) by Carlo Gozzi in an original adaptation by René Morax, who introduced into it the feud between Freud and Jung. The play was directed by Werner Wolff. She designed the sets and the string puppets that were sculpted by Carl Fischer.
The characters are conceived according to elementary geometrical shapes – a constant in Taeuber-Arp’s work – with three-dimensional projections: cylinders, spheres, cones joined with metallic rings …The bodies of the puppets, segmented in several parts and with multiple articulations, are inspired by insects and the expressions on their faces remind one of Sophie Taube’s Dada Heads, among which is a portrait of Jean Arp. Her experience with dance is reflected in the movement of the puppets. The show opened on September 11, 1918, at the Schweizerisches Marionettentheater in Zurich and met with great success. Two famous Dadaists, Tristan Tzara and Waldemar, wrote glowing reports about it.
König Hirsch was reprised in 1965 by the St. Galler Puppentheater (voir Figurentheater St. Gallen) and, in 1993, by the Zürcher Marionetten. Currently, the string puppets of Sophie Taeuber-Arp are conserved at the Museum Bellerive in Zurich.
- Kotte, Andreas, Simone Gojan, Joël Aguet, and Pierre Lepori, eds. Theaterlexikon der Schweiz/Dictionnaire du théâtre en Suisse/Dizionario teatrale svizzero/Lexicon da teater svizzer. Berne: Chronos, 2005. (In German, French, Italian, Romansh)
- Mikol, Bruno. “Figures d’art: les marionnettes de Sophie Taeuber et de Otto Morach”. Puck. No. 1. Charleville-Mézières: Éditions de l’Institut international de la marionnette, 1988.
- Sophie Taeuber. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Éditions Paris Musées, 1989.