b. 1893, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
d. 1965, Ascona, Switzerland
Julius Bissier was a German artist known for his abstract biomorphic ink paintings. One of the earliest modernists inspired by Chinese art, Bissier amassed many artistic achievements despite being an autodidact. The artist began his education at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Art, but his studies were curtailed after a mere two months so that he could serve in World War I. He was sent to the Postal Control Office in Freiburg, where he served alongside Martin Heidegger.
After the war, Bissier's budding friendship with the sinologist Ernst Grosse sparked his interest in East Asian art and spirituality, which is reflected in Bissier’s works from the period. Then, in 1930, a visit to Constantin Brancusi’s studio became a watershed moment in Bissier’s life. His conversation with Brancusi helped Bissier realize that aesthetic abstraction does not preclude a spiritual engagement with the world. Thus for the rest of his artistic career, Bissier attempted to blend the abstract with the spiritual, which culminated in 1955–56 with his well-known series of tempera miniatures on irregularly sized sheets of linen, cotton, or paper.
In 1958, the first major retrospective of his work was held at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover, before going on tour throughout Germany. This retrospective helped launch him to international renown, prompting a multitude of exhibitions. By the end of his lifetime, Bissier had exhibited at the Venice Biennale (1958 and 1960), Documenta II and III (1959 and 1964), and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, where he was given a major retrospective in 1963.