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Hugh Kappel (1910 - 1982)

Hugh Kappel was born in Berlin, Germany in 1910 to a wealthy Jewish family.  His family’s affluence enabled him to receive an excellent education as well as strong artistic training when he was young.  He received an M.A. in philosophy, a discipline that became his lifelong passion.

In 1934, Kappel moved to Paris to further his artistic training.  He studied under the Fauvist artist Othon Friesz, which had a profound influence of his understanding of color throughout his career.  He exhibited at the Galerie Niveau in 1935 which also showcased work by some of the most influential artists of the 20th century including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Paul Klee.

Kappel continued his studies at the Academic Ranson with Marcel Gromaire.  He went on to exhibit regularly in Paris at the Salon d’Autumn, Galerie Carmine, and the Salon des Artistes Francais.  His work was well received and he began to mature his style with elements of Cubism and Fauvism.  He left France and emigrated to New York City in 1937 to escape the growing Fascist movement in France.

Kappel began by designing sets on Broadway and was also enrolled at the New School for Social Research and the Traphagen School of Design.  He was introduced to a new, non-objective style of painting that was brewing in New York City and became known as Abstract Expressionism.  His style became more fluid and spontaneous with beautiful gestural brushstrokes that evoked an expressionist style.  He no longer imitated traditional European artistic aesthetics but rather developed his own unique style.  He was part of the landmark 9th Street Exhibition of 1951 and his paintings were shown with artworks by Jackson Pollock, Helen Franenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann, and several other Abstract Expressionist masters.

Kappel moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1958 and taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  He continued to exhibit his work in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Walker Art Center.


His life spanned much of the 20th century and thus it also encompassed various artistic movements.  His earliest work focused on portraiture, naturalistic and unadorned.  Subsequently, a blend of both German expressionism and French impressionism guided his work in watercolors, capturing a bold balance of nature and urban life.  In New York, he engaged in print-making, his technique applied to the commercial assignments of the day.  Much later, his collages reflect postmodern pastiche effects, but his work was also deeply influenced by his abiding belief in surrealism.  Hence, his collages, perhaps most honestly, reflect the restrained chaos of his internal life.

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