In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8), we celebrate how the Swiss Dadaist Sophie Taeuber-Arp became one the 20th Century’s most prominent female artists and remains the only woman to date to have been featured on a Swiss bank note.
Last year, on April 6, 2016, the BNS introduced the new, current design of the 50 CHF note, leading to the loss of the only woman adorning our Swiss bank currency for the last twenty years. Although her legacy is extensive, she remains relatively unknown. On this International Women’s Day, we take the opportunity to reflect on the pioneering work of a woman who shaped abstract art and played a major role in Switzerland’s history.
So who was Sophie Taeuber-Arp and how is her legacy still of such importance over a century later?
Born in Davos, Switzerland in 1889 as Sophie Henriette Gertrude Taeuber, she studied textile design at the trade school (Gewerbeschule, today School of Applied Arts) in St. Gallen (1906 – 1910) and attended the School for Applied and Free Art in Munich before leaving for Zurich in 1915. In 1918, Taeuber-Arp became one of the co-founders of the Dada Manifesto, alongside Hugo Ball and Marcel Janco. She applied Dada to her various artistic practices, yet her abstract work was somewhat happier and more playful than that of her fellow Dada artists. She profoundly challenged traditional beliefs of art and how we perceive them by freeing the artistic expression itself of its restricting precedents.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) graced our Swiss 50 CHF notes from 1995 to 2016 and is recognized as one of the key figures in the Dada artistic movement, yet she remains quite an enigma to the Swiss public and is lesser known than her male peers. Her relative obscurity may be in part due to being overshadowed by her husband, Hans Arp, pioneer of abstract art but also due to the extremely varied fields in which her creative activities found artistic expression. Her practice ranged from sculpting, painting and textile to dancing, performances and puppetry. Her legacy has lived on through over a century and her wide-range of practices makes her one of the most influential artists of modern art. Yet, in the 1943 police statement of her death, caused by an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, under “profession” one read the job title: Housewife.
She broke down static, traditional boundaries between genres and forms and created what could be considered some of the most joyful art of the 20th Century, at a time where the world was being torn apart by war. And despite her fine legacy, she has yet to achieve the recognition she deserves.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp may no longer be on our Swiss bank notes, but let’s remember and celebrate her as the pioneer of modernism and the freedom believer she was.
This article was written by Amanda Bühler.
Portrait de Sophie Taeuber-Arp avec Tête Dada, 1920, Nic Aluf, Archives de la Fondation Marguerite Arp, Locarno: https://www.letemps.ch/suisse/2014/08/06/sophie-taeuber-arp-artiste-appenzell-paris
Picture of 50 franc bill: https://geboren.am/person/sophie-taeuber-arp
- Schelbert, Leo (21.05.14). Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 369.