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Julius Bissier was born on december 3, 1893, in Freiburg, Germany. After briefly studying art history at the Universität Freiburg in 1913, he began attending the Kunstakademie Karlsruhe the following year but was forced into military service after just a few months. He returned to Freiburg in 1918 and began a career as a self-taught painter. In 1919 Bissier met the ethnologist and art historian Ernst Grosse, who introduced him to East Asian mysticism and art. His first exhibition was held at the Kunstverein in Freiburg in 1920.
Bissier’s early paintings were strongly influenced by so-called primitive German painters, but in 1923 he began working in a realist style aligned with Der Neue Sachlichkeit. From 1929 to 1934 he taught at the Universität Freiberg, during which time his work became increasingly abstract. This was perhaps a result of a visit to Constantin Brancusi in his Paris studio, as well as his friendship with Willi Baumeister, who introduced him to works by Georges Braque, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso, among others, in his Frankfurt studio. In 1930 he began creating works on paper using tusche applied with a brush; he would work on these drawings almost exclusively between 1932 and 1947. A fire at the Universität Freiberg in 1934 destroyed almost all of Bissier’s works up to that point.
In 1939 Bissier moved to Hagnau, Germany, on Lake Constance, where he started designing carpets and fabrics, which were made by his wife, Lisbeth, a weaver. In 1942 he met the potter Richard Bampi and began experimenting with ceramics, occasionally in Bampi’s workshop. The following year Bissier reintroduced color into his work. He began to produce colorful monotypes in 1947, and became interested in woodcuts and ink drawings from India. In 1955 he began a series of miniatures in tempera and watercolor. In 1959 the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague presented a retrospective exhibition of Bissier’s work. That same year, and in 1964, he participated in Documenta in Kassel, and in 1960 in the Venice Biennale. At the São Paulo Bienal the following year Bissier was awarded the Tenth Anniversary Award. Numerous international exhibitions and awards followed, including the Bundesverdienstkreuz in 1964. In 1961 he moved to Ascona, Switzerland, where he died on June 18, 1965.