Hans Hartung was born on September 21, 1904, in Leipzig, Germany. He studied Philosophy and Art History at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig and then in Dresden, after which he moved to Monaco to study under the painter Max Doerner. In 1932 Hartung went to Paris, where he met Alexander Calder, Vasily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian, and showed his first works at the Salon des Indépendants. During World War II, Hartung joined the French Foreign Legion, returning to Paris after the war to become a French citizen.

After six years of inactivity as an artist, he began painting again and participated in numerous group exhibitions, showing works characterized by large colored stripes overpainted with calligraphic lines. During the 1960s he began to introduce three-dimensional elements into his paintings. In 1947 Hartung had his first solo exhibition, the opening show of Galerie Lydia Conti in Paris. Between 1955 and 1964 he participated several times at Documenta in Kassel. He received the Guggenheim International Prize in 1956 and the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1960.

In 1976 he published his memoirs under the title Autoportrait. The following year he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, had his first exhibition of photographs at Cercle Noroit in Arras, and the Centre Georges Pompidou organized an exhibition of his lithographs and etchings that traveled around France for four years. In 1981 the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst in Munich, and Henie-Onstad Foundation in Oslo presented a major retrospective exhibition following his receipt of the first annual Oskar Kokoschka Prize from the Austrian government. In 1985 the Grand Palais in Paris presented a major retrospective of his work. Hartung died on December 7, 1989, in Antibes, France.