Jean Arp was born on September 16, 1886, in Strasbourg, Bas-Rhin in the Alsace Region of France. Born at a time when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine after it had been seized by Germany from France following the Franco-Prussian War, his family was required by law to give him the German name Hans.
In 1904, after leaving the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Strasbourg, he went to Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the Kunstschule, Weimar, Germany and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian.
Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916. In 1920, as Hans Arp, along with Max Ernst, and the social activist Alfred Grunwald, he set up the Cologne, Germany Dada group. However, in 1925 his work also appeared in the first exhibition of the Surrealist group at the Galerie Pierre in Paris.
In 1926, Jean Arp moved to the Paris suburb of Meudon. In 1931, he broke with Surrealism to found Abstraction-Creation, working with the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création and the periodical, "Transition." Throughout the 1930s and until the end of his life, he continued to write and publish essays and poetry. In 1942, he fled from his home in Meudon to escape the German occupation and lived in Zürich until the war ended.
Jean Arp visited New York City in 1949 for a solo exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery. In 1950, he was invited to execute a relief for the Harvard University Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts would also be commissioned to do a mural at the UNESCO building in Paris. In 1954, Arp won the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale.
In 1958, a retrospective of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, followed by an exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France in 1962.