His father, Emil Freundlich, was director of a transport company. Until 1901 Otto Freundlich was trained in the wood industry by his brother in Hamburg.
In 1904, he moved to Munich where he devoted himself to the study of musical theory. Two years later, he moved to Florence to study art history and began painting.
In 1907 in Berlin, he discovered the world of sculpture under the tutelage of Arthur Lewin Funcke.
He arrived in Paris in 1908 where he was welcomed by Rudolf Lévy. He stayed in the Bateau-Lavoir ateliers of Montmartre for one year, during which time he met Picasso, George Braque, Juan Gris, André Salmon and Guillaume Apollinaire at the restaurant Le Lapin Agile. He then returned to Montparnasse and realised his first abstract paintings in 1911. During his ten year stay in Paris, Freundlich travelled often to Berlin and Munich and participated in several exhibitions, including the New Secessionist exhibition held in Berlin in 1910 and in 1911.
He had plans to open a private art school.
In 1917, he worked for the pacifist review Die Aktion (the Action) which devoted a special edition to his work in September 1918. He was interested in different forms of creation such as stained glass, tapestry, and mosaics.
In November 1919, he and Max Ernst participated in the inaugural Dada exhibition in Cologne and joined the Cercle et Carré group founded by Michel Seuphor. He later became an active member of the Abstraction-Creation group in Paris.
In 1920, Walter Gropius tried to obtain Freundlich’s entry into the Bauhaus group, but his candidature was refused. During this time he met Raoul Hausmann who became his friend. In October 1921, Walter Benjamin invited his participation in the project for the review "Angelus Novus". On 11 March 192?, Freundlich organised a conference on the theme,"Transformation of the Visible World". He was extremely active and fought for his beliefs;during the International Congress of Progressive Artists, he violently opposed the art trade and artists’ organizations. He participated in the organization of the International Exhibition of Revolutionary Artists in Berlin and donated his drawings to the lottery against famine in Russia organised by the Altmann Art Gallery.
In 1930, he met Jeanne Kosnick-Kloss, a painter and sculptor, who became his companion.
In 1934, he wrote a theoretical text on painting, “Die Wege der Abstrakten” (Paths of Abstract Art).
In 1936 he founded “The Wall”, a private art academy located in his last Paris atelier in rue Denfert Rochereau. He conceived projects for architectonic sculptures called "Mountains Sculptures" and exchanged works with Kurt Schwitters. When war broke out, Freundlich, a German citizen, was arrested by the French Army and interned in Francillon. In February 1940 he was transferred to Bassens in the Gironde.
After his release in May 1940 he took refuge with a peasant family in Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet in the Eastern Pyrenees. Freundlich was denounced and arrested on 23 February 1943.
On 4 March 1943 he was deported to Poland on convoy n°50. On 9 March 1943, he was assassinated by the Nazis upon his arrival in the Lublin-Maïdenek camp.
The 1937 travelling exhibition "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) that was organized by the Nazis to present and denounce modern art was shown initially in Berlin, then in all major German cities and in Vienna. Many Jewish artists’ works were exhibited. Freundlich’s 1912 sculpture "The New Man", was reproduced on the catalogue cover. Fourteen works by Otto Freundlich were among those destroyed at the end of the exhibition. Some of his work has been conserved by the Museum of Pontoise.
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