Close this search box.

Arnulf Rainer

Arnulf Rainer

Arnulf Rainer


You step into the museum, greeted by a sea of black - black paintings, black photos, and black sculptures. This is the world of Arnulf Rainer, an Austrian artist known for revolutionizing art in postwar Europe. For over 60 years, Rainer has pushed the boundaries of expression using various media, though his signature style has always involved obscuring and defacing his creations. His life's work is a testament to the turmoil of the 20th century and his rebellion against social conventions. 

From his start as part of the Vienna Actionists performance art group to his black-over paintings and face farces, Rainer has made a career of confronting and provoking his audiences. His life inspires us, reminding us to remain true to our creative spirit in the face of criticism and rejection. 

Arnulf Rainer, the Austrian rebel, left a legacy of courageous art that provoked deeper reflection. By following his unique path, Rainer found artistic freedom and shared that space with the world.

To understand Rainer is to understand the angst of Austria's history and the human struggle for freedom of thought. This exhibit offers a chance to glimpse into the mind of a defiant visionary who never stopped questioning the world around him. Prepare to be challenged.

More Facts

Name: Arnulf

Surname: Rainer

Lives & Works:

Lives in State:


Date of Birth:


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Arnulf Rainer BIOGRAPHY

Arnulf Raine
Image Credit: Artlyst

Early Life and Education

When Was Arnulf Rainer Born? 

Arnulf Rainer was born and grew up on December 8, 1929, in a small Austrian town called Baden, just outside Vienna. His father was a local government employee, and his mother stayed home. Rainer showed an early interest in art, taking private art lessons during childhood.

He attended a technical school for architecture but dropped out after two years to pursue art full-time. In the late 1950s, Rainer moved to Vienna to attend the Academy of Fine Arts. There, he studied painting under Albert Paris Gütersloh, who introduced Rainer to abstract expressionism. This style emphasized spontaneous, visceral art-making using experimental materials and techniques.

How Arnulf Rainer Developed His Signature Style?

Rainer began developing his signature style of “overpainting” during this time. He would create a painting, then attack the canvas by repeatedly scrubbing, scratching, and repainting it. Adding and removing layers resulted in emotionally raw, heavily worked surfaces. Rainer’s early overpainted works featured dreary colours and a gloomy, angst-ridden quality that matched post-war Vienna’s mood.

In the 1960s, Rainer’s style grew more colourful and rebellious. He incorporated collage elements like photographs, newspapers, and fabrics into his paintings, then energetically overpainted them. Rainer garnered attention for his anti-authoritarian artistic philosophy and eccentric persona. His neo-Dadaist works rebelled against the importance of traditional materials and compositional logic in painting. This cemented his status as an art world provocateur, a role Rainer would play for decades.

What is Arnulf Rainer known for?

Arnulf Raine
Image Credit: Artlyst

Arnulf Rainer is now recognized as a pioneer who expanded the possibilities of painting. His intense self-portraits and incorporation of bodily fluids as artistic media demonstrate his commitment to raw self-expression. Rainer’s art provides insight into the human experience in all its beauty and angst.

Career highlights

Arnulf Raine

Image Credit: The Sale Room

Finding His Voice: Rainer’s Emergence in the Viennese Art Scene

Rainer found inspiration in the expressive and emotive works of Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and Anton Kolig. Their unconventional styles resonated with Rainer’s individualistic temperament. He was also drawn to the rebellious nature of the Vienna Actionists, an avant-garde group known for their aggressive and transgressive performances and “happenings.”

In the wake of World War II, Rainer and other artists sought to challenge the conservative art establishment and push the boundaries of creative expression. Rainer began experimenting with abstract painting, incorporating found materials and objects onto the canvas. 

His innovation featured everything from plants, clothing, and newspaper clippings to eggshells, feathers, and dead animals.  These are:

  • “Object paintings” 
  • “Material pictures”

Rainer’s unorthodox and provocative works were met with shock, outrage, and scorn. But his persistence in the face of criticism earned him recognition as an experimental art pioneer. 

By the early 1960s, Rainer had emerged as a leading figure of the Viennese avant-garde, solidifying his status as Austria’s preeminent rebel artist. His groundbreaking creations and lifelong commitment to radical self-expression have made Rainer an icon of 20th-century art.

International Recognition and Success

By the mid-1970s, Rainer’s provocative and rebellious art gained increasing international recognition and success. His paintings were featured in solo European exhibitions, attracting praise and controversy.


Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland

Solo exhibition of Rainer’s self-portrait paintings, bringing his confrontational and disturbing style to a broader audience.


Venice Biennale

His works were shown at one of the most prestigious international art exhibitions.


Museums in Germany, Austria and Poland

The exhibitions sparked debates about the role of contemporary art in society due to the jarring and unsettling nature of Rainer’s self-portraits, which explored themes of human anguish, suffering and mortality.

His defiance of social conventions marked Rainer’s ascent to fame. At the award ceremony in Venice, he appeared onstage utterly naked with his body painted, shocking the dignified audience. His controversial act was a protest against the commercialization of art and its integration into popular culture.

Major Exhibitions

By the late 1970s, Rainer’s paintings had entered the collections of prominent museums, including:

  • Museum of Modern Art in New York
  • Center Pompidou in Paris
  • Albertina in Vienna

A Pioneer of Experimental Art

Rainer was in the vanguard of experimental art in post-World War II Austria. Along with other radical artists of the time, his visceral and unconventional art helped establish Vienna as a center for avant-garde art. His rebellious and subversive works anticipated and influenced later 20th-century art movements like performance art, conceptual art, and postmodernism. Though controversial, Rainer’s art was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of creative expression.

Decades ahead of his time, Arnulf Rainer produced art meant to provoke, challenge, and rebel against social norms. His unorthodox and anarchic works broke from convention to pioneer experimental art forms that have come to define contemporary art. Though radical, Rainer’s art expanded the possibilities of creative expression and shaped modern artistic culture.

Arnulf Rainer List of Work

Arnulf Raine
Image Credit: The Sale Room

Distorting Familiar Images

Rainer would take familiar images, like photographs of himself or religious icons, and manipulate, distort, and deface them. He would scratch out his eyes, scribble over faces, and make aggressive marks across the images. 

These acts of destruction and vandalism were meant to subvert expectations and provoke the viewer. His rebellious art rejected the pristine and harmonious in favour of the raw, chaotic, and disorderly.

Challenging Social Norms

Rainer’s art was a bold challenge to social and cultural norms. His “over paintings,” in which he would crudely paint over and essentially destroy famous works of art, were a symbolic smashing of the art establishment and rejection of artistic convention. His nude self-portraits in contorted and exaggerated poses broke taboos around nudity, sexuality, and self-representation.

Legacy and Influence: Rainer’s Lasting Impact on Art

Rainer served as an inspiration and role model for younger generations of artists. His bold rejection of artistic conventions and norms permitted subsequent artists to explore new creative territories. 

Rainer’s expressive and emotionally raw style also inspired artists to seek new ways to convey intense human experiences and psychological states. His influential position in the Viennese art scene brought attention to the experimental young artists he supported.

Follow Arnulf Rainer on social media


Discover Artists



Page link

Link successfully copied. Ready to paste!