Yves Klein was born on April 28, 1928 in Nice, France. His parents, Fred Klein and Marie Raymond, were both painters. From 1942 to 1946, the artist studied at the École Nationale de la Marine Marchande and the École Nationale des Langues Orientales, and began practicing judo. At this time, he became friends with Arman Fernandez and Claude Pascal, and started to paint. Klein composed his first Symphonie monotone in 1947. During the years 1948 to 1952, he traveled to Italy, Great Britain, Spain, and Japan before settling permanently in Paris in 1955.
Many of Klein's early works were monochromes which were painted in a variety of colors. However, by the late 1950s he attributed a particular role to the color blue. For Klein, blue embodied the most abstract aspects of tangible and visible nature, such as sky and the sea. Klein's monochromes became almost exclusively rendered in a deep blue hue which he eventually patented as International Klein blue (IKB), although the color was never produced commercially.
In addition to monochromes paintings, Klein applied the IKB pigment to sponges, which he attached to canvases as relief elements or positioned on wire stands to create biomorphic sculptures. The "bas reliefs dans une forêt d'éponges" (bas-reliefs in a sponge forest) was first exhibited in 1959 at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris.
In the 1960s, Klein created “Anthropométries,” with the goal of recording the body's physical energy. The body prints on canvas reminded him of the imprints left on the judo mat after a participant had fallen in a contest. To make these paintings, nude models—who Klein called "living brushes"—covered themselves in blue paint and placed their bodies on white paper laid out on walls and floor. Klein would often then drag them around the paper to produce various abstract shapes. The “Anthropométries de l'époque bleue” (Anthropometries of the blue period) were held at the Galerie Internationale d'Art Contemporain in 1960 in Paris.
In 1961, Klein began a series of fire paintings using a flame-thrower. These works continued his exploration of air and the immaterial with the addition of fire as an essential new element. In 1962, the exhibition “Yves Klein: Monochrome und Fueuer” (Monochrome and Fire) was mounted at the Museum Haus Lamge in Krefeld, Germany, at the initiative of the Krefeld Museum. It was Yves Klein largest retrospective to date.
His work is included in the public collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco museum of Modern Art; the Städel Museum, Frankfurt; the Calderara Foundation Collection, Milan; the Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Trento; the Alazzo Forti, Verona; Reina Sofia National Museum, Madrid; Royal Academy of Arts, London; S.M.A.K (Stedelijk Museum Voor Actuele Kunst), Belgium; Tate Gallery, London; the Menil Collection, Texas; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among many others.
The artist's work had been the subject of important retrospective exhibitions at the Musée national d'Art Moderne, Paris (1983); the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1983 and 2006); the Nice Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (2000); and the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Museum of Prato, Italy, (2000).
Yves Klein died in Paris of a heart attack on June 6, 1962 at the age of 34, shortly before the birth of his son.