Rudolf Bauer was born in 1889 into a comfortable, but not well-to-do, family on the border between Germany and Poland, and they moved to Berlin soon after. Though he showed artistic promise early in his education, the study of art was not practical for a young man of his class, and he clashed with a father who would not support artistic pursuits. At age 16, the artist fled home and began study at the Academy of Fine Arts. In the decade that followed, he developed a distinct style of figural drawing, with elegant, varied, contour outlines and elongated forms.

In 1915 Bauer began association with the publication and then the gallery Der Sturm, where a young circle of artists would soon develop and eventually disseminate a new form of painting with no real-world subject matter; that is, this abstract work was absent an object, and thus came to be called Non-Objective. It sought to reach a viewer directly, in the way that instrumental music affects a listener without words.

Bauer’s development of abstract art is his major contribution to art history, but as his story has come to light in recent years and his impact as an abstractionist better understood, the art world has seen a resurgence of interest in his early, illustrative drawings. Bauer’s illustrations and caricatures, while less lofty in philosophy than his non-objectives, display an early portent of the artist’s masterful use of varied contour line and compositional sense of movement. His subjects are both aggrandized and gently satirized; the figures represent the elegant elite of Berlin, about whom Bauer, not being of high social standing, presumably held some ambivalence.