Yves Klein was born on April 28, 1928, in Nice, France. From 1942 to 1946, he studied at the École nationale de la marine marchande and the École nationale des langues orientales vivantes (now Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales) and began practicing judo. At this time, he became friends with artist Arman and singer Claude Pascal and started to paint. Klein composed his first one-note Symphonie monotone (Monotone Symphony) in 1947. From 1948 to 1952, he traveled to Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Japan. In 1955, Klein settled permanently in Paris, where he was given a solo exhibition at the Club des Solitaires. His monochrome paintings were shown at the Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, in 1956.
In 1957, Klein entered his époque bleue (blue period); this year a double exhibition of his work was held at the Galerie Iris Clert and the Galerie Colette Allendy, both in Paris. In 1958, Klein emptied the Galerie Iris Clert, repainted the walls white, and presented the emptiness of the space as a work of art in the groundbreaking conceptual exhibition The Void (La voide). Also, that year, he began using nude models as “living paintbrushes,” covering them in paint and instructing them in the pressing and dragging of their bodies across paper and canvas. These works, called Anthropometries, recorded gestural impressions and the physical energy of the body. Also in 1957, Klein undertook a project for the decoration of the entrance hall of the new opera house in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany. He signed the first manifesto of the group Nouveaux Réalistes (New Realists, 1960–63), written in 1960 by critic Pierre Restany. In 1960, Klein patented International Klein Blue (IKB), a paint color he created with the help of a chemical retailer. Klein was inspired to develop IKB after searching for a shade of blue that effectively unlocked the endless void of space, eradicating the division of earth and sky. IKB, heavy in ultramarine, used a clear, colorless carrier (unlike traditional binders, which had a dulling effect) to suspend pure, dry pigment, maintaining the pigment’s original intensity.
In 1961, Klein was given a retrospective at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, West Germany, and his first U.S. solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. He and architect Claude Parent collaborated that year on the design for fountains of water and fire, Fountains of Warsaw (Les fontaines de Varsovie), for the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. In 1962, Klein executed a plaster cast of Arman and took part in Antagonismes 2: L’objet (Antagonisms 2: the object) at the Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris. Klein was the subject of a posthumous retrospective at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Germany (2004–05), as well as the major retrospective Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers (2010–11), which was presented at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., as well as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Klein died on June 6, 1962, in Paris.