After initial art instruction by Cologne painter B. N. Salm (1879-1891), the brother of painter Eugen Kampf and father of painter Herbert Kampf studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy with
A. Müller, E. v. Gebhardt, C. E. Forberg, J. A. Roeting, and
P. Janssen, whose master student he was beginning in 1883.
During this period in 1886, the work The final statement, influenced by Belgian painter J. Bastien-Lepage's socially critical paintings and discussed controversially in contemporary publications, brought Arthur Kampf rapid fame by reason of its size, color choice, and intensely dramatic scene (honourable mention at the Berlin Anniversary Exhibition in 1886; Small Gold Medal at the annual Munich Exhibition in 1890). In addition, Kampf dealt intensively with printmaking during his studies and, with his brother Eugene and fellow artists such as
A. Frenz and O. Jernberg, was considered a reviver of lithography in Düsseldorf.
After his training, he was an assistant teacher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1891 to 1893. He took over the antiquities and nature class as professor in 1894, initially with P. Janssen, and the painting class beginning in 1897. Beginning in 1887, Kampf laid the foundation for his subsequent reputation as the last German history painter of calibre with the pictorial composition of historical themes for the most part reflecting events from the wars of independence. Themes devised by him, and initially much under the stylistic influence of his instructors P. Janssen and E. v. Gebhardt, such as The Leuthen Choral (1887, destroyed), Consecration of the Volunteers (1891, Karlsruhe KH), Professor Steffens Speaks in 1813 in Favour of the Popular Uprising (1891, missing), The People's Sacrifice 1813 (1894, Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts), as well as He Defeated Them with Man and Steed and Wagon (1896, missing) illustrated German schoolbooks, were sold in large editions as postcards and wall posters, and were employed for purposes of propaganda during both World Wars.
By 1898, Kampf had undertaken several study trips to Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, and Spain whereupon by his own admission the works of Velaszquez copied there exercised a formative influence. After the 1899 takeover a master studio for history painting at the Art Academy in Berlin, which remained under his directorship until 1932, he served there from 1907 to 1910 and from 1910 to 1912 as its president. Kampf became director of the School of Fine Arts in Berlin in 1915 as A. v. Werner's successor. In 1924, he resigned from his office prior to this institution's dissolution.
After 1933, celebrated by virtue of his themes concerning German history and stylistic continuity, only sporadically interrupted by elements of art nouveau (graphic art) and Impressionism (Schulreiterin, 1907), he was, besides the Eagle Shield of the German Empire, vouchsafed inscription in the so-called "List of Immortals; (1939). This guaranteed him immunity from interference in artistic work during the Second World War.
Kampf, who committed himself primarily to themes of history and genre during his entire creative period, selected as central themes beyond this nearly every other artistic category, such as allegory, landscape, and the hunt, in his exceptionally comprehensive pictorial, drawing, and graphic oeuvre. In this connection, children's portraiture occupies a qualitatively pre-eminent role. He also tried his hand at plastic works (Bust of Fichte, 1919, Jena, university), but this artistic activity did not take up a broader space. In contrast to this, Kampf worked continually since 1913 as an illustrator of historical works, literary classics, and the like. These include R. Herzog, History of Prussia (1913) and J.W. Goethe, Faust (1925).
Besides his membership in the Association of Rhine-Westphalian Artists (honorary membership), the Society of German Watercolourists and the Association of German Illustrators, he was a member of the Society of Berlin Artists in Berlin (1900-1930). In Düsseldorf, Kampf belonged to the Malkasten Artists' Society (1887-1898, honorary member since 1947), the St. Luke’s Artist’s Club (1892-1903), the Society of Düsseldorfer Artists, and to the Free Federation of Düsseldorf Artists.
Excerpt from Lexicon of the Düsseldorf Painters' School, Munich 1998,
volume 2, pp. 212-216