Rudolf Bauer was born in Lindenwald near Bromberg, Silesia, in 1889 but his family moved only a few years later to Berlin. In 1905 Bauer began his studies at the Berlin Academy of Art but left the Academy only a few months later to educate himself. The upshot was paintings, caricatures and comical drawings, which were published in "Berliner Tageblatt", "Ulk" and "Le Figaro".
From 1912 Bauer contributed to the magazine and Gallery "Der Sturm" founded by Herwarth Walden and pivotal to German Expressionism and the international avant-garde. In 1915 Rudolf Bauer participated for the first time in a group show at Walden's gallery and met Hilla von Rebay, with whom he entered on a relationship of many years that was crucial to Bauer's later work.
By 1922 Bauer had shown work at about eight exhibitions mounted by "Der Sturm". From 1918 he also taught at the "Der Sturm" art school, of which Georg Muche was the director. After the war ended, Bauer was a founder member of the "November Group" although he did not collaborate closely with the group.
In 1919 Bauer joined forces with the painter and architect Otto Nebel and Hilla von Rebay to found the artists' association "Die Krater". Impressionist at the outset, Bauer's early work reveals Cubist and Expressionist influences.
By 1915-16 Bauer had switched to an abstract pictorial idiom, which is markedly influenced by Kandinsky. In the early 1920s Bauer was also preoccupied with Russian Constructivism as well as the Dutch de Stijl group. Bauer's decided preference for non-representational painting culminated in 1929 with the foundation of a private museum, "Das Geistreich", which he directed as a salon for abstract art.
Political developments in Germany forced Bauer to sell some of his work in America from 1932. His agent in America was Hilla von Rebay, who was by now director of the Guggenheim Collection. In 1936 she organised a touring exhibition of non-representational European art that included sixty Rudolf Bauer oil paintings and watercolours. After Rudolf Bauer emigrated to the US in 1939, his work was exhibited several times at the Guggenheim Foundation before his death in 1952.
Rudolf Bauer's comprehensive œuvre, which had been consigned to virtual oblivion after 1960 in both the US and Europe, has been enjoying a renascence of interest worldwide since the 1980s.