César was born to Italian parents on 1 January 1921, in the Belle de Mai quarter of Marseilles, France. The poverty of the area and its inhabitants, particularly in contrast to the wealthier parts of the port city, would prove a particularly personal influence upon his practice. César studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Marseilles (1935-39) before moving to Paris in 1943 and enrolling in the École des Beaux-Arts in the French capital (1943-48). César would begin to make sculptures out of plaster in 1947, and two years later learnt arc welding. During this period he would live above the studio of Alberto Giacometti, and met Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Jean Paul Sartre.


In 1952, César began making sculptures by welding together pieces of scrap metal that he had collected, forging them into zoomorphic and anthropomorphic forms called Fers (‘Irons’). His first major show was held at the Salon de Mai, Paris, in 1955). In 1960, he created his first Compressions – bodies of cars crushed into dense packages – and later that year joined the Nouveaux Réalistes with Arman, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Jean Tinguely, Pierre Restany amongst others. In 1965, César began to work with plastics and then from 1966 with poured expanding polyurethane. Between 1967 and 1970 he organised a series of Happenings, in which he produced expansions in the presence of an audience.


César’s later work would include sculptures made of molten crystal as well as monumental commissions. In 1982, he was the subject of a travelling retrospective at the Musée d’Art Modern, Lieges, Espace Niçois d’Art et Culture, Nice, the Seibu Foundation and Ottara Foundation, Japan. In 1995, César represented France at the XLVI Venice Biennale. He died in Paris on 6 December 1998.


César’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Art Contemporain (MAC), Marseille; Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, Brussels; the Tate Collection, London.