Willi Geiger was born in Schönbrunn near Landshut on August 27, 1878. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich he studied painting as a master student of Franz von Stuck and etching techniques in the class of Peter Halm. In the early years of his artistic career, he turned more to graphic art. He produced numerous portfolios of lithographs and etchings, e.g. Seele, 1903 and Liebe, 1904/05, for the latter of which he was awarded the Graf Schack Prize by the Munich Academy, which enabled him to travel south. First it took Willi Geiger to Rome and Naples, then further south to Tunisia, where he lost a lot of money gambling in the casino and was forced to return home. In 1906 he then went to Paris, where he had contact with Albert Weisgerber and Auguste Rodin, and to Madrid, where he became friends with Juan Gris.
Returning to Munich, Willi Geiger worked as a freelance graphic artist from 1907 and married the sculptor Clara Weiß. In 1908 the only child Rupprecht Geiger was born. The award of the Villa Romana Prize leads to a one-year stay in Florence until November 1910, together with Ernst Barlach.
In imperial Berlin from 1911 onwards, Willi Geiger gained his first social recognition through his profound impressionist bookplate designs. Among other things, he created the second Tauromachie cycle. In 1912 he traveled again to Madrid, where he gradually approached the world of color under the influence of the southern Mediterranean light. However, the harrowing experiences of his deployment in World War I increased his tendency toward a pessimistic worldview, which is reflected in his Expressionist works. During the war, he drew the sequels Unsere Helden (1914), as well as Neue Kriegsbilder and Epistel aus dem Felde (1917).
After the end of the war, he accepted a professorship at the Munich School of Applied Arts beginning in 1920. In 1923 he painted the portrait Hans Pfitzner, which is now in the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, and decided to leave Germany and make a new start in Spain. From Madrid, numerous trips took him inland, to Tenerife and the Moroccan city of Tetouan. A key experience in understanding a "psychic depth" of color sounds was his personal discovery and recreation of El Greco's painting, especially The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which he copied. Spain remained an intermezzo, however, and Willi Geiger returned to Germany in 1925. In 1927 he painted the portrait Heinrich Mann and from 1928 he was appointed professor of a painting class at the Leipzig State Academy of Prints and Book Art.
Willi Geiger's political statements against the party and the Führer - he called Hitler the "greatest desperado of the century" - led to political denunciations. After being summarily dismissed from his teaching post in the summer of 1933, he found the retreat of his "inner emigration" at Lake Chiemsee until 1945. He captured the intense contemplation of the foothills of the Alps stretching before his eyes in the watercolors and paintings of this period. These illustrate his perfect mastery of the gradually brightening color palette. In addition to seemingly peaceful paintings of flowers, he also studied the people living here in portraits. At the same time, however, he secretly reckoned with the Nazi dictatorship, the war and its consequences in numerous drawings and paintings - themes that he took up again in the post-war period and continued to work on. He then published some of the drawings he made in 1943/44, which demonstrate his critical attitude toward the regime, in 1947 in the series of pictures Zwölf Jahre and Eine Abrechnung. Although some of his works were confiscated during the Nazi regime, he was not banned from painting and executed murals, such as the Battle of the Romans against the Teutons on the facade of the Prinz Franz barracks in Kempten in Allgäu, which was unfortunately destroyed in the 1970s.
After World War II, Willi Geiger was rehabilitated and appointed head of a painting class at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. Once again he turned to themes of human tragedy, at the same time giving joyful expression to his longing for harmony in bucolic still lifes. Finally, in his old age, he painted numerous paintings of flowers, some of them highly abstracted, which form the synthesis and culmination of his artistic work. In front of one of these works, at the age of 75, he said:
"Gradually I begin to understand what painting is".
In these paintings, the artist managed to unite the positive side of life - vitality and joy - with the darker sides of human existence - distress and melancholy.