Rolf Cavael studied typography and applied graphics at the Frankfurt "Städelschule" from 1924 to 1926. During his studies he received a scholarship. After his training the artist became a teacher for applied graphics at the "Städtische handelsschule" in Frankfurt and undertook his first didactic attempts in abstract painting.
During a visit to the Dessau Bauhaus in 1930 Rolf Cavael met Kandinsky, with whom he developed an amicable contact, which also remained after Kandinsky's emigration to Paris. The same year he was dismissed from his teaching position due to Chancellor Brüning's emergency decree.
The artist moved to Berlin, where he worked as an independent artist. His first large exhibition took place in 1933 in castle Braunschweig together with Joseph Albers, but the Nazis closed the exhibition down the same day it opened. The two painters were banned from exhibitions. Rolf Cavael moved to Garmisch and continued abstract painting in secret.
In 1936 Cavael was denounced and kept interned at the Dachau concentration camp for nine months. Then he was not only banned from exhibiting but also from painting. The artist was excluded from the "Reichskulturkammer".
After the war, Rolf Cavael resumed his artistic work, which was only happening in secret during the years of the ban. In 1949 Cavael, Baumeister, Winter, Geiger and other artists founded the 'ZEN 49' group, which became the most important non-representational group of artists in southern Germany.
In 1954 the artist moved from Garmisch to Munich. He became a guest professor at the "Hochschule für Bildende Künste" in Hamburg and taught at the Munich "Volkshochschule" from 1956 to 1973. During this period Rolf Cavael also received numerous honors.
In 1957 he was awarded the art prize from the city of Munich, in 1958 he received an invitation to the Venice Biennale and the first prize of the international "Graphiktriennale" in Grenchen, Switzerland. "Kunsthalle Baden-Baden", "Kestnergesellschaft" in Hanover and the Munich "Lenbachhaus" honored his work with solo exhibitions.
One year before he died, Cavael received the Lovis-Corinth-Prize from the "Künstlergilde". Rolf Cavael is one of the most important exponents of non-representational painting in Germany.