Karl Hartung was born as the son of a carpenter in Hamburg in 1908. In 1923 Hartung began an apprenticeship as a stonemason and subsequently studied art. In 1929 Karl Hartung went to Paris on a scholarship, where he studied the works of Rodin and Maillol.
When Karl Hartung returned to Hamburg in 1932, he realized that his working and living conditions as an abstract stonemason were getting increasingly difficult because of the cultural policy under the Nazi regime. In 1936 Hartung and his family moved to Berlin. With his first solo exhibition at the "Galerie Rosen", Berlin in 1946, came his breakthrough as an artist.
In 1959 Karl Hartung was appointed to the "Hochschule der Bildenden Künste" in Berlin and in 1955 he became the chairman of the "Deutscher Künstlerbund". In that same year, Karl Hartung also participated in "documenta I". Contributions to the Venice Biennale and further international exhibitions followed.
Karl Hartung died in Berlin on June 19, 1967.