Born in 1880 in Sweden to a family of German origin, Viking Eggeling emigrated to Germany at the age of 17, where he became a bookkeeper, and studied art history as well as painting. From 1911 to 1915 he lived in Paris, then moved to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War I. In Zurich he became a associated with the Dada movement, becoming friend of Hans Richter, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco.
At the end of WWI he moved to Germany with Richter where both explored the depiction of movement, first in scroll drawings and then on film. In 1922 Eggeling bought a motion picture camera, and working without Richter, sought to create a new kind of cinema. Axel Olson, a young Swedish painter, wrote to his parents in 1922 that Eggeling was working to "evolve a musical-cubistic style of film... completely divorced from the naturalistic style."
In 1923 he showed a now lost, 10 minute film based on an earlier scroll titled Horizontal-vertical Orchestra. His Symphonie Diagonale - involving paper cut-outs and tin foil figures photographed one frame at a time - was completed in 1924, and shown for the first time (privately) on November 5. On May 3, 1925 it was presented to the public in Germany; sixteen days later Eggeling died in Berlin.