CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

CoBrA and contemporaries from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Exhibition: 16 May - 28 September 2003

From the museum website

In the Peter Gallery of the Small Hermitage (Rooms No. 255-257) has opened an exhibition of 86 sculptures, paintings and drawings created by artists of the group CoBrA after 1945. The name CoBrA is an acronym of the French names of the capitals of the three countries from which the group’s members Asger Jorn (Denmark), Christian Dotremont and Philippe Noiree (Belgium), Karel Appel, Constant (Constant A. Nieuwenhuys) and Corneille (Cornelis Guillaume van Bewerloo) (The Netherlands) came, Co[penhague], Br[uxelles], A[msterdam]. The group was organized in the wake of the 1948 Paris conference of the leaders of international experimental art. Artists felt the need of reform by means of art as a reaction to the great depression of the 1930s and the subsequent war. Though as an organization the group proved short-lived, existing only from 1948 to 1951, it gave an enduring impetus to the post-war European art.

Denmark was the birthplace of CoBrA’s artistic language. The Danish painters Carl Henning Pedersen, Henry Heerup, Asger Jorn and Robert Jacobsen, whose works are displayed in the exhibit, in the 1930s rose in rebellion against the dogmas of traditional surrealism with its preoccupation with the world of dreams.

The tradition of surrealism in Belgium, which was more resilient and after the war accepted new experiments, became one of the inspirations for CoBrA. Some artists in The Netherlands after the WWII drew on the achievements of Picasso and Matisse. This can be seen in the early works of Karel Appel, showed in the exhibit, including Sitting Girl (1948) and Sailor Girl (1948) or Constant’s Still-life with Scull (1946). The creations of Eugene Brands (1913-2002) represented by his experimental collages of the 1930s were an exception to this rule.

CoBrA’s idea of art was strongly influenced by “primitivism” deriving from folk art, fairy tales, myths, primitive art and paintings of children and insane people. Previously these elements inspired Juan Miro and Paul Klee in whom members of CoBrA saw their predecessors. All artists affiliated with the group are remarkable for their dedication to free unfettered expression.

Artists who were associated with CoBrA though they were never formal members of the group included Piet Ouborg (1893-1956) who belonged to an older generation but was praised by the group members for his abstract compositions. Sculptures by Lotti van der Gaag (1923-99) who in the 1950s was admitted into their circle by the CoBrA artists who then lived in Paris provide a valuable addition to the paintings and drawings showed in the exhibit.

Two years ago the Hermitage hosted the exhibition Dutch Masters of the 20th Century (1945 – 1985) from Amsterdam. The new show continues to introduce the Russian public to artists who have so far been little known in Russia.

The exhibition is organized by the Hermitage together with the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), with the support of the Consulate General of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in St. Petersburg. The show is part of the Stedelijk Museum’s international exhibition program From the past into the present.