AMSTERDAM.- On December 3, 2008, Sothebys Amsterdam will devote a special section of its Modern and Contemporary Art sale to CoBrA and the North European Avant Garde from the 1950s.
The young group of Northern European post-war artists that called themselves CoBrA (acronym for Copenhagen Brussels Amsterdam) in 1948, are nowadays considered the key representatives of a colourful and volatile expressionistic style. They are in fact one of a series of key movements in the unpredictable artistic developments that mark the mid 20th century in our region. Key figures of CoBrA are the Dutch artists Karel Appel, Corneille, Constant and Asger Jorn from Denmark.
Karel Appel (1921-2006) is represented in the sale with Cat, an oil on canvas from 1953, estimated 150.000-200.000 and the street art diptych The Monolithic Gangster and Another One' from 1963 (100.000 - 120.000).
A masterpiece by Constant (Constant Nieuwenhuijs, 1920-2005) is Verzonken Stad / Ville Noyié (Drowned City) from 1956. In that same year, Constant attends the First World Congress of Free Artists in Alba, Italy, organized by Asger Jorn and the Italian artist Pinot Gallizio. Here he makes his first New Babylon This work can be seen as a key-work, connecting the two most important periods in Corneille's oeuvre. This work can be seen as a key-work, connecting the two most important periods in Corneille's oeuvre construction based on the notion of a gypsy-camp. The striking similarities between the vertical and horizontal constructive elements show the importance of the work in the development of the theme with which Constant is going to occupy himself over the next decade and a half. Ville Noyeé can be seen as the single most important painting in the development of his primary ideas concerning New Babylon. The large oil on canvas of 146 by 112 cm (150.000 - 220.000)
Corneilles Femme dans un chamber (Lady in a room) dates from 1952 and can be seen as a key-work, connecting the two most important periods in the artists oeuvre. Corneilles paintings sometimes seem to be part of a poem or a narrative. This is not surprising, as Corneille loved to write about the many travels he made and the beautiful things he had seen. Ancient cultures, primeval tribes, nature, music and literature were a source of inspiration for Corneille. The present painting, Femme dans un Chambre (Lady in a room) from 1952 reflects the artist's joy in creating a rhythmical composition of simple lines. The interaction of horizontal, vertical and circular lines shows a woman, clearly made visible by two prominent round shapes. The primitive, childish outlook of the woman is still painted in the tradition of the CoBrA period, but can also be seen as a starting point for the new style Corneille was developing at that time (estimate 50.000 - 70.000).
Asger Jorn is an example of how artists were involved in the many twists and turns of the post war development in the northern half of Europe. Jorn can be directly associated with the pre-war Danish Hirst movement that anticipated the Cobra vernacular in artists like Carl Henning Pedersen and Ejler Bille. Also he was in contact with the Belgian development of Le Surréalisme Révolutionnaire in 1947, where Christian Dotremont played an important role: He was in contact with the Experimentele Groep of Dutch artists Karel Appel and Constant (Nieuwenhuys). Jorn was in Paris to help launch CoBrA, in Albisola Italy when CoBrA gave way to the formation of the Imaginist Bauhaus including Italian artist like Enrico Baj in addition to Appel and Constant. This movement in turn developed further into the Paris based Situationist movement under Guy Debord, a very creative and artistic development with representatives all over northern Europe, and that included, besides Jorn and Constant, artist like Maurice Wyckaert, Ralph Romney, Jacqueline de Jong, and Asger Jorns younger brother Jorgen Nash. And finally Jorn was a link towards the SPUR Gruppe from Germany, with excellent artists such as Heimrad Prem and Helmut Sturm that affiliated themselves with the Situationists in the late 1950s and early 1060s. The sale offers two important works by Asger Jorn: A Look into the past from 1962 (estimate 120.000 - 180.000) and Hommage a Baudelaire from 1942 (estimate 70.000 - 100.000).
It is in this broader and very exiting context that Sothebys likes to pay tribute to the 1950s, the most prolific part of this fascinating period, full of hope, innovative exploration, anarchy and provocation.