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The Liberation of painting

The CoBrA Adventure

In Paris, on 8 November 1948, a small group of foreign artists attended the Second Conference of Revolutionary Surrealism. In total disagreement with their French counterparts, a number of dissenting artists stormed out of the meeting. 

These included Danish painter Asger Jorn, Dutchman Karel Appel and Belgian painter Corneille. Their dissent led them to found their own movement, which they called CoBrA, an acronym composed of the first letters of the capital cities of their native lands: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. In five letters, the group immediately asserted its difference by avoiding a name ending in “-ism”, in coherence with its rejection of dogmatism. 

More than an artistic movement and in the aftermath of the war, CoBrA was the promise of a better society founded on another way of living and creating. This “real utopia”, as the poet Christian Dotremont called it, advocated an experimental, free and spontaneous art, like the paintings presented in this chapter, where the colour was directly applied to the canvas, without any prior or preparatory drawing. In the same way, the artists did not impose any constraints, seeking to create out- side of any control exerted by reason. This bold sense of freedom was expressed in the liveliness of the colours, the excessive thickness of the paint and through the energy of the compositions, which combined, in an indescribable chaos, fabulous creatures that were part man, animal and plant. 

In their quest for authenticity, CoBrA members drew their inspiration from art forms that they deemed “uncontaminated” by bourgeois and academic for- malism. They were passionate about the primitive arts, including African masks, of which Corneille was an enthusiastic collector, but also oriental calligraphy, prehistoric and medieval art, and all forms of naïve art, from folk art to that produced by the mentally ill and by children. They believed that in these elementary and instinctive forms of expression lay the path to a “universal primitivity” with which CoBrA sought to reconnect following the disaster of the war. This ambition was shared by French artists Roger Bissière and Jean-Michel Atlan who, without joining the group that dissolved in 1951, experimented with the same sincerity and energy in their own works



Figures, 1952​
Huile sur toile
60,8 x cm

Inv. FGA-BA-APPEL-0001 © Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : Sandra Pointet
© ADAGP, Paris, 2020



Homme et bêtes


Homme et bêtes, 1951-1952 
Huile sur toile
73,2 x 107 cm

Inv.FGA-CORNE-0001 © Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : Sandra Pointet
© Adagp, Paris, 2020