Asger Jorn
Asger Jorn, "Together but not content", Oil on canvas. 54 x 45 cm. Estimate: DKK 400,000 – 500,000 (€50,000 - 60,000)

The Cobra Movement Makes a Grand Tour of Europe at Bonhams

Tuesday 6 December in Copenhagen

Paris – Having acquired the Swedish auction house Bukowskis in January, the Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen in March, and the Franco-Belgian Cornette de Saint Cyr last June, Bonhams presents CoBrA – a sale reflecting the presence of the international auction house in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam.

This sale will take place at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen on 6 December. A travelling exhibition presenting a selection of paintings from the sale will begin in Paris (running from 19-21 October), before going on view in Amsterdam (3-5 November) and Brussels (17-20 November), then returning for view on 24-28 November to Copenhagen for the auction on 6 December.

The CoBrA group was created by the Danish artists Asger Jorn and Carl-Henning Pedersen, Dutch artists Karel Appel and Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys as well as Belgians Corneille, Pierre Alechinsky and Christian Dotremont. The group was founded in November 1948 in Paris, at the café of the Hotel Notre Dame. The French artists, Jean-Michel Atlan and Jacques Doucet, soon became members as well. Together, the CoBrA group wanted to go beyond the academic art teachings of the time, and they found the prevailing movements, such as abstract art, too rigid and rational. These artists advocated spontaneous and experimental art, and practices inspired by Primitivism. They were particularly interested in children’s drawings and the art of those who were considered outsiders. This international collaboration, an exceptional phenomenon in the art world, was short-lived. The CoBrA group disbanded in November 1951 after three joint exhibitions and the publication of eight issues of its review.

The first exhibition, in 1949 in Amsterdam, had the effect of a bombshell on a public confused by this new language. However, rejection quickly gave way to acceptance and then unreserved recognition – particularly in Scandinavian countries, and elsewhere in the world.

Jorn, Appel and Alechinsky, major figures of CoBrA, are well-represented in this sale.

CoBrA was my school”, said Pierre Alechinsky, who at the end of the 1940s, at the age of 22, met Christian Dotremont, with whom he would form the hard core of the Belgian branch of the movement. His style gradually asserted itself during the 1950s, combining oriental calligraphy with the universe of imaginary creatures of CoBrA, reviving the Flemish tradition for the fantastic. A particularly vividly coloured 1970 work by Alechinsky titled Dernier arbre (‘The Last Tree’) was first exhibited on the walls of the famous Galerie Birch in Copenhagen. It comes to market with an estimate of DKK 600,000-800,000 (€80,000-100,000).

Painted in Djerba in Tunisia in 1948, a rare painting by Asger Jorn: “Together but not content”, is a beautiful oil on canvas, which was exhibited on numerous occasions in the 1950s and 1960s. The work has an estimate of DKK 400,000 – 500, 000 (€50,000 – 60,000). In 1947, Asger Jorn returned to France with his family. There, he met a group of “revolutionary surrealists”. During the winter of 1947-1948, he stayed in Djerba, where he painted and wrote articles. The work shows a compendium of brightly coloured beasts inspired by Scandinavian tales representing monsters with pointed beaks and sharp claws.

The sale will also feature a large format work by Karel Appel from 1958 entitled “Grosse Tier verschlingt kleines Tier” (Big beast devours small beast), which was exhibited at the XXXII Venice Biennale in 1964. The work has an estimate of DKK 1,500,000-2,000,000. (€200,000-250,000)

Appel lived in several countries, notably in France where he settled in 1950. His work was actively supported by critics such as Michel Ragon and Michel Tapié, who saw Appel’s work as the European equivalent of American abstract expressionism.

Niels Raben, Head of Modern and Contemporary Paintings at Bruun Rasmussen, said: “All the great figures of the CoBrA movement will be represented in this sale, and the travelling exhibition – which symbolically begins in Paris, where the movement began in 1948 – is a strong symbol of our European network and collaboration. This project is a great opportunity to present these paintings to European collectors.”

Exhibition dates:

  • 19-21 October         Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr, 6 avenue Hoche, 75008 Paris 
  • 3-5 November         Bonhams, De Lairessestraat 154, 1075 HL Amsterdam
  • 17-20 November     Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr, 89 Chaussée de Charleroi,                                       1060 Brussels
  • 24-28 November     Bruun Rasmussen, Bredgade 33, Copenhagen

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