Profile - Cobra – Museum of modern art

CoBrA, a dangerous snake?

A cobra is indeed a dangerous snake, but here the word Cobra is derived from the French names of the cities of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The artists who founded the CoBrA group during a major international conference held in Paris in 1948 came from these three European capitals. A curled snake became the symbol of the movement.

It was in the Paris café Notre Dame that Asger Jorn (from Copenhagen), Joseph Noiret and Christian Dotremont (from Brussels) and Constant, Corneille and Karel Appel (from Amsterdam) signed the manifesto 'La Cause était entendue’ (The Case was Heard). This manifesto, drawn up by Dotremont, was a response to a statement by the French Surrealists entitled 'La Cause est entendue' (The Case is Heard). In it Dotremont makes it clear they are no longer in agreement with the French artists. The CoBrA painters wanted to break new ground, preferring to work spontaneously and with the emphasis more on fantastic imagery. In 1951 the CoBrA movement was officially disbanded, yet during its short existence CoBrA rejuvenated Dutch modern art.

The CoBrA style

The CoBrA artists painted directly and spontaneously. Just like children, they wanted to work expressively without a preconceived plan, using their fantasy and much colour. They rebelled against the rules of the art academies and aimed at a form of art without constraint. They also explored working with all kinds of materials: the experimental was paramount. The Danish CoBrA artists were already experimenting well before the Second World War and Asger Jorn encouraged Constant Nieuwenhuys to do the same in the Netherlands. Subsequently, Constant, together with a band of artists that included Karel Appel and Corneille, set up the ‘Dutch Experimental Group’ on 16 July 1948 which became the CoBrA group on 8 November 1948.





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