More about the Cobra movement

The German occupiers maintained a more lenient regime in Denmark than elsewhere, allowing experimental art to develop more freely there than, for example, in the Netherlands. In response to the occupation Asger Jorn founded the magazine Helhesten. The title of the magazine, meaning hell horse, was an indictment of the monstrosity of the German occupation. Many of the artists involved with Helhesten were, like Jorn, also members of the art society Høst. Besides Høst-members Ejler Bille, Henry-Helhesten Heerup, Egill Jacobsen and Carl-Henning Pedersen, several anthropologists, archaeologists, psychologists and scientists were involved in the magazine.

Experimental group in holland

In 1946 the Dutch artist Constant and Danish artist Asger Jorn met in Paris at an exhibition by Joan Miró (1893-1983). Through the dynamic and internationally oriented Jorn, Constant got to know the art life in Paris and also the free expressive style of painting the Danes had developed during the war. Jorn and Constant started a correspondence and made plans for the establishment of an experimental group. Jorn even stayed with Constant for a coupleof weeks in 1947 to set things in motion.

Le Surréalisme Révolutionnaire

In October 1947, groups from various countries, including the Czech Republic, France and Belgium, signed the joint declaration of a new group: Le Surréalisme Révolutionnaire (The Revolutionary Surrealism). The Danish avant-garde was represented by Asger Jorn, although his comrades from Høst were probably hardly aware of this. The secretary of the group was the Belgian poet Christian Dotremont. The members of the group regarded themselves as communist surrealists, although the Communist Party was averse to surrealism.

Art critic Michel Ragon in 1988: “Although Asger Jorn has always been the soul of Cobra, Dotremont was in fact the great organiser, without whom Cobra would not have existed.”

The poets of the CoBrA movement in their ‘Dichterskooi’ in 1948

A colourful group

A number of artists, such as Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Asger Jorn and Carl-Henning Pedersen, enjoyed great (inter)national fame after the dissolution of Cobra. The group was not limited to these famous names, though. In the first major Cobra exhibition in 1949, for example, no fewer than 29 artists from ten countries showed their work in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The contributions of all these different artists created the diversity and vitality that is so characteristic of Cobra.

Different perspectives on Cobra

From the 1960s onwards, ten years after the disbandment of the Cobra movement, art-historical articles about Cobra were published in the Netherlands and abroad. In 1974 the Dutch art historian Willemijn Stokvis published the standard work on Cobra. She stated that the key importance of Cobra was to be found in the development of a particular painting style, a ‘Cobra language’. This development had started with the Danish experimentalists, even before Cobra.