From 26 January to 1 September, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam will present a copious selection of paintings from the Schiedam CoBrA collection. The exhibition will include the highlights from the early period of the CoBrA movement. ‘Knoeiers, kladders en verlakkers’ (Bunglers, scribblers and doodlers) were the words that were applied to CoBrA art 65 years ago.
The experiments carried out by artists such as Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Eugène Brands, Jan Nieuwenhuijs, Anton Rooskens and Theo Wolvecamp caused scandals – which was also the intention. Various Dutch artists played a leading role in this movement. The experimental work was initially strongly reviled but has now become greatly appreciated by a wide public. The international CoBrA movement, which only lasted three years (1948-51), is regarded as the most significant avant-garde movement in visual art since 1945. By taking spontaneous expression as its starting point for a completely new experimental visual language, CoBrA art embodies the regained energy of post-war ambition.
The exhibition presents the highlights of the CoBrA movement from the Museum’s own collection, while simultaneously telling the story of the genesis of the CoBrA movement. The exposition contains more than seventy artworks realized in various techniques (oil paintings, gouaches, watercolours, drawings, sculptures, prints, ceramics) and original CoBrA documents (magazines and booklets). For a broad public interested in CoBrA, the Schiedam collection contains much important work.
On 16 July 1948, at Constant’s home on at 25 Henri Polaklaan 25 in Amsterdam, the Experimentele Groep in Holland (Experimental Group in Holland) was founded in the presence of Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Jan Nieuwenhuijs, Anton Rooskens and Theo Wolvecamp. In August, Eugène Brands also joined the group. Later that year, The Experimentele Groep in Holland fused with kindred groups from Denmark and Belgium to form the CoBrA movement. Favourite themes included imaginary animals and other creatures, depicted in bright colours. Several artists also illustrated the horrors of the Second World War. The spontaneous expression of the CoBrA artists led to a wholly new experimental visual language.
The CoBrA collection of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
The Schiedam CoBrA collection was initiated as far back as the fifties, when very few museums and galleries were engaged in collecting modern art. This being the case, the Schiedam collection, along with that of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, is the most important early CoBrA collection in the Netherlands, with a particular focus on the Dutch CoBrA artists. The Museum owns work by all the members of the original experimental group: Karel Appel, Eugène Brands, Constant, Corneille, Jan Nieuwenhuijs, Anton Rooskens and Theo Wolvecamp. In addition, related work by Lucebert, Jan Elburg and Lotti van der Gaag has also been adopted into the collection. The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam purchased work by the Experimentelen from its regular purchasing budget, fully convinced of the fact that it was engaged in building up a collection ‘that is representative of contemporary art’, as curator Daan Schwagermann formulated it at the time. As a result of donations, long-term loans and incidental purchase, the Museum has been able to reinforce its collection even further.
The exhibition entitled 65 Years of CoBrA. Freedom and Vitality displays the Schiedam CoBrA collection that has been gradually amassed under the influence of prominent Schiedam private collectors, particularly by the printer Goos Verweij (as a member of the Board of the Association of Friends of the Schiedam Museum) and the lawyer Piet Sanders (member of the Museum Committee) who aided Schwagermann in various ways. They bought artworks from diverse experimental artists with whom they were on friendly terms and established contact between the Museum and the artists themselves, which eventually led to exhibitions and acquisitions. In that sense, they made an essential contribution to an early appreciation of CoBrA. Goos Verweij and Piet Sanders have also donated much work to the Museum. Last year, the Museum was privileged to receive a unique and important wall relief entitled Mother and Child (1951) by Karel Appel, which has been assigned a prominent position in the exhibition.
In addition to the Schiedam collectors, other people in the Netherlands have donated or given on long-term loan major works from the CoBrA movement.