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Publishers meeting of CoBrA in the atelier of Atlan in Paris in 1950. l. to r. Doucet, Constant, Dotremont, Mme Atlan, Atlan, Corneille en Appel.
1948 to 1951

the founding of CoBrA

CoBrA was a European avant-garde movement active from 1949 to 1952. The name was coined in 1948 by Christian Dotremont from the initials of the members' home cities: Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br), Amsterdam (A).

In Paris, on November 8th in 1948, the CoBrA group was founded by the Belgian writer-painters Christian Dotremont and Joseph Noiret. Together with Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille and Asger Jorn, they founded the movement on the 8th November 1948 in the Café Notre-Dame, Paris, with the signing of a manifesto, 'La Cause Était Entendue’ (The Case was Heard), drawn up by Dotremont. Formed with a unifying doctrine of complete freedom of colour and form, as well as antipathy towards surrealism, the artists also shared an interest in Marxism as well as modernism, in particular Joan Miro. 'Their working method was based on spontaneity and experiment, and they drew their inspiration in particular from children’s drawings, from primitive art forms and from the work of Paul Klee and Joan Miró.' Eugène Brands is also seen as one of the pioniers of CoBrA

Short but intense

Coming together as an amalgamation of the Dutch group Reflex, the Danish group Høst and the Belgian Revolutionary Surrealist Group, the group only lasted a few years but managed to achieve a number of objectives in that time; the periodical CoBrA, a series of collaborations between various members called Peintures-Mot and two large-scale exhibitions.

The first of these was held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, November (1949), the other at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège (1951). In November 1949 the group officially changed it's name to 'Internationale des Artistes Expérimentaux' with membership having spread across Europe and the USA, although this name has never stuck. The primary focus of the group consisted of semi-abstract paintings with brilliant color, violent brushwork, and distorted human figures inspired by primitive and folk art and similar to American action painting. Cobra was a milestone in the development of Tachisme and European abstract expressionism.

In 1950 Georges Collignon and Alechinsky received the first edition of the "Prix Jeune Peinture Belge". From that moment, Collignon joins the CoBrA-movement. With Pol Bury, Georges Collignon founds the group"Réalité Cobra". This is the first Belgium platform for abstract arts. Reinhoud D'Haese also joined in on some CoBrA exhebitions.

Due to the illness of Jorn and Dotremont, the movement was officially disbanded in 1951. Nevertheless many of its members remained close, with Dotremont in particular continuing collaborations with many of the leading members of the group.


Although the movement only existed for a few years, some artists were strongly influenced by the CoBrA style, for example: Vali Myers, John Olsen, Walasse Ting, Bengt Lindström, Alasdair Taylor,Fred Bervoets, Jan Cobbaert, Anton Heyboer and Jerome Bechit.

There is a CoBrA Museum in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, displaying works by Karel Appel and other international avant-garde art. 

CoBrA kunstenaars queuing with their works before the Stedelijk Museum for the First International Exhibition of Experimental art, 1949.
Karel Appel - asking children, oil on wooden construction, 1948
Corneille en Constant reading the puplications of Reflex.
Constant - after us: freedom, oil on canvas, 1949
The first International Exhibition of Experimental art, CoBrA, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, November 1949. The poet’s cage, b-t, l-r:: Gerrit Kouwenaar, Bert Schierbeek, Lucebert, Jan Elburg, and Karl-Otto Götz.
Karel Appel - la promenade, oil on canvas, 1950