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The CoBrA Group

The CoBrA Group Collage

Started: 1948

Ended: 1951

"Anonymity is the great hygiene."


Summary of The CoBrA Group

The CoBrA group was a short-lived but highly influential artist collective formed in Paris. Named for the three northern European cities that its founders originated from - Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam - its approximately thirty members became known for their vigorously spontaneous, rebellious style of painting that was heavily inspired by the art of children and the mentally ill. With their intuitive methods, loose, gestural marks and strong colors, CoBrA artists have used of some of the techniques of New York School style of the same era. Yet CoBrA art is more political, and is more sensitive to the huge devastation of the European cities and people after World War II. Their democratic approach to viewing and making was inspired and further expanded what we now call Outsider Art (work made by untrained artists, especially children and the mentally ill) as a serious movement in its own right.

Key Ideas

As citizens of three cities that were formerly under Nazi occupation, one of the group's main driving forces was their desire to confront and provide a strong counterpoint to predominant western ideologies that they felt were stuck in a traumatic past - what they called "a world of decors and hollow facades." They thought post-war art movements (especially abstraction and naturalism) were far too sterile and conservative and called for an unencumbered, expressive approach that rebelled against them.
Rather than looking to artworks in galleries or museums for inspiration, CoBrA artists were heavily influenced by what they called 'uncivilized' creations - embodied in children's art, works by the mentally ill, and "primitivism" (a now-outdated term that refers to the art of ancient societies in Africa and Asia).
The one preceding movement that the group did consider worthy of attention was Surrealism. As enthusiastic advocates of spontaneity in the art making process, CoBrA artists were especially interested in pushing the boundaries of the Surrealist idea of 'automatism', a technique that required a maker to surrender all command over their art making by allowing the unconscious mind to control their hand as they worked.
In many ways CoBrA can be defined by what it opposed: the ongoing legacy of classical art on the work of their contemporaries, geometric abstraction and its intense rationality, the dictatorial approach of the Social Realists, and what they saw as the limiting, bourgeois attitude of the conservative French institution, the Ecole de Paris.
CoBrA artists were very keen on producing collaborative artworks - including murals, prints and publications - as a way of expressing their disdain for individualism and, by extension, the notion of the solo, genius artist (one of the many aspects of the traditional western art canon that they objected to). This in turn was connected to their strong Marxist beliefs, though none of the group shared the political left's fondness for theorizing.
The CoBrA Group Image


Officially formed in a Parisian café on November 8th, 1948 in a meeting organized by Asger Jorn, CoBrA artists came from three countries - Denmark, Belgium, and Holland - that had been isolated from each other for years under Nazi rule. The group of painters, sculptors, and poets had an unusually large number of founding members, generally agreed to be: Asger Jorn, Carl-Henning Pedersen, Karel Appel, Cornelius Guillaume Van Beverloo (known as Corneille), Christian Dotremont, Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys (Constant) and Henry Heerup.

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