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In context

Inspired by African culture and bursting with colours – Corneille’s “Terre fertile” and “Port-Manech”

Guillaume Cornelis van Beverloo, better known under his pseudonym Corneille, was born in 1922 in Liège, Belgium to Dutch parents. After leaving school, he studied drawing at the Academy of Arts in Amsterdam from 1940 to 1943. As a painter, however, he was an autodidact.

Corneille first visited Paris in 1946 and immediately felt at home in the art metropolis. Together with Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, Dotremont and Constant, he founded the COBRA group in Paris 1948. The artists formed a united front in post-war Europe, urging a break from tradition and moved toward freedom and vitality. In an intense three years, COBRA produced two major international exhibitions and published 10 issues of a magazine for which Corneille wrote poetry. COBRA disbanded in 1951, saying it had achieved its goals, and the artists returned to their individual careers.

The works of Paul Klee and Joan Miró exerted a strong influence on Corneille and, like them; he too was inspired by African culture, with which he became well acquainted during several journeys to Africa. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s his art was non-figurative, but he gradually turned to painting fantasy landscapes in warm tones, frequently characterised by symbiotic representations of female figures and birds. His style has always been his very own, Max Loreau writes in Corneille der Geometer, in: Karl Heinz Hering (ed.), Corneille, exhib.cat. Kunstverein für Rheinlande und Westfalen Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf,  1967): ’’What Corneille paints belongs to him alone. A glance suffices to identify his work: it is not possible to mix up the course of his search with someone else’s, as so often happens today. And in the meantime, despite this uniqueness – and perhaps because of it – as soon as one reaches a conclusion to grasp at their development, his works give rather a glimpse of a general meaning, which instead certify their exemplary peculiarity”.

The two early works from 1960 included in this sale ”Terre fertile” and ”Port-Manech” are two great examples of the new form of construction showing in Corneille’s production. The structure of opposites disappears. The images are no longer separated into two zones. Each of their sections shows scenery of great flows of movement, which restrain one another. Tension and calmness, continuity and restlessness are both present at the same time. Almost composed of blurred out colour fields, these works recall Corneille’s visits to Africa and South America. His fascination with these “exotic” cultures is visible through his use of deep and energetic colours. Together, they evoke the rocks, sun, spirit and nature of the southern landscapes.

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Jeanna Ahlin


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