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COBRA - "Vehement painting"
With a price index showing 160% growth over 10 years and a market now in very short supply of major works, the prices of COBRA works look set to continue rising.
COBRA was an artistic and literary movement whose name was formed from the first letters of the capital cities of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. Emerging in 1948, the artists within this group favoured a spontaneous and experimental approach drawing on raw and sometimes violent emotions. They rejected what they considered as sclerotic artistic intellectualism in favour of the "anti-elitist" qualities of traditional arts or even children's' drawings. The works are therefore highly expressive and often tormented. Negating gratuitous aestheticism, the works communicate raw and unpolished emotions. After 1951 when the movement dissolved, the same artists pursued individual paths producing a broad and highly diversified body of works.
Thus while COBRA itself only lasted for three years, the short-lived collaboration produced some intensely spontaneous works that sought to marry the abstract with the figurative. The hardcore "purist" collectors focus their purchasing power on the COBRA period (between 1948 and 1951); however, items from that period have become very rare at public auctions.
The key figures in the COBRA movement such as the three Dutch artists Karel Appel, Guillaume Corneille and Constant, the Danish artist Asger Jorn, the Belgian artist Pierre Alechinsky and the French artists Jacques Doucet and Jean-Michel Atlan are very present on the Danish, Belgian and Dutch art markets, whose capitals (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) symbolise the multi-cultural identity of the group.
Asger Jorn is the leader of the group and also the most "present" at auction sales. Only two years ago, amateurs could still acquire on e of his oils on canvas for under EUR 10,000. In fact, Udsigt over landskab med landsby i baggrunden, Djerba, dated from the movement's debut year (1948) sold for only DKK 50,000 in 2004 (EUR 6,725) at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen). In the case of Constant, his work became increasingly "political" and eventually spawned the movement known as the International Situationists.
In terms of auction transactions numbers, Karel, Appel and Corneille come behind Jorn (over 10 years… 51 for Appel and 33 for Corneille) and the latest transactions suggest a sharp inflation of prices on the movement's key works, especially after Corneille's auction price record was broken in April of this: Au sein du désert, il y a plus encore de la place pour les jeux sold for DKK 1,600,000 (EUR 214,400) at Bruun Rasmussen, Köls. With respect to Karel Appel, who died earlier this month (3 May), his auction record is still that set with Women, Children, Animals, selling for USD 680,000 at Christie’s in May 2002.
The market for the works of Atlan, Constant, Doucet and Alechinsky is also extremely tight: not one single Atlan from the Cobra period has come up for auction since 2003; nor a Constant from the same period since 1990! This extreme rareness – combined with the recent death of Constant (in 2005) – suggests that a quality Constant COBRA piece would set a new record if it were to come up for sale today. Another rarity: only two Alechinsky COBRA paintings have been sold at auction since 1994 (although his more recent work frequently changes hands at auction). The most recent, entitled Sous-marine (1950) sold for GBP 9,500 (EUR 14,478 in 1999 at Christie’s London) and in April of this year, an acrylic entitled Rétrovision prémonitoire, dated 1984, went under the hammer at the very high price of DKK 850,000 (EUR 113,900, at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen). Again, like Constant, Alechinsky's major works are bound to generate impressive numbers the next time they come up for sale. Overall, the price index for COBRA period works gained 59% during 2005.
The members of the COBRA group favoured collaborative creation rather than specialisation and individualism. There are therefore a number of "collective" works signed by two, three, or even four artists. These are also exceptionally rare at auction, but they have remained reasonably affordable: a 16 page booklet from the series of engravings De Blijde en Onvoorziene Week (The Unexpectedly Happy Week), reworked in gouache by Karel Appel and Hugo Claus, sold for NLG 6,500 in June 2001 (EUR 2,950 Christie’s Amsterdam, 46/200). Collective drawings, water colours or ceramics are also accessible at around EUR 2,000, but could also follow the same price trend as the individually produced works.