“If I had time, I would love to paint every single thing I touch. This is how a creative mind works”
In 1941 Corneille was one of the co-founders of CoBrA, together with Karel Appel and Constant. Corneille was born in Liège, Belgium, as son of Dutch parents. He was mainly self-taught, but took some classes in drawing and etching at the ‘Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten’ (State Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam. This is where he met Appel and Contstant in the years between 1940-1942, who became his artistic friends. About this friendship Corneille stated: “We used to kick against doors, we really did, and after the war we did things other artist certainly would not do. I am not sure whether we deserve the on-going attention, but what we did certainly had an impact.”
Corneille’s early work presents him as an artist still on the verge of discovering his own style; “a universal language of plastic signs with a lyrical touch”, as he wrote to a friend. In the beginning Appel and Corneille would work together, stimulated each other, assessed and criticised each other’s works and also complemented each other. “Karel Appel and I used to travel a lot. We are thirsty, craving persons, with our prying eyes. Travelling itself is a great experience. We do not flee because of broken hearts, but we are probably searching for new loves. There is no impulse when staying and working at home.” For instance, when Appel had arranged a model, Corneille would visit Appel’s studio to work there. They became good friends and they frequented the Amsterdam flea market at the Waterlooplein. Discovering the works by Van Gogh, the German Expressionists and French Fauvists was a joint experience.
In 1948 Corneille, Appel, Constant, Anton Rooskens, Theo Wolvecamp en Jan Nieuwenhuys founded the Nederlandse Experimentele Groep (‘Dutch Experimental Group’), presided by Corneille. In its magazine Reflex, which was issued twice, Corneille published articles about his voyages. One of his first destinations in his search for international movements was Hungary, whose borders were opened after the war. Due to the fact that he, as a young artist, had managed to present his work in several exhibitions, he was invited to Budapest in 1947. During his five-month-stay he became familiar with surrealist art and literature through works by Paul Klee and Joan Miró. Their freedom of imagination was very appealing to him. Actually, it meant a turning point in his work, shifting from outer reality to inner imagination. In Budapest he became fascinated by the opposing concepts of ‘nature versus culture’, while observing the lush overgrown ruins in ancient palace gardens. Here he felt the complementarity of organic and geometric patterns.This trip to Hungary was key for the young artist’s later artistic development.
In 1950 Corneille left Amsterdam and CoBrA for Paris, dedicating himself completely to his poetic art of the future. Before he left his mother gave him a fair warning. “She warned me to watch out for dangerous women! However, I wanted to get burnt, like a butterfly, burning its wings in a flame. Who cares about burnt wings, which does not mean that I am a Casanova, for he was a collector of women, like I am a collector of African sculptures. I simply love to make love to women and I still cherish these precious moments. Women master the art of seduction.”
Besides voluptuous women, long voyages were a source of inspiration in the development of Corneille’s art. In the 1950s he travelled to Tunisia, following in Paul Klee’s footsteps, who made the same journey in 1914. The Sahara impressed him tremendously, triggering him to make a series of paintings, depicting earth as a burnt body, consisting of sand and stone, where hardly any species of animals or plants could survive. The sun, as a symbol of freedom after the gloomy wartime, featured in the works by the experimental young artist as an explosion of colours and expression. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Central America and the Caribbean played an important role in his work. Especially the vibrant colours of folk art are reflected in his work. His paintings, depicting landscapes and cities in bird’s eye view, became more lively because of the contrasts in colours.
In the late 1960s he focused on figurative art again and continued to do so in his typical lyrical style. The experiences on his voyages were captured on his canvases in signs and symbols, depicting images of tropical landscapes and gardens filled with plants, animals and women. The image of a bird serves as Corneille’s alter ego, whose name in French means ‘crow’. This bird can free itself from the earth and is a symbol of lust and temper.
Corneille’s works have always been extremely colourful and they seem to be derived from a passage from a story or poem, which can be concluded from the many letters he wrote to his fellow artists, accompanied by small drawings. Corneille became one of the most popular Dutch painters of his time and he also became internationally renowned. This was mainly due to his extensive graphic work, which was intended to reach a large public. In his opinion painting is not a hobby or a profession, but rather a vocation. In his later years Corneille lived a reclusive life in Maison de Cedres, department Val-d’Oise in France. He died in 2010 and was buried in the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh had been buried in 1890.
UP FOR AUCTION
Signed and dated 47 lower left Titled and dated on a mount affixed to the backing of the frame Charcoal on paper, 30 x 25 cm Provenance: Collection Elisabeth den Bieman de Haas, Amsterdam, acquired directly from the artist Exhibition: - Maison des Arts, Tunis, Corneille, Un Oiseau Précoce, 10 - 30 October 1998 - Museum Jan ...
Baigneuses (Bathers) (1947)
Signed and dated 47 upper left Pencil on paper, 27.2 x 19.1 cm Provenance: Collection Elisabeth den Bieman de Haas, Amsterdam, acquired directly from the artist Exhibition: - Maison des Arts, Tunis, Corneille, Un Oiseau Précoce, 10 - 30 October 1998 - Galerie Le Salon Rouge, Le Rendez-Vous des Arts et des Lettres, Amsterdam, ‘Mar & ...
Naakt (Nude) (1947)
Signed and dated 47 upper left Black chalk on paper, 29 x 23 cm Provenance: Collection Elisabeth den Bieman de Haas, Amsterdam, acquired directly from the artist Exhibition: - Maison des Arts, Tunis, Corneille, Un Oiseau Précoce, 10 - 30 October 1998 - Galerie Le Salon Rouge, Le Rendez-Vous des Arts et des Lettres, Amsterdam, ‘Mar ...
Couple d'Amoureux (1988)
Signed, titled and dated '88 lower left Watercolour and ink on paper, 21.9 x 21.3 cm Provenance: Collection Elisabeth den Bieman de Haas, Amsterdam, acquired directly from the artist Exhibition: - Maison des Arts, Tunis, Corneille, Un Oiseau Précoce, 10 - 30 October 1998 - Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, De twee grote liefdes van ...
Signed and dated '88 lower right Ink and watercolour on paper, 38.4 27.8 cm Provenance: Collection Elisabeth den Bieman de Haas, Amsterdam, acquired directly from the artist Exhibition: - Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, De twee grote liefdes van Elisabeth den Bieman de Haas: Corneille & Mar, 13 December 2015 - 24 January 2016
Signed and dated 1972 lower right Watercolour and ink on paper, 20.9 x 14.8 cm
Katvis (Cat fish)
Signed and numbered HC 1/3 on the tail With foundry mark Binder Bronsgietery on the bottom Bronze on stone base, H. 74.9 cm (incl. base) Provenance: Private collection, the Netherlands
Hommage aux Compositeurs (The 100 jaar Concertgebouworkerst Collection) (1988) (5x)
Each signed and dated '88 lower right, titled lower centre and numbered HC 1/30 (aside the edition of 200) lower left Published by Jaski Art Gallery, Amsterdam Screenprint, each approx. 54.2 x 71.5 cm (5x)