The story behind the collection
How a hotelier became a collector of the Cobra movement
‘Remarkable, these daring artists in such a strait-laced, formal era. That’s what I admire so much about them: their courage.’
According to Wouter Schopman, this is one of the aspects that explain his fascination with the Cobra Movement.
Wouter Schopman, who is not only a hotelier but also a publisher (Uitgeverij Samsara), first arrived at this insight when he visited the exhibition ‘Cobra, 40 years after’ in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam in 1988. It was not until he saw this exhibition, which featured works taken from the Karel P. van Stuijvenberg Collection, that he fully appreciated the significance of these artists in relation to the era in which they lived. It also surprised him to discover that the movement had a Danish and a Belgian branch as well as a Dutch branch (Cobra is short for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam) and that Cobra was therefore a renowned international art movement.
Schopman’s recollection of the period is that it seems as if he visited the exhibition every day, although after some thought he realised it could only have been four or five times.
It is clear, however, that he could not get enough of it and that art collector Karel P. van Stuijvenberg and his collection had served as an important source of inspiration in awakening his interest.
In the early days, Schopman had already befriended Alice de Jong, who frequently stayed at the hotel. Alice and her late husband, industrialist Hans de Jong, owned a magnificent collection of works by members of the Cobra movement and other masterpieces, which graced their residence in Ascona, Switzerland. When it became clear that Alice de Jong and Schopman shared a passion for Cobra art and
talking about it, Alice occasionally made Schopman gifts of small Cobra works on paper by Theo Wolvecamp, and an intimate friendship developed between the two.
Wouter Schopman first met artist Theo Wolvecamp when he visited Ascona in May of 1990. He learned that Wolvecamp had acted as an advisor to the de Jong family for many years, helping them build their art collection. He proved to be a great source of knowledge, and it was this, embellished by the numerous many anecdotes he recounted, that further aroused Schopman’s interest in the movement. Schopman recalls discussing art with Alice de Jong and Wolvecamp for three full days – seemingly without interruption – during this visit.
Alice de Jong then began to further ‘educate’ Schopman in the world of Cobra, using the work that adorned her Ascona home as an example. Schopman visited her every year in Ascona and Alice reciprocated by staying at the Ambassade Hotel twice a year. Wolvecamp was also a frequent guest at the hotel whenever Alice de Jong was in Amsterdam.
By then, Wouter Schopman was one of an impressive group of passionate Cobra collectors. Among his most renowned predecessors were businessman Karel van Stuivenberg, furniture designer Martin Visser, architect Aldo van Eyck and, of course, Hans and Alice de Jong. These collectors all played a key role in the acknowledgement of the Cobra artists and generated a lot of support for the movement.
Martin Visser was probably the first collector to recognise the power of this new movement. He had come to know these artists when they had barely finished art school and were only embarking on their careers. He recalls:
‘I am from what you would call a respectable family and was astounded by the mess I found there. What a chaos! There wasn’t even a toilet. I couldn’t believe how these boys managed. It was a very different way of living… but it didn’t disturb them in the least.’
What also appealed to him was their spirit and daring. ‘Just wait and see’, said Karel Appel to Martin Visser when they stood waiting for the tram once. ‘We are going to be famous one day.’ This made a tremendous impression on Visser. ‘These poverty-stricken artists – saying this with such confidence!’ He believed in them and began to buy their work.
Stuivenberg, Wolvecamp and De Jong taught Schopman to extend his focus from the usual suspects (Constant, Corneille and Appel) and include the wider group of Cobra affiliates. He decided to start by collecting works by Wolvecamp himself. When the artist passed away he was able to acquire numerous smaller and larger works from his heirs. The Schopman collection also features many works that were formerly part of the De Jong collection, seven of which he purchased at a major auction following Alice de Jong’s death. Below are shown three of the seven works. The works are from Wolvecamp, Corneille and Appel.
A striking feature of the Ambassade Hotel collection is that it contains so many works by women artists, Lotti van der Gaag and Jacqueline de Jong among them. Many of the women appear to have been overshadowed by their rather more boisterous male Cobra colleagues. Schopman has given them a prominent position in his hotel.
One of the most notable aspects of the ever-expanding collection is the way it shows that the Cobra movement has not diminished in significance over the years. The stylish interior of the Ambassade Hotel serves as a magnificent backdrop for the collection, as the works on display here literally enter into a confrontation with their environment. One of the best things about the Ambassade Hotel is that you can actually live here surrounded by art. You can choose to walk past the works without a second glance or spend hours admiring them, discovering something new every time. This must have been Schopman’s intention right from the very beginning.
The recently re-opened Stedelijk Museum takes pride in its extensive Cobra collection and even the Rijksmuseum has started collecting work by these twentieth-century artists. However, the greatest museum for Cobra art is of course the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen. This beautiful museum contains many highlights of the Cobra movement, including works that were previously part of the Stuivenberg collection. The Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam also has an impressive collection of Cobra works of art.