Corneille

A range of work by Corneille is in the Ambassade Hotel’s art collection.
The following gives a rundown on the artist with background information to the pieces you see around the hotel.

‘Actually, I only make self-portraits. Each painting is me.’

Corneille, “Figure”, 1954. Ambassade Hotel Collection

Corneille
Guillaume Cornelius Beverloo
Liège 1922 - 2010 Auvers-sur-Oise France
Painter - Ceramicist - Poet


‘Art is movement, art is life, art is joy, a shout, art is not solemn, there is dynamism in art’ Corneille said in one of the many documentaries about himself and the Cobra movement.

A turning point for Corneille was when he coincidentally bumped into a Hungarian woman in Amsterdam in 1947. This woman saw his art and invited him to show it in Budapest, which he eagerly agreed to do. During a four-month stay in the city, Corneille was deeply affected by the still visible traces of the devastating power of the war, as well as by his contact with other artists, including Jacques Doucet. Corneille immersed himself in modern art and soaked up his new surroundings. In a letter to a friend he described the atmosphere in the city. ‘The gardens lay there bluish grey in the warm afternoon sun. Everything shimmered, vibrated, buzzed, sung and moved. The birds, the butterflies, the flies, the bees, everything flew, fluttered, tumbled and danced a wild dance. Nature unleashed its tremendous vitality here, people no longer stood guard, and nature was given free rein.’

During his stay he began contemplating the essence of his artistic endeavour. He compared himself with other artists, like friend and colleague Karel Appel. In a subsequent letter he expressed his thoughts as follows: ‘My strength is not in colour, unlike Karel, who sees everything first in colour and only then the forms and lines. I see form first.’

Life history
Cornelius Guillaume van Beverloo was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1922. His parents were Dutch and the family returned to the Netherlands when he was fifteen. During the Second World War Corneille studied at the Royal Academy in Amsterdam, where he became friends with Karel Appel. As it so happened, they were both highly exasperated with the limited and old-fashioned way things were taught in the academy. All artistic innovation had been banned.
Corneille found the last year of the war particularly tough. He told writer/painter Hugo Claus what it had been like: ‘I left the academy in 1944, when life in the Netherlands drew to a standstill. I spent the Winter of Famine alone, in an attic, with no contact at all with other people. I painted a series of starving people, elongated stretched-out figures in a grey mouldy colour. I destroyed nearly all of those paintings. There was also a total lack of intellectual contact at that time.’
Claus: ‘Then came liberation.’
Corneille: ‘Along with the food came books, magazines and reproductions. I discovered Picasso, Matisse, Braque and, of course, they influenced my paintings.’

Corneille, “La Belle d'une journée”, 1949. Ambassade Hotel Collection

In 1947, Corneille was one of the three people who set up the Dutch Experimental Group. Shortly afterwards, the group merged into the International Cobra movement with more like-minded, ‘experimental’ artists from other countries. (To read more, see Cobra.)

Corneille, “Lithograph in Reflex no. 1”, 1948. Ambassade Hotel Collection

Corneille said the following: ‘Although we were all going in different directions and had our own opinions, we agreed on the main points, which were freedom of immediate human emotions, giving priority to aesthetic problems of pure instinctive feelings.’ For Corneille, the Cobra period was mainly a time when he experimented widely with motifs and materials. He was also involved in publications by the Experimental and Cobra movement.

For example, you can see one of his pieces on the cover of the first issue of Reflex, the magazine published by the Experimental Group.

Reflex no.1, 1948. Ambassade Hotel Collection. Cover by Corneille. His work seems to refer to the frequently quoted sentence by Constant in the Manifesto: ‘A painting is not a structure made up of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a scream, a human being, or all of them put together.’

After a turbulent time, the Cobra movement disintegrated in 1951 for a variety of reasons. Corneille was already in the midst of a new era because he was living in Paris with his Dutch compatriots Appel and Constant. Paris became Corneille’s home and he remained there for the rest of his life. What’s more, he became a seasoned traveller. He criss-crossed his way through Europe and North Africa and then ended up in sub-Saharan Africa, America and other far flung places across the globe.

‘I have the name of a bird and birds migrate’, was his simple answer to why he travelled so much.

Corneille in Ambassade Hotel’s art collection
The Ambassade Hotel has several very interesting pieces from the artist’s early work. Besides one remarkable painting, there are ceramics, lithographs, magazines, modifications and drawings.

Corneille, “Untitled”, 1949. Ambassade Hotel Collection

The drawing above is a good example of early work. You can see several elements that are typical of Cobra, such as giving precedence to instinct. In other words, the artist starts working on a blank sheet with an open mind. The basic shapes that have evolved are an especially attractive part, and you see them recurring in other work by Corneille and other Cobra artists. It refers to the extremely square or extremely round head that became synonymous with the language of Cobra: the children’s heads or children’s drawing/heads.

Corneille, “Untitled”, 1949 and 1985 (modification of own work). Ambassade Hotel Collection

Other striking pieces show the influence Picasso had on Corneille, as he himself said in the aforementioned interview with Claus. You can see the indisputable influence that Picasso’s fish and women, in particular, had on Corneille’s ‘Woman with fish’.

Corneille, “Woman with fish”, 1948. Ambassade Hotel Collection

In other work by Corneille the fish was soon replaced by a bird, because the name Corneille actually translates as crow. The bird, as is the fish, is a sexually charged symbol and is almost always in close proximity to a naked female in his work. ´Corneille paints Corneille, ´ was what he himself said of this. But birds are not mere birds. They happen to be interesting because they have a beak, claws, wings and they move. They write in the skies, he believed. They are signs in the air. And Corneille did perceive his works as a field in which birds were able to move. 

Corneille, “Untitled”, 1949. Ambassade Hotel Collection

Other surprises in the hotel’s art collection are the ceramic objects. They date back to two earlier periods. The first object belongs to the 1948-49 period when Corneille and his fellow artists were given the opportunity to work in the brickwork factory in Tegelen.

Corneille, ceramics, 1948. Ambassade Hotel Collection

The other three objects are post-Cobra, when Corneille was invited by former Cobra member Asger Jorn in the 1950s to work jointly with local craftsmen and other artists in Albisola (Italy). The artists painted the raw materials in a spontaneous and direct way with glazes in sometimes transparent colours.

Corneille, ceramics, 1948. Ambassade Hotel Collection. The edge of the above plate has the following text: ‘le silence me attend a la sortie de mon coeur je chante’. Silence waits for me at the door of my heart I sing.

The plates below display the recognisably compact architectural or rural compositions that were so characteristic of Corneille in the 1950s, in particular.

Corneille, ceramics, 1955.
Ambassade Hotel Collection

Immediately after the Second World War, Corneille was invited to exhibit his work in the Netherlands and other countries, and gradually people started cautiously buying his works of art. The renowned husband-and-wife art collectors Hans and Alice de Jong bought ‘Astre et animal’ in 1953 – it was one of the first acquisitions they ever made and hence one they cherished. This painting now belongs to the Ambassade Hotel’s art collection. 

Corneille, “Astre et animal”, 1953. Ambassade Hotel Collection / previously Hans and Alice de Jong Collection

The forms in the painting portray a star and an animal as the title suggests. The round shape of the star, containing yet more circles within, is typical of Corneille and a recurring theme in his work. Sometimes as the sun, other times as the breasts or the cheeks of a woman. Circles are crucial in Corneille’s art. They signify a peaceful place, such as a square in a city. This is why the circle stands for him as a form that denotes harmony.

The collection is still growing as early works by Corneille are added. The most recent acquisition was the spectacular ‘modification’ shown below (where someone else’s work has been modified). Exactly how this piece came about, with the Cobra snake and the Cobra mouth, is not entirely clear as yet. However, it might very well become clear in the near future, after more thorough investigation.

Read more about Theo Wolvecamp, Karel Appel, Brands, Constant, Jacques Doucet, Anton Rooskens, Dotremont, Tajiri, Cobra, the locations where the works hang, Wouter Schopman (the story behind the collection).