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The CoBrA Movement: Bridging Avant-Garde and Abstract Expressionist Art

on December 18, 2023

Emerging in the late 1940s, the CoBrA movement (or just CoBrA) swiftly became a dynamic force in European avant-garde art. CoBrA got it's strange name by combining Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. These cities were the primary locations where artists from diverse backgrounds came together through a shared desire to break free from artistic conventions and embrace spontaneity and intuition in their work.

painting by avant-garde cobra movement artist karel appel
By Karel Appel, 1954.

At the core of CoBrA's ethos was a rejection of rationalism and a celebration of the primal and instinctual. Artists like Asger Jorn (below), Karel Appel (above), and Pierre Alechinsky (below) sought inspiration from folk art, children's drawings, and the art of people with mental illness, incorporating elements of spontaneity, color, and symbolism into their creations.

While CoBrA was distinctly European in its origins and influences, it shared significant parallels with the postwar Abstract Expressionist movement that was unfolding across the Atlantic in the United States. Both movements rejected representational art in favor of abstraction and emphasized the emotional and subconscious aspects of the artistic process.

avant-garde CoBrA movement artist asger jorn
By Asger Jorn. 

Moreover, the CoBrA movement's emphasis on gestural mark-making, bold colors, and spontaneous expression resonated deeply with the ethos of Abstract Expressionism. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, key figures in the Abstract Expressionist movement, shared a similar commitment to exploring the depths of human emotion through their work.

Despite geographical and cultural differences, the CoBrA movement and Abstract Expressionism were united by a shared belief in the transformative power of art. Both movements sought to both push the boundaries of artistic expression and challenge folks to engage with art on a visceral and emotional level.

avant-garde cobra movement artist pierre alechinsky
'Under the Volcano' by Pierre Alechinsky, 1968.

In this way, the CoBrA movement serves as a bridge between European avant-garde art and the postwar Abstract Expressionist movement. Considering the two side-by-side highlights the universal themes and impulses that underpin both movements' revolutionary approaches to art-making.


Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein

Galerie Stein will be presenting several contemporary Abstract Expressionist artists both virtually at and in our gallery in Montreal in 2024.
Contact: Pete Stein at