The CoBrA Movement, African & Oceanic Art and the Z Collection

Launch Slideshow

Sotheby’s upcoming sale, Z Collection in Paris on 12 December, will feature an impressive selection of Contemporary and African art assembled by an anonymous collector, Z. In the aftermath of World War II, Z befriended the artists responsible for a blossoming artistic movement known as CoBrA. From such artists including Karel Appel, Christian Dotremont, Pierre Alechinsky and Asger Jorn, Z acquired many of the collection’s most significant works. Click the image above to view the slideshow and discover the story behind the Z Collection.

The CoBrA Movement, African & Oceanic Art and the Z Collection

  • Brussels, end of World War II
    In Brussels at the end of WWII, a 25 year-old man and his wife met a small group of artists who frequently gathered at rue de la Paille, near the Sablon district. It was also where the Belgian headquarters of CoBrA, a promising international artistic movement, would be established a few years later. During the years 1947-49, the Z Collection slowly grew, mirroring the remarkable path of a collector who gradually trained his eye in a booming post-war Brussels.
  • Karel Appel, Torso, 1960. Estimate €80.000–120.000
    As friendships were consolidated, the collection flourished: Z often visited the studio of Alechinsky and later that of Appel, who chose to settle in the Château de Molesmes, in Burgundy, in 1964. There, Z saw for the first time these singular sculptures carved in burnt olive tree stumps which Appel dug out and magically brought back to life with touches of acrylic. From the CoBrA group, a body of artists who praised the return of instinctive forces, popular traditions and word-image relationships, Z gathered an exceptional selection of works by Christian Dotremont, Reinhoud d’Haese, Robert Jacobsen and Asger Jorn.
  • ©RKD Netherlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis ©AGAGP Paris
    The CoBra Movement: Karel Appel, Corneille and Constant
    The quality and variety of the Z Collection showcases the true CoBra spirit as it was originally defined by Christian Dotremont. Dotremont, who served both as an artist, group leader and critic of the movement, declared: “creation before theory. Art should have roots; materialism starts with matter. Stains are signs of life, spontaneity, experiment: it is the simultaneous encounter of such elements that made CoBra. Fundamentally, CoBra was a simultaneous encounter. Of popular, raw, expressionist, childish and even surrealist elements. Of painting and oral written expression too.”
  • 2 Tatanua masks, New Ireland, Bismark Archipelago. Right: Estimate €10,000–15,000 Left: €15,000–20,000
    In the 1950s and '60s, the Z Collection kept on growing. The Sablon district of Brussels, shortly after being the center place of CobrA, became the stronghold of African and Oceanic arts. Dealers such as Willy Mestach, Pierre Dartevelle, Luisa Muller-Vanisterbeek, Jeanne Walschot, Annie and Jean-Pierre Jernander, Baudouin de Grunne and Emile Deletaille amongst others played an important role in promoting these artworks.
  • Statue, Sikasingo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimate €300,000–500,000
    Z found in these artworks many of the aspects that had attracted him to CoBrA in the first place. As Corneille, one of the founding members of the group, explained: “African art distinguishes itself […] by a sort of elementarism, of primitivism; which means it is truly tribal yet is not completely brut as it hasn’t undergone any transformation so far. Objects are beautiful, powerful or ugly, but at least they are authentic.” This opinion was later confirmed by Corneille’s Danish counterpart Asger Jorn, who explained that “the mask is the primary element of all pictorial and sculptural arts.” Sharing the same point of view, Z acquired several major African artworks in Sablon, among which a Niembo style Hemba statue and a Sikasingo statue by Maître de Fizi, the latter belonging to a corpus of seven works attributed to the same artist from the village of Fizi near Tanganyika Lake.
  • Antonio Saura, Annie dans son fauteuil, 1967. Estimate €130.000-180.000
    Confronting African and CoBrA arts with mastery, the Z Collection resembles the passionate traveler who patiently built it. Z was a man curious about eastern cultures ruled by rites and oral laws, which is reflected in several pieces from Papua New Guinea to New Ireland. Z’s fascination for these continents’ aesthetics and legacies, which have had a great influence on modern art, from Gauguin to Picasso, is also reflected in the contemporary section of the collection. For example, the powerful lines of Antonio Saura’s Annie dans son fauteuil from 1967 marvelously blend with the African and Oceanic works.
  • Christo, Surrounded Islands (Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida). Estimate €150.000200.000
    The Z Collection is the result of a protean and universal quest and honours two other tireless travelers: Christo and Adami. Aside from a passion for travelling, the works by Christo and Adami are also a testament to Z’s love for architecture. He established his collection in a splendid setting at the top of a mythical edifice built by Marcel Peeters in the heart of Brussels. In fact, the Résidence of la Cambre, famous for having inspired Hergé in Tintin en Amérique, is an ideal place for a journey through the collection.
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