Corneille’s Guillaume paintings of unforgettable image vocabulary

Corneille’s Guillaume paintings of unforgettable image vocabulary

Corneille’s Guillaume paintings with decorative birds and figures of from the 1980s and 1990s may be better known, but Corneille’s paintings from the 1950s and 1960s are his most important and finest examples of his breathtaking experimentation and innovation. There is perhaps no finer example than La sarabande d’été or ‘The sarabande of summer, one of the best paintings Corneille made in 1966.

Corneille was one of the leading artists of the COBRA movement (its name derived from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, the three capitals in which its founders were based). Born in 1922 in French-speaking Liège to Dutch parents, Corneille lived in Amsterdam between 1940 and 1950. In this period Corneille befriended Karel Appel. In 1950, he left the Netherlands to definitively establish himself in France. Corneille’s paintings of his early period show major influences of Klee and Miro.

The painter Corneille was also a restless traveller, spending time travelling throughout Europe as well as Africa, Asia, and both North and South America. The experiences and impressions Corneille gained on his travels became the elements of Corneille’s paintings.

This painting of Corneille is a highlight among Corneille’s abstract ‘landscapes.’ In it, his style exhibits clear influences from Spain, where the artist lived for several years. A Sarabande is a Spanish dance that became popular all over Europe.

The twisted shapes of the abstract landscape in this painting by Corneille are modelled on the perspective of an aerial photograph. ‘Unlike Karel (Appel), who sees everything in terms of colour first, and then in forms and lines, for me form comes first,’ Corneille says of his own approach. He then fills his forms with the right colour, as here with Mediterranean earthy brown and ochre tints alongside smouldering Spanish red. Corneille’s highly developed sense of colour and his strength in abstract shape variation are perhaps seen at their best in this beautiful painting.