CONSTANT (1920-2005)
Untitled (Dier met Toren)
signed and dated ‘Constant ‘49’ (upper right)
oil on canvas, in artist frame
canvas: 24 x 30.5cm.
overall: 25.5 x 31.5cm.
Painted in 1949
Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s Amsterdam, 13 December 1990, lot 225.
Private Collection, The Netherlands (acquired at the above sale).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
T. van der Horst, Constant. De later periode, Nijmegen 2008 (installation view at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, p. 68).
P. Shield, ‘The 1949 Cobra Exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam’, in Jong Holland | beeldende kunst en visuele cultuur, vol. 22, no. 1, 2006 (illustrated).
Bergen, Kunstzaal Huber, Appel Constant Corneille, 1949.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Internationale Tentoonstelling van Experimentele Kunst, 1949.
's-Hertogenbosch, Noordbrabants Museum, Gekoesterde schoonheid. Kunst uit Brabants privébezit, 2010 (illustrated, p. 90).
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Lot Essay

Constant completed the current work, Untitled (Dier met Toren), in the second year of CoBrA’s brief but prolific existence. One year prior, Constant wrote in what would become the manifesto for CoBrA, ‘A painting is not a structure of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a man, or all of these together” (C. Nieuwenhuys, Manifesto. Reflex: Orgaan van de experimentele groep in Holland, Amsterdam 1948). The text summarily defined what Constant would later declare to be the ‘experimental method’, whose positions were twofold: that the creative process was more important than the final product, and that the artist based his aesthetic position in opposition to the prevailing standard of his time.

The CoBrA years were to be some of the most productive for the artist: by the time the movement had come to an end in 1951, Constant had produced roughly half of the works that would eventually comprise his entire painted oeuvre (M. Hummelink, Constant: Paintings, exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1995, p. 30). For most of the following decade, with rare exception, Constant shunned painting in favour of sculpture and architecture, only to return to his original medium in the latter half of the 1960s. In 1952, his friend and CoBrA collaborator Asger Jorn wrote to him encouragingly in the hope of reviving their movement: ‘I see a continuation in everything you have done since always, keep it, keep your own conscience through everything, and you can do anything. You have precisely that rare talent to do anything and keep your personality’ (A. Jorn to Constant, cited in M. Hummelink, 1995, p. 28). Unfortunately for Jorn, Constant could not have disagreed more. He wrote back to his friend that CoBrA had produced little of value and that he had undergone an abrupt break with his former artistry. For Constant, recreating the movement would be an impossible and futile task.

Throughout Constant’s highly variegated oeuvre, however, Jorn’s words would ring true. As the art world surrounding him continued to evolve, from requiring an antithesis within painting in the immediate post-war years to eventually demanding a defence of the painted image in an increasingly conceptual arena, Constant’s work tread back to its origins in the CoBrA era. His 1995 work, De Wees (The Orphan), bears an unmistakable resemblance to the current work by way of the figure’s black eyes and mouth, clasped hands, and despondent expression. The standards he laid out in the late forties are still upheld through the more representational nature of the piece as a whole — a reaction, perhaps, against the changing aesthetic tides of his time.

Constant was at endless odds with his individuality. He aspired to a world in which an artist could assimilate to a collective and be understood under such terms, not pertaining to a unique personality but to a specific zeitgeist or reactionary force. It is this contradiction within himself, and by consequence his work, that continues to intrigue a multitude of admirers. Untitled (Dier met Toren) offers its viewer such a combination of self and collective, a sincere and forceful unity of Constant’s creative force and CoBrA’s emancipatory character.

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