Karel Appel

Hip, Hip, Hoorah!


Karel Appel 1921–2006
Original title
Hiep, hiep, hoera!
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 817 × 1270 mm
Purchased with assistance from Evelyn, Lady Downshire's Trust Fund and the Gytha Trust 1988

Display caption

The title of Hip, Hip, Hoorah! was intended to celebrate the artistic freedom achieved by the CoBrA movement (1948–1951). This was a group of artists active in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam who sought to revive culture after the Second World War. The figures combine human elements with animal or bird-like features. Appel thought of them as ‘people of the night’, and so gave them a dark background. The bright colours and child-like imagery are typical of CoBrA. Appel often took inspiration from children’s drawings. He believed ‘the child in man is all that’s strongest, most receptive, most open and unpredictable’.

Gallery label, June 2020

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Catalogue entry

T05077 Hip, Hip, Hoorah! 1949 Hiep, Hiep, Hoera!

Oil on canvas 817 × 1270 (32 3/16 × 50)
Inscribed ‘K Appel '49’ b.r.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from Evelyn, Lady Downshire's Trust Fund and the Gytha Trust 1988
Exh: São Paulo Biennale, São Paulo, Brazil 1953 (5); Appel, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, June–Aug. 1965 (8); Cobra 1948–51, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, May–July 1966 (33, repr.); Appel's Oogappels, Central Museum, Utrecht, Sept.–Nov. 1970 (7, repr.); Appel's Appels, Musée d'art contemporain, Montreal, April–May 1972, Rothmans Art Gallery, Stratford, Ontario, June–Sept. 1972, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, Oct.–Nov. 1972, Edmonton Art Gallery, Alberta, Nov.–Dec. 1972, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Mannitoba, Dec. 1972–Jan. 1973, Dalhousie University Art Gallery, Halifax, March–April 1973, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, April–May 1973, London Public Library and Art Museum, Ontario, June–July 1973, New York Cultural Centre, July–Sept. 1973 (7, repr. in col., as ‘Hip! Hip! Hourra!’); Appel: Paintings, Wildenstein, July 1975 (1, repr.); Karel Appel, Museo de arte moderno, Instituto Naçional de Bellas Artes, Bosquede Chapultepec, Mexico, Oct.–Dec. 1977 (5, as ‘Hurra! Hurra!’); Appel, Museo de arte moderno, Bogata, Columbia, May 1978 (5, as ‘Hurra! Hurra!’); Cobra 1948–51, Kunstverein, Hamburg, Sept.–Nov. 1982, (11, repr. in col., as ‘Hipp, hipp, hurra’); Cobra 1948–51, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris, Dec. 1982–Feb. 1983, Maison de la culture, Chalon-sur-Saône, March–April 1983, Musée des beaux arts, Rennes, April–June 1983 (22, repr., as ‘Hip, hip, hourrah!’)
Lit: Jean-Clarence Lambert, Cobra, 1983, pp.86–8, repr. p.137 (col.); Eleanor Flomenhaft, The Roots and Development of Cobra Art, New York 1985, pp.76–81. Also repr: Artscanada, Dec. 1972, p.56; W. Stokvis, Cobra, Amsterdam 1974, p.51 (col.); W. Stokvis, Cobra: An International Movement in Art after the Second World War, New York 1988, p.73 (col.); Appel, exh. cat., National Museum of Art, Osaka 1989, p.47 (col.)

‘Hip, Hip, Hoorah!’ is one of two related paintings from 1949 executed in a style reminiscent of child art in which four figures brightly coloured in red, yellow and green are depicted against a black background. While the figures incorporate both animal and human characteristics, the two painted in profile on the right of the canvas appear rather more animal-like than the two depicted on the left, which appear more or less human. In a conversation with the compiler held on 6 March 1990 in New York the artist described the more human figures as male (far left) and female (centre). The creature with two heads (top right) displays both human and bird attributes and the fourth figure (bottom right) is ‘inbetween a woman with a breast and an animal’. For Appel the black background signified ‘the black of night’ and the creatures were ‘people of the night’.

T05077 was painted in Amsterdam in Appel's studio on Oude Zyds Voorburgwal. In the same year Appel returned to the subject in a slightly smaller painting entitled ‘Small Hip, Hip, Hooray!’ (private collection, New York, 750 × 1000 mm, repr. Osaka exh. cat., 1989, p.48). In conversation with the compiler, the artist could not recall what the interval between the two works had been. The second painting is very closely related to the first in both imagery and style. Six or seven figures are shown on a black ground and the contrast between the black ground and the brilliant colour of the figures is a strong feature of the work, as it also is in T05077. However, the colours are more varied and there is perhaps a clearer distinction between animal and human characters. Appel regards the second painting as less important than T05077.

With its bold colour, inventive imagery and lively execution, T05077 is typical of Appel's work of this time. However, the title is not typical and contrasts with the straightforward descriptions such as ‘Birds’ or ‘Child on Donkey’ he generally employed. Appel gave T05077 its title because at that moment in his life and work ‘something fantastic was happening. I made the painting and I said “hip, hip, hoorah”.’ The title was intended to celebrate the artistic freedom from tradition Appel believed he had finally achieved some five years after completing a two-year training at Amsterdam's Ecole des beaux arts (1942–44). It also celebrated his involvement with a number of likeminded artists who had come together to form the Cobra group (1948–51) in the year T05077 was painted.

Cobra united artists initially from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. They published ten issues of a magazine entitled Cobra and organised a series of exhibitions. These predominantly young artists sought radical alternatives to prevailing tendencies (especially abstract art and academic realism) in primitive and folk art, child art and the art of the insane. Their work was normally figurative and vigorously expressionist in style. Appel, Corneille (Cornelis Guillaume van Beverloo) and Constant (Constant Anton Niewenhuys) were the key Dutch figures. Encouraged by Asger Jorn, the first Danish artist involved in the group and one of its most energetic members, they formed the Dutch Experimental Group in 1948 and, aside from publishing their own magazine Reflex (which ran to two issues, dated 1948 and 1949), they also edited the fourth issue of the Cobra journal which served as a companion or catalogue to the International Exhibition of Experimental Art, perhaps the most significant of all Cobra manifestations, held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in November 1949. The smaller version of T05077 was included in the exhibition.

Both T05077 and ‘Small Hip, Hip, Hooray!’ are typical of Appel's Cobra style. Forceful colour and animal imagery had featured in Appel's art from the end of the war and by 1947 he had began to combine human and animal attributes in such works as the bronze sculpture ‘Bird Woman’ (private collection, Monaco, repr. Osaka exh. cat., 1989, p.43). In the following year he made a series of drawings of imaginary space people (see, for example, ‘Space People No.1’ and ‘Space People No.2’, both repr. Karel Appel: Werk Op Papier, exh. cat., Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague 1982, pp.43–4). From the start Appel's animals and hybrid creatures were entirely imaginary creations, described by the critic and art historian Michel Ragon as emphatically unrealistic or ‘denatured’ (Michel Ragon, Karel Appel: De Cobra à un art autre, Paris 1988, p.53). In prompting this development, Lautréamont's Chants de Maldoror, avidly read in its Dutch translation, was undoubtedly a major influence, accounting for what Appel describes as the ‘surrealistic’ aspect of his work. Lautréamont's extraordinary vision had earlier been a major influence on Surrealist artists, who explored the expressive potential of metamorphosis. In the work of this younger generation of Dutch artists the overtly disturbing qualities of Lautréamont's vision were generally absent, for ‘whilst the animal visions of Maldoror were obsessively dominated by agression ... the animals created by the Dutch members of Cobra were, as well as being menacing, figures of instinctive vitality, tenderness and pity’ (Lambert 1983, p.70).

Many Cobra artists were interested in child, folk and primitive art and employed hybrid human/animal imagery in their own work. For the Danish members of Cobra the invention of imaginary hybrid figures related to the lively mythological traditions in Nordic folklore. Appel and his Dutch colleagues met the Host group (Cobra's Danish wing) in Copenhagen in 1948. For Appel the meeting with the painter and sculptor Henry Heerup was particularly significant as it confirmed for him the potential of folk sources and the power of a ‘childlike’ style. First-hand experience of Danish art, together with Nordic folktales and imagery, were of obvious importance to Dutch artists who had no living folklore at their disposal. The first issue of Reflex, published in September 1948, included a manifesto by Constant in which he explained the attractions of folklore and folk art to young artists seeking liberation from aesthetic and social constraints: ‘Folk art is the manifestation of life fed solely by a natural ... search for expression. By recognising no norm other than expression, folk art is created according to impulse and intuition.’

Apart from European traditions, Appel was also becoming aware of other cultures and practices through his friendships with Corneille, who was fascinated by the folk art of North Africa, and the self-taught Dutch painter Anton Rooskens, who looked to sub-Saharan Africa for inspiration. It was not a question of merely borrowing from other cultures. For Cobra artists folklore and primitive art provided a resource of universal relevance. Asger Jorn wrote that ‘folk art is considered generally from a point of view which is too naturalistic and even chauvenistic. And yet it is possible to find astonishing points of similarity in folk art from the most widely separated countries. There is no difference between East and West. Folk art is the only one which is truely international’ (Cobra, [Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam], 1, 1948, p.14).

Constant's manifesto for Reflex quoted above linked the ‘natural ... search for expression’ of folk art with the child who ‘knows no other law than the spontaneous feeling for life and has no other need than to express this’. A child-like quality was already present in Appel's art by 1946. The critic Maud van Lood, viewing his work in Five Generations of Young Artists at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, remarked on the notable affinity between Appel's work and ‘the primitive phase of first utterances by children’ (see Flomenhaft 1985, p.27). When the Dutch group came to edit the fourth issue of Cobra they not only devoted considerable space to an exhibition of children's art entitled Kunst en Kind, shown at the Stedelijk during the winter of 1948–9 but also juxtaposed images by children and untrained, amateur painters with works by Cobra including Appel.

Appel was influenced by the ‘look’ of child art and T05077 employs many features normally associated with the art of small children. Perspective, horizon and scale are notably absent and the small area of green behind the left-hand figure seems to have no logical function. As in the drawings of pre-school children the human anatomy is presented schematically. Certain parts of the body are given special attention while others are simply absent. Important and expressive features like eyes and mouths are given prominence.

Appel was influenced not only by the imagery of child art but also by the innocent spontaneity and natural self-confidence of child artists. As he later explained:

When I started, I used to look at children's drawings. They gave me the impetus I needed to free myself from the things I'd learnt during my classical education ... The child in man is all that's strongest, most receptive, most open and unpredictable. ‘Adult’ means ‘controlled’. A child lives spontaneously; he's not aware of his talent; he looks at everything as though he were seeing it for the first time.

(quoted by André Verdet in Karel Appel: Paintings 1980–85, exh. cat., Arnolfini, Bristol 1986, pp.18–19)

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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