- Egill Jacobsen 1910 – 1998
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 960 × 765 mm
- Presented by the Egill and Evelyn Jacobsen Foundation 2020
Untitled, Composition in Red 1948 is an oil painting on canvas by the Danish artist Egill Jacobsen, one of the group of artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam who generated the European art movement known as CoBrA in 1948. Jacobsen developed a personal painting style in which the human presence was represented by highly coloured and abstracted masks. With artists Else Alfelt, Eijler Bille, Asger Jorn, Carl-Henning Pedersen and others, Jacobsen founded the Danish Linien (‘the Line’) group in 1937. He also showed with the related Høst group and, while serving in the Communist resistance during the German occupation, he contributed to the periodical Helhesten, writing the publication’s opening manifesto. Reconciling surrealism and abstraction, the Helhesten artists developed interests in Nordic myth, mediaeval frescos, the art of children and other spontaneous modes that nurtured an expressive art.
Untitled (Composition in Red) 1948 dates from the immediate post-war moment and shows the development in Jacobsen’s work since the more spontaneous compositions seen in paintings such as Untitled 1944, also in Tate’s collection (Tate T15759). Like that earlier painting, here Jacobsen first established the composition’s structure in pencil (or crayon) before applying blocks of colour that were laid in quickly but with sufficient care that they rarely overlap each other. The colouring in this later painting is generally warmer than the cooler yellow, green and ochre tones of the 1944 painting and the overall atmosphere is more optimistic. Though initially appearing abstract, an upright figure is discernible in the central pylon form marked by a green square above three coloured circles (in red, yellow and mauve-red). This is topped by the broad oval of a mask – a form that appeared regularly in Jacobsen’s work – with two circular eyes. Another bean-shaped mask appears in the top right, with an eye delineated in heavy impasto. The red throughout the composition creates rhythm and is increased in vibrancy by the superimposition of vivid green.
The painting’s sense of post-war freedom matched the claim for spontaneity that the Danish artists had made in 1946 in a text proposing a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The authors were Asger Jorn (1914–1973) and Jacobsen, and the latter was quoted as stating ‘the touch is the vibrato of painting’ (quoted in Hovdenakk 1980, p.65). Untitled (Composition in Red) 1948 was made during an extended visit to the South of France, where Jacobsen and his fellow-painter Ejler Bille (1910–2004) stayed at Cagnes-sur-Mer. The strong red is especially characteristic of this moment in his work and the lush colour has been described as ‘a change towards more containment of light’ (Jørgen Wadum, ‘Pictorial Analysis of Five Paintings from 1934 to 1978’, in Hovdenakk 1985, p.86). Though clearly distinguishable in character, Jacobsen’s and Bille’s works show a convergence of compositional means with abstraction being underpinned by figurative elements.
Both painters contributed to CoBrA as it came to be devised by Jorn through his contacts in Belgium and the Netherlands, and especially with the Belgian poet Christian Dotremont and the painters Karel Appel (1921–2006), Constant (1920–2005) and Corneille (1922–2010). Jacobsen’s Untitled (Composition in Red) falls at the precise moment of the emergence of CoBrA in 1948, a movement formulated to harness artistic connections outside Paris. The network, which took its name from the first letters of its major centres (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam), was formalised through the periodical of the same name (for which Jacobsen, Jorn and Pedersen collaborated on the first cover) and came to public attention through a series of exhibitions. These included the Høst exhibition in Copenhagen in late 1948 to which Jacobsen contributed. Hampered by ill-health and diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1954, he did not contribute to the controversial landmark exhibition held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in November 1949, but he remained a significant and generative figure within CoBrA into the 1950s.
Per Hovdenakk, Egill Jacobsen, 1 Malerier / Paintings 1928–65, Copenhagen 1980, p.187.
Per Hovdenakk, Egill Jacobsen, 2 Malerier / Paintings 1965–80, Copenhagen 1985.
Willemijn Stokvis, Cobra: The History of a European Avant-Garde Movement 1948–1951, Rotterdam 2017.
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