Pierre Alechinsky returns to limelight


Against the backdrop of a revival in his market, Pierre Alechinsky was awarded the leading global prize for painting this year.

Close to the Surrealists, Pierre ALECHINSKY (1927) was an active member of CoBrA in the late 1940’s and his work grew out of a wide range of influences including music and Japanese calligraphy. During his long career, the Begian artist has received a number of prestigious awards including the Legion of Honour in 2006. This summer, aged 90, he received the Praemium Imperiale International art prize. The award also indirectly recognizes the contribution of the CoBrA movement to 20th century art.


Lasting just three years (1948 – 1951), the CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) movement and was multicultural group of artists including Karel APPEL (1921-2006), CORNEILLE (1922-2010) and Constant from Holland, Asger JORN (1914-1973) from Denmark, Pierre Alechinsky from Belgium and Jacques Doucet and Jean-Michel ATLAN (1913-1960) from France. As of 1948, the artists in this group advocated a spontaneous and experimental form of art that was not shy of a certain brutality/violence. They rejected artistic intellectualism which they considered sclerotising and embraced the anti-elitism of traditional arts & crafts and children’s drawings. The result was a highly expressive and often tormented body of works that rejected gratuitous aestheticism and impressed viewers by its roughness. After 1951, when the movement disbanded, its artists pursued rich and diversified careers. Though brief, the collaboration generated works of tremendous spontaneity that purists are constantly on the lookout for on the secondary market. In the case of Pierre Alechinsky, the era produced his first “word-drawings” made in collaboration with poet Christian DOTREMONT (1922-1979), one of the founders of CoBrA. As only a dozen works from Alechinsky’s CoBrA period have been auctioned in 30 years, his market price index is essentially based on later creations.

New record…

Last April a work by Pierre Alechinsky crossed the $500,000 threshold for the first time in 18 years at Christie’s Amsterdam (one of CoBrA’s three historic cities) setting a new record for the artist at $654,000 (including fees), almost double its low estimate. The work in question, Soutien de famille (Provider) – an expressionist painting dated 1960 – is a highly spontaneous work despite being an oil painting. He later dropped oil for acrylic to allow greater speed and fluidity.

But demand for his best works is not limited to the Netherlands; it is also tangible throughout Europe and has reached the American market where some works have fetched over $200,000 in New York in the last 20 years. Indeed, Alechinsky’s market has a superb historical foundation and excellent geographical reach with buyers from all over the world recognising the artist’s extraordinary career. Few European artists have such well-balanced geographical demand distribution. Alechinsky’s works are particularly sought-after in France where he has lived and worked for decades. More than 30% of his auction turnover is generated in France (since 2000), versus around 16% in Denmark, 16% in the Netherlands, 14% in the UK, 12% in Belgium and a number of good results in the United States, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Austria.

However, despite the strong links in his work with Eastern cultures, his Asian market is still timid. Alechinsky has always been fascinated by Oriental calligraphy and some of his works are even signed with a Japanese stamp. He traveled widely in Asia and even shot a movie in Japan. In 1954, he was heavily exposed to Chinese creation via strong ties with the Chinese painter TING Walasse (1929-2010) soon after his arrival in Paris. Walasse Ting will also met Asger Jorn and Karel Appel, appreciating the representational power of the former CoBrA members before leaving for New York where he pursued his career. Nowadays Walasse Ting’s price rating is rocketing in the East and the price inflation could well spill over onto CoBrA artists, especially Alechinsky, on the powerful Asian market.