The last painting that was bought for the Ambassade Hotel in Amsterdam, and which could still be included in book the Cobra on the canal, is the first artwork in the collection by a female member of Cobra:
Unlike Lotti van der Gaag (also in the collection of the Ambassade hotel), Alfelt took part in many important Cobra activities and discussions.
Jean-Clarence Lambert: ‘Viewed from a Cobra perspective, Else Alfelt’s paintings, which were met with certain resistance anyway (among the Dutch who found her too abstract), are an enrichment through her engagement with the natural world, through the emotion that people jointly decided to call ‘frenzied’.’
Christian Dotremont said the following about his encounter with Alfelt at the Cobra conference in 1949: ‘That evening in Boserup [author’s note: Bregnerød], Else Alfelt told me about Lapland. She showed me her paintings, and I could see that she painted what she saw, like so many other people do. Her secret is that she saw what she had dreamed.’
Else Alfelt: ‘I am part of the space around me. My paintings form a lyrical perception of the world. They stand on the opposite side of reality. They create a reality where the unexpected can happen.’
Else Alfelt was born in Copenhagen in 1910. Her father was a bank clerk; her mother was a housewife. She ended up in an orphanage at the age of seven because, after her parents got divorced, her father’s new wife demanded that Else and her sister be sent away from home. An aunt gave her a paint box when she was twelve. Else started making portraits of the staff and of other children in the orphanage. By the time she left the orphanage she knew what she wanted to become: an artist.
To prepare for admission to the Art Academy, she took a twoyear course at the Technical School in Copenhagen in 1926.
After completing the course she applied to get in to the academy, but was turned down. She started copying paintings in the National Art Museum to teach herself painting techniques. In 1933 she met the young communist Carl-Henning Pedersen at the International Folk High School in Helsingør. They got married one year later and their first daughter, Vibeke, was born in the same year. Shortly after 1934 the couple got to know Egill Jacobsen, Ejler Bille, Asger Jorn and Sonja Ferlov, among others.
Alfelt was interested in the abstract idiom and ideas behind Surrealism and her work reflected this, becoming more ‘abstract’ in 1937. Trees or mountains could always be recognised in her abstractions though. Egill Jacobsen said of them, ‘They are internalised landscapes where the borders are unclear; balancing between reverie and the imaginary.’
Alfelt was involved in many of the Cobra events. Shortly after Cobra was founded her work was exhibited in the joint Cobra/ Høst exhibition in Copenhagen in 1948. A few months later, Dotremont included work by Alfelt in his Cobra exhibition Les fins et les moyens (Ends and means) in 1949. Just six months on she took part in the Cobra conference in Bregnerød. Together with her husband and daughter Vibeke she participated in painting the house where the conference was held.
And in 1949, she too was one of the few Danes who exhibited at the now legendary exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum. Two of her paintings hung next to a gouache by Karel Appel. The painting dated 1945 that she exhibited then shows a strong affinity with the work from 1949 now in the possession of the Ambassade Hotel. It is highly likely that at that time she could not take this more recent and expressive piece to the Stedelijk Museum because it had been bought by art collector Elise Johansen.
Elise Johansen and another female Danish art collector were the first to support these artists, which made them indispensable allies, according to their contemporary Jean-Clarence Lambert.
After Cobra broke up in 1951, Alfelt’s work was shown in various Cobra retrospectives and she travelled frequently across the globe to take part in exhibitions or to work on site. She increasingly turned her hand to making mosaics. In 1974 her health started failing her. After suffering a series of minor strokes she died on the street in Copenhagen, probably as a result of another stroke.
A museum in Herning, Denmark, is dedicated to her work and the work of her husband Carl Henning Pedersen. see: http://chpeamuseum.com/collection/else-alfelt
From the Cobra on the canal book (2013) translation : Vivien Cook
Eleanor Flomenhaft, The roots and development of Cobra Art 1985
Else Alfelt biography Lotte Korshoj http://chpeamuseum.com/media/359156/EA_UK-biografi.pdf
and the usual suspects
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