Copenhagen 1913, Copenhagen 2007
Carl-Henning Pedersen was born in Copenhagen on the 23rd of September, 1913. He was active as a painter, sculptor, poet and graphic artist. At first he wanted to become a composer or an architect. Next to that, he was politically very engaged, and he became popular orator. In 1933 he attended the International People’s College in Elsinore to learn other languages so that he would be able to hold speeches in those languages as well. He met Else Alfelt (1910-1974) at this college. She occupied herself with painting and introduced him with this. One year after their meeting, in 1934, the couple married. Pedersen was self-taught artist and he had a fondness for Scandinavian folklore, mythical creatures and children’s drawings. He practically painted in an abstract style: in his early career his works mainly displayed circles, triangles and fantasy creatures under the influence of Cubism, but after his encounter with the artist and compatriot Egill Jacobsen (1910-1998) in 1936 he shifted to painting masks. He was looking for the kind of freedom that would help to surrender himself without any restraints to his imagination. In that same year the works of both Pedersen and Alfelt were exhibited for the first time during the exhibition Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling in Copenhagen. Pedersen delivered four abstract canvases and Alfelt delivered two naturalistic canvases. In 1939 he moved to Paris where the works of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and George Braque (1882-1963) made a great impression on him. On his return trip to Denmark Pedersen visited the infamous Entartete Kunst (1939) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The expressionist works by Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and Paul Klee (1879-1940) were exhibited here for everyone to see and it was the free, imaginative and spontaneous way of working which appealed to Pedersen. Back in Denmark, he joined the prewar experimental artists’ Høst (1942-1949) and wrote articles for Asger Jorn’s (1914-1973) and Robert Dahlmann Olsen’s (1915-1993) established Helhesten magazine (1941-1944). In these articles, he brought his artistic and political considerations to the fore. Influenced by Marxism, he felt that art should not only be for everyone, but also could be made by anyone. The latter, however, will only succeed if the man would not be guided by the fear of not being able to do something. “We must make all men into artists. For they are. “They just don’t know it yet”, Says Pedersen. In 1948, Pedersen became a member of CoBrA, an international post-war avant-garde movement who felt that art should be born from artistic freedom, imagination and spontaneity. Pedersen did not play a major role in organizational matters within this group. For him it was about the common ideology that regarded the personal freedom of the artist. Pedersen’s works, as from the CoBrA period are mainly characterized with the display of a mythological world in which recurring characters such as horses, birds and eyes can be recognized in. He also used experimental shapes, flowing lines and often worked with the color blue. he would allow shapes to come to existence out of colors, with which he wanted to convey a particular mood. He did this with the idea that every spectator had to rely on his or her imagination to invent a story in regards of the paintings. The works of Carl-Henning Pedersen were and still are internationally exhibited. In 1950, in Copenhagen, there was a retrospective exhibition of his work, which was followed by several solo and group exhibitions. His works were also shown at the Venice Biennale (1962) and twice in New York (1973 and 1976). In 1976, the opening of the Carl-Henning Pedersen and Else Alfelt Museum in Herning, Denmark, took place, after Pedersen had donated 3,000 works of art to the city.