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Entry catalogue A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen
Author: Marijke Peyser
In the second half of the 1940s Piet Ouborg’s compositions went from static and dreamy images to more dynamic compositions. It is as if the closed shapes of ovals, circles and rectangles have been pulled apart, and the small parts scattered over the canvas as individual elements. Bright colours defined his paintings. Ouborg’s work from this period reflects the American Abstract Expressionism of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. His visionary abstractions from the late 1940s run parallel with works by the Cobra Group, although Symbolen in het oneindige dates from the period after that movement disbanded (1948-51). The work of the members of Cobra and Ouborg are similar in the abstract form from which figuration has not disappeared and the expressive use of colour. These characteristics refer to shared sources of inspiration such as Surrealism, primitive art, children’s drawings and the art of the mentally ill. In 1949 Ouborg was asked to become a member of the Cobra movement. He did not accept the invitation because he did not want to be associated with a group.
The title of Ouborg’s canvas, Symbols inthe Infinite, is telling: countless tiny parts move forward in an infinite space. Although Ouborg’s work can almost always be interpreted through the emotions, there are indications that the artist drew inspiration from scientific literature. A number of drawings that directly refer to this were found in his estate. They were pages from a publication by the nineteenth-century Swiss pathologist Ernst Ziegler. In his Lehrbuch der allgemeinenundspeziellen pathologischen Anatomie und Pathogenese (1882), written for students and doctors, Ziegler discussed such things as illnesses resulting from abnormalities in the blood and the organs. His meticulously-drawn illustrations of microscopic images attracted Ouborg’s attention. The artist used a pen to adapt the illustrations from Ziegler’s textbook: he made bifurcations, added parts and made connections. In an illustration of a diseased lung – primary tuberculosis – Ouborg followed the hardened area of the inflammation encased by connective tissue. He accentuated the affected part inside the circle, drew lines to the cells outside it and added new areas of infection. A letter Ouborg sent to his friends, the Tielrooys on 2 November 1948 attests to the existence of this source of inspiration. The little drawing above the opening sentence is an ‘adapted’ bacterial infection of a pectoral muscle. Ouborg’s interventions changed the images of illness and transformed the bacteria into moving, dancing particles. The motifs in Symbolen in het oneindige, one of Ouborg’s last paintings, could therefore refer to Ziegler’s textbook.
 Cobra (1948-51) was the most important international avant-garde movement in European art immediately after the Second World War. The name was formed from the initial letters of the capitals Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br) and Amsterdam (A). Asger Jorn and Karl Pederson represented the Danish branch, Pierre Alechinsky was the most prominent Belgian member, and Karel Appel, Constant and Corneille were the Dutch members.