Else Alfelt*

*Eternity of the moon

6 april t/m 15 september 2024

This spring, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is presenting a retrospective of the Danish artist Else Alfelt (1910-1974). Through her fascination with nature and the cosmos, Alfelt carved out a niche for herself within the international Cobra movement. Her colourful and abstract landscapes often feature motifs that were important to her, such as the moon, the sun, mountains, rivers, spirals and other natural elements.

Alfelt’s work is well-known and admired in Denmark but has never before been exhibited on a large scale in the Netherlands. This exhibition sheds new light on the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam’s Cobra collection and gives an often-overlooked Cobra artist the stage she deserves. Featuring over fifty paintings and watercolours created between 1945 and 1970, the exhibition Else Alfelt. Eternity of the Moon offers a poetic, almost mystical experience of her oeuvre.

“The moon, the sun, mountains, rivers, space; they all represent eternity for me [….]” – Else Alfelt

The majesty of nature
Else Alfelt (1910-1974) began drawing at a very young age and, after being turned down by the Art Academy in Copenhagen, taught herself to be an artist. Her work as a model introduced her to many Danish artists, including her future husband, the artist Carl Henning Pedersen.

Alfelt was one of the Danish artists who, together with Dutch artists such as Appel, Constant and Corneille, were part of the Cobra international art movement between 1948 and 1951. Unlike her contemporaries, she drew her inspiration from Danish traditions, Eastern mysticism and the landscapes she saw on her travels to France, Turkey, Japan, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, rather than from children’s drawings or African art. Wherever she went, she marvelled at the majesty of nature. The majesty of mountainous landscapes made her contemplate, time and again, man’s place in the universe. Nature, therefore, influenced Alfelt’s idiosyncratic and colourful painting style.

Alfelt’s visual language is markedly different from that of her male colleagues. Using a bright palette and a loose brushstroke, Else Alfelt constructs her compositions intuitively. Her paintings and drawings are not so much literal depictions of mountain landscapes or moonlit nights, but rather universal representations of them. Her keen interest in the power of intuition is reflected in her affinity with the Cobra movement. In particular, her work is an expression of her fascination with the cosmos.

Eternity of the Moon
Recurring motifs in Else Alfelt’s work are the moon, mountains, rainbows and spirals, resulting in several series of works. In the abstract interplay of shapes and colours, the round circle of the moon counterbalances the pointed peaks. For Alfelt, the moon has a cosmic significance: The moon is our daily reminder that we are but a small part of a greater whole. For the moon gives us energy and governs the eternal cycles of nature. As she once wrote: ‘I am drawn by the universe – the movement of the stars – I feel the planets of time and light.’

Spirituality and meditation
The exhibition Else Alfelt. Eternity of the Moon not only offers visitors an initial introduction to this fascinating artist, but also encourages them to experience Alfelt’s work in a more spiritual way. In the final room, we present a selection of Alfelt’s most abstract works in a setting that invites intense and focused contemplation. The exhibition also includes poems written by Alfelt, in which she attempts to evoke the same feelings with words as she does with her art.

Cobra artist
By honouring Else Alfelt with a retrospective, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is redressing the decades-long focus on the male members of Cobra. Alongside Sonja Ferlov, also from Denmark, Alfelt is the only woman who officially belonged to the group. Although Else Alfelt received a great deal of support in her day and in Denmark was considered a fully-fledged member of the Cobra movement, her work has remained largely overlooked in comparison to that of her male counterparts. Following the exhibition on the later works of Lotti van der Gaag in 2022, this exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam will once again shine the spotlight on a female artist of the Cobra movement.

The exhibition is an international collaboration with the Carl Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum in Herning, Denmark. Else Alfelt lived and worked with her partner, the Cobra artist Carl Henning Pedersen. They were one of Denmark’s most important and well-known artist couples. The museum was established two years after Alfelt’s death in 1976, in order to manage the extensive collection of works by both artists.


Images on this page, in order of appearance:

Else Alfelt, Full Moon, 1956, olieverf op paneel, collectie Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum
Else Alfelt, Stromboli, 1958, olieverf op paneel, collectie Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum
Else Alfelt, Lyric Moon Scape, 1949, olieverf op paneel, collectie Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum
Else Alfelt, Dark blue mountain rhythm with sickle moon / with full moon / with half moon, 1970, olieverf op paneel, collectie Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum
Else Alfelt, Nikko-Japan, 1967, aquarel, collectie Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum
Else Alfelt, Japan, 1967, aquarel, collectie Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt Museum