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Else & Elna

Jan 24 - Feb 14, 2023

Elna Fonnesbech-Sandberg (Danish, 1892-1994)

Skygger (1953)

Oil and Mixed media on Canvas

19.7 x 23.6 in. (50 x 60 cm.)

Press Release

Elna Fonnesbech-Sandberg (1892–1994) and Elsa Fischer-Hansen (1905 - 1996) are two twentieth century Danish artists who were critical participants of the avant-garde movements Helhesten (1941-44) and CoBrA (1948-1951)—the former a patron and the latter an artistic compatriot. This exhibition is coincident with the 2023 touring exhibition, “Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940–70”, first exhibiting at White Chapel Whitechapel Gallery (London, UK) and then the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles (Arles, France), pairing the two artists with other great women abstractionists including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Mary Abbott, Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Miriam Schapiro, and Janet Sobel. Our exhibition highlights Fonnesbech-Sandberg and Fischer-Hansen, both of whom were progenitors of a kind of painterly abstraction wholly unique and, until recently, unduly disregarded by the artworld.

Fonnesbech-Sandberg was born in 1892 in Copenhagen and began to take an interest in painting at an early age. Fonnesbech-Sandberg’s interest began as that of a collector. By 1929, Fonnesbech-Sandberg had amassed a unique collection of works by Danish modernists artists, with a particular penchant for expressionism. She was lovers with Asger Jorn and, encouraged by her compatriots, made her artistic debut in 1947 at the Tokanten Gallery. Fonnesbech-Sandberg’s abstract ornamental style often features blotted and fantastic interlaced mythological creatures. Her method consists of numerous layers that are scratched through, in a style reminiscent of Italian Renaissance sgraffito, then repainted again and again. In 1949 she became a member of the Spiralen artists association. Fischer-Hansen was a Danish abstract painter and a key member of both Helhesten and CoBrA movements; after a brief stint as a figurative naturalist, she increasingly moved towards a kind of painterly abstraction, poetic and subdued. In her late career, Fischer-Hansen moved towards colorist art.

Although both CoBrA and its predecessor movement, Helhesten—itself a politically galvanized response to the Nazi-occupied Danish state—were dominated by men, a small number of women were associated with CoBrA; these are two such artists.