The travels of Rooskens*

*A Cobra artist in search of inspiration.

28 January - 25 June 2023

During his lifetime, painter Anton Rooskens (1906-1976) travelled to many different countries in search of inspiration for his work – from four different countries on the continent of Africa to the expansive landscapes of Iceland and Greenland and the warmth of the Italian village of Rivello. ‘The travels of Rooskens’ showcases paintings, gouaches and photographs he made during, and inspired by, his travels. Travel is a prominent theme in modern art because it symbolises freedom and encountering the new, but it is one which, as the exhibition reveals, we also look at from a different perspective today. ‘The travels of Rooskens’ can be seen from 28 January to 25 June 2023, the year in which the Netherlands will be celebrating 75 years of the Cobra art movement.

Anton Rooskens, Birds of Marathea, 1973. From the collection of Museum van Bommel van Dam. C/o Pictoright Amsterdam.

Three influential journeys
‘The Travels of Rooskens’ shines a light on three very different periods in Rooskens’ oeuvre, each profoundly influenced by a different journey. In 1954, he visited several countries on the continent of Africa. The artists of the Cobra group – to which Rooskens belonged – admired art from the African continent. During his trip, he discovered that his expectations about ‘primitive Africa’ were wrong; in truth, Rooskens could sense the influence of the colonial era everywhere he went. Amazed by nature In Rooskens’ later travels, he adjusted his expectations. In 1960, he travelled through Iceland and Greenland, where the landscape enchanted him. The works he created here reflect the mysterious and overpowering feeling he experienced while there. Towards the end of his life, Rooskens, now a celebrated artist, spent a period of time painting in Rivello, Italy. These works are lighter and more colourful. The exhibition illustrates how these travels influenced his art.

The privilege of travel
Travelling has long been seen as something positive, as a way of enriching and broadening your view of the world. But increasingly, another side is also emerging: travel as a privilege, and experiences that are deeply influenced by colonial perspectives. Artists drew inspiration from their time in other countries, but incorporated this inspiration into their work through their Western eyes. This exhibition reveals how artists like Rooskens thought and lived in their time. It highlights the privileged position of Rooskens himself: how his travels came about, who introduced him to new places and how he financed his trips. In Rooskens’ case, the exhibition also affords a glimpse into his own personal development, showing how he adjusted his expectations of new journeys ever so slightly.

Cobra in Schiedam
Rooskens was a member of the Cobra group, a collective of expressionist artists that shook up the art world with expressive and colourful paintings between 1948 and 1951. These artists celebrated freedom through their work, abandoning traditions to return to the primal sources of creativity: emotion, the subconscious and spontaneity. Travel, and in particular the concept of ‘the other’, is a significant source of inspiration for Cobra artists. Since 1954, at a time when few museums collected contemporary art, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam has been building a Cobra collection, which has now evolved into one of the leading collections of its kind in the Netherlands. The museum regularly organises exhibitions dedicated to Cobra or affiliated artists.

New research
A new monograph on Anton Rooskens, written by art historians Marguerite Tuijn and Eliane Odding, will be published during the exhibition. The work is entitled ‘Anton Rooskens (1906-1976)’ and is being published by Jap Sam Books. The authors are also the curators of the exhibition, commissioned by the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. Their extensive new research enables them to shed new light on Anton Rooskens’ contribution to post-war art from the Netherlands.