Press Releases King Baudouin Foundation – Exhibition: The young surrealist years of Christian Dotremont, co-founder of Cobra

King Baudouin Foundation – Exhibition: The young surrealist years of Christian Dotremont, co-founder of Cobra

Exhibition: The young surrealist years of Christian Dotremont, co-founder of Cobra

The Archives of Christian Dotremont represent a vital source of information for the study of this poet’s work and for post-war literature and art. An exhibition entitled ‘Dotremont and the surrealists. Young men in wartime (1940-1948)’ at the BELvue museum sheds new light on Dotremont at the beginning of his career, which coincided with the Second World War, and also on his links to surrealism. The King Baudouin Foundation, which has received the archive as a donation from Dotremont’s brother Guy, aims through this exhibition to pay tribute to this artist’s legacy and share the wealth of his archives.

Christian Dotremont (1922-1979) is best known as the co-founder of the international art movement called Cobra and as the creator of logograms, graphical creations which are a combination of text and graphic art. Much less is known, however, about the early years of his career and his links to surrealism.


The personal correspondence, photographs, pamphlets, posters, publications and works of art by Dotremont and his friends found in the Christian Dotremont Archives allow visitors to discover this turbulent period. Well-known institutions and private collectors have also given a number of remarkable works on loan, including a film with Magritte and Nougé in the leading roles which has never been shown before and a work that Dotremont is said to have purchased from Magritte.


Dotremont began his career as a young poet in the circle of Brussels surrealists under the leadership of René Magritte. In the field of poetry, the movement was a model for Dotremont because of the values it espoused, including the rejection of existing norms, making it possible to develop a new kind of creativity. Nevertheless, in the early 1940s it was difficult to connect with a movement that had been in existence for almost two decades already and which some people considered to be in decline.


Dotremont’s early years coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War. The occupation forced the surrealists who had not fled abroad to participate actively in the resistance. Dotremont was one of those who took the initiative in this area. In 1941 he went to Paris and he stayed in the city several times until the end of the 1940s. He was a member of the circle of young surrealists entitled ‘La Main à plume’, and he met some of the surrealist ‘anciens’ there including Paul Eluard, as well as ‘the greats’ who were in Paris at the time, including Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso.


After the war the Brussels surrealists, including Dotremont, joined the Communist party. During that period, his efforts to find a new form of surrealism led him to create the artistic and political movement called ‘revolutionary surrealism’ which he established internationally. Subsequently, his understanding of the impasse facing communism resulted in the launch of Cobra, with painting taking over from politics.


The Christian Dotremont Archives: a wealth of information

In 2011 Guy Dotremont donated his brother Christian’s archives to the King Baudouin Foundation. Thanks to his efforts, the archive has been preserved in its entirety and now represents a first-class source for the study of the works of Christian Dotremont and also the turbulent period and exciting artistic context in which the artist lived. The Foundation has a strong commitment to preserving and researching the archives, as well as making them available and accessible to the public.


A full inventory of the archives has been created with assistance from Guy Dotremont and the Archives et Musée de la Littérature (AML – Archives and Museum of Literature), where they are now housed. The King Baudouin Foundation has recently also launched a programme of digitalisation, which has resulted in more than 22,000 images being recorded. Researchers can now consult this archive from anywhere in the world. Marie Godet, the curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying publication, used this facility for her doctorate on surrealism in Brussels in the 1940s. To share this knowledge and the wealth of the archive with everyone, the Foundation is dedicating this exhibition and publication to that exciting, turbulent period in his career.


Practical information


  • Dates: 26/11/19 to 9/02/20
  • BELvue museum, Paleizenplein 7, 1000 Brussels
  • Free entrance.
  • Free audio guide (in NL, FR and EN) on your own smartphone (
  • Guided visits are available
  • Evening opening on 28/11 for guided tours in NL, FR and EN in the context of Brussels Museums Nocturnes.
  • Publication for sale in the museum shop (5 euros).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *