His first exhibition was in 1946 in Groningen in the Netherlands, together with artists from the Dutch experimental group, Reflex.
Corneille first visited Paris in 1946 and felt immediately at home in the art metropolis. Together with Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, Dotremont and Constant, he founded the COBRA group in Paris 1948. Many other artists, poets and architects later joined the group, including the Swedish artists C-O Hultén, Max Walter Svanberg and Anders Österlin.The works of Paul Klee and Joan Miró exerted a strong influence on Corneille and, like them, he too was inspired by African culture, with which he became well acquainted during several journeys to Africa. Initially his art was non-figurative, but he gradually turned to painting fantasy landscapes in warm tones, frequently characterised by symbiotic representations of female figures and birds. The woman represents beauty and voluptuousness, while the bird symbolises freedom and strength. Since his debut in Groningen more than half a century ago, Corneille has taken part in hundreds of exhibitions at different galleries and is represented in museums all over the world.
Led by a fascination for Corneille and the joie de vivre of his paintings, our father, Siwert Bergström, visited the artist in Paris in 1976, where the two of them met in a sidewalk café by the Rue de Clignancourt. Corneille promised to produce a sequence of engravings for Siwert’s gallery, then called Galleri Kända Målare and situated in Jönköping. This marked the beginning of a fruitful friendship and a close working relationship.We were 14 and 12 years old respectively when Corneille first exhibited at the gallery on Bredgränd in Jönköping in 1978. Our memory of that first meeting with him is of a kindly man with a violet-coloured scarf and peering eyes whose penetrating gaze testified to the greatness of the human being behind them. In the years to come he would often visit us in our home and, as our proficiency in foreign languages improved, he was able to share with us his memories and his recollections of meetings with the great modern masters − Picasso, Chagall and Miró to name but three. One anecdote that made a great impression on us dated from his years as a poor, hungry young artist in Amsterdam in the late 1940s, when the COBRA Group was just beginning to take shape. Karel Appel, with whom he shared a studio, had succeeded in selling a painting and had raced off to buy a huge chunk of steak which he subsequently cooked and ate up in front of Corneille – without offering him the tiniest morsel! He would never forget that story. And nor will we! It was Corneille who encouraged our father to move the gallery to Stora Nygatan in Malmö in 1984. Together they produced a large number of graphic editions and art books together, which led to numerous visits and exhibitions over the course of the years. Corneille became one of the cornerstones on which the gallery’s success was built and is – metaphorically speaking, at least – part of the very fabric of our business and the building. In accordance with his wishes, Corneille will be laid to rest beside his fellow countryman and predecessor, the great master, Vincent van Gogh: two artists from totally different eras, with different life histories behind them, who are nevertheless sure to discover that they share a great deal in common. We will miss the slight, bearded gentleman with the peering gaze and the violet neck-scarf, but his spirit lives on in his brightly coloured and highly imaginative paintings. Corneille played a big part in our upbringing and our education into the world of art. He is an important representative of his age, whose work still continues to spread joy and inspiration. We are convinced that he has earned his rightful place in the art history of our time – as an artist who truly knew how to celebrate womanhood, joy and all that is beautiful in life. Thomas and Karl-Johan Bergström Galleri GKM Siwert Bergström Malmö 16 September, 2010