Cobelle get the spotlight at the Eclectic Art & Objects Gallery
(Editor's Note: This article was revised July 19, 2005, to correct the description of Cobelle's signature in his later years.)
Collectors of 1950s pottery are all too familiar with the designs of Russell Wright and Sascha Brastoff. As much as their designs have come to represent the style of that time, so, too, do the paintings of Charles Cobelle, whose murals once adorned the walls of prominent locations such as Howard Hughes' Desert Inn and whose advertising illustrations beckoned would-be seafarers onto the French Line.
"Charles Cobelle was to the '50s genre of art and design what Peter Max was to the '70s," says Robert Keller, director of the Eclectic Art & Objects Gallery in Emsworth, where more than 20 paintings by Cobelle can be seen now through December in this church-turned-gallery.
Characterized by thin, descriptive line-work over broad patches of bold color, Cobelle's paintings depict the French Riviera, the exhilaration of the racetrack and Paris street scenes in all their gaiety. The subject matter of these paintings was an appropriate choice for an artist who once apprenticed to Marc Chagall and Raoul Dufy.
Cobelle, who was born Carl Edelman in Alsace-Lorraine in 1902, received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Munich, but it was L'Ecole des Beaux Arts that lured him to Paris - a Paris that stayed with him long after he immigrated to the United States in the late 1920s.
By the 1950s, spurred by the commercial success of his mentor, Dufy, Cobelle had achieved phenomenal success commercially with his Parisian-influenced style.
Much like contemporary artists and designers at the time, his designs graced a number of pottery patterns for various pottery companies, including Midwinter Stylecraft, Universal Potteries and Homer Laughlin.
In addition to creating advertising illustrations for everything from hosiery to French perfume, Cobelle created a number of murals throughout the country in noteworthy public locations such as The Painted Desert Room of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, Neiman-Marcus in Dallas and on the cruise ships of the Holland American Lines.
Cobelle had a unique way of painting that Keller describes as "opposite the way most people paint." First, the artist would map out a scene in blocks of bold, expressive color, then define the imagery with spontaneous, fluid line work. Many of his paintings were painted on canvas with mixed media - oils, acrylics, tempera, conte crayon, ink, whatever was at hand - on a baby grand piano that he used as his easel.
In 1965, a fire ravaged his studio at his home in Ridgefield, Conn. As a result, most of his early work was lost, as were all school records and correspondence.
In his final years, which ended with his death in July 1994, he signed his paintings "Chas Cobelle."
Because paintings signed "Chas Cobelle" are of less quality, Keller suggests that Cobelle signed them in this manner to announce his "disclaimer." And indeed, they are not considered of much value to today's collectors. In this show, however, all of the works were made between the 1950s and the 1980s and are signed "Cobelle."
In "The Gingerbread House" - a large watercolor painted in the 1950s - broad blocks of orange, blue and yellow loom behind intricately detailed lines that define a house, a street sign and a fire hydrant.
"One of the interesting things about this painting is that it is very, very different in subject matter from anything else he has done," Keller says.
"It is a painting of a New England mansion, but he gives so much attention to a fire hydrant."
In "They're off," a small painting of a horse race that Cobelle painted in the late 1970s, the artist effortlessly expresses speed and movement with bold colors and simple, dynamic forms.
One of the largest paintings in the show is "Rue de la Paix." Painted in the 1980s, the piece vibrates with colors that have an almost fluorescent hue - a typical palette in Cobelle's paintings at that time. With its intricate arrangement of human figures, horse-drawn carts, flowering trees and brightly colored shop awnings, "Rue de la Paix" depicts the innate gaiety of the Boulevard with stunning simplicity and breezy sophistication.
"He did not want to distinguish between buildings and people, organic and inorganic," Keller says. "He wanted everything to be experienced in the same way."
Although clearly the subjects in Cobelle's paintings were not of actual locations or events, they nevertheless convey the excitement of the Paris street scenes, racetracks, regattas and casinos that they depict. This imagery, combined with a vibrant palette of expressive colors, creates a world full of verve and wit that effortlessly transcends reality.
"He didn't want a rainy day. He only wanted happy days," Keller says. "You'll never see a rainy, dark day in any of his pieces."