Wouter Schopman – “COBRA stole my heart”

The Ambassade Hotel is synonymous with art. There are artworks to admire throughout the building, even in the guestrooms. How did this come about? The man behind it is Wouter Schopman, passionate hotelier and inspired art collector.

It was in 1988 that Wouter Schopman wandered into De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, curious about the exhibition COBRA 40 years after. He took one look at the art, and it was love at first sight. Schopman couldn’t get enough of it, and he revisited the exhibition several times.

‘COBRA stole my heart… It took my breath away to see so much surprising work,’ says Schopman as he looks back on that decisive day, 31 years ago. ‘The colours, the freedom, the playfulness, the unconventionality, the experiment, the intuition… it was overwhelming, the passion flew off the canvas. I was rooted to the spot, covered in goose bumps. What passion and courage these artists had – and in the years just after the war, too! Even after all that time, their work had lost none of its power.’

From hotelier to art collector

It wasn’t long before Schopman bought his first COBRA work: a print by Eugène Brands. It was the start of a collection which – thanks to contributions by Schopman’s friend Mieny Pes and her husband Luigi – now comprises more than 800 works, making it one of the largest private COBRA collections on public display in the world. It includes work by Constant, Karel Appel, Corneille, Eugène Brands, Lucebert, Anton Rooskens and, last but not least, Theo Wolvecamp, whose work is central to the collection and with whom Schopman developed a special connection.

Theo Wolvecamp

Schopman met Theo Wolvecamp (1925-1992) in Ascona while visiting a close friend, the art collector Alice de Jong. She and her late husband had assembled an extraordinary collection of contemporary art. From the moment Wolvecamp set foot in Alice’s home, Schopman hung on his every word. They talked about art for days and went on to see each other frequently at Schopman’s own Ambassade Hotel. Over the years, Schopman bought various works from Wolvecamp, who is known as ‘the quiet strength of COBRA’.

Quiet strength

Wolvecamp is rarely the first of the Dutch COBRA artists to be mentioned; Karel Appel, Constant and Corneille tend to steal the show. This is understandable in the light of Wolvecamp’s personality: he was introverted, critical and somewhat ponderous. Is this the reason he is less well known? Were the other COBRA members simply better at ‘selling themselves’, while actually looking up to Wolvecamp?

Wolvecamp enrolled at the art academy in Arnhem in 1947, but soon abandoned the academic lessons. He moved to Amsterdam, where he made a series of improvised compositions. It was COBRA work avant la lettre, which was appreciated by Corneille, Appel and Constant. Wolvecamp continued to draw and paint in this free and spontaneous way for the rest of his life.

To Wouter Schopman, his work still embodies the power of COBRA, the movement he fell in love with on that day in 1988.