The Cheval mourant was painted during the early years of Appel's artistic maturity. Avoiding the aggressive colours of some of his compositions, indebted to the Expressionism of Van Gogh, this work presents a great chromatic richness of sober hues. Far from all classical conceptions of beauty, the work portrays a horse that seems to stretch its neck in agony, its leg in the air, forming a tense curve. Appel applies superimposed layers of thick impasto by means of vigorous spontaneous gestures to achieve a sense of space that is characteristic of the various Expressionist trends of the period, yielding to the physical reality of the support and resorting to trance-like moods to develop an irrational means of expression. The picture bespeaks the angst that dominated European culture in the aftermath of World War II and is closely related to Existentialist thought.
Appel trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. In 1948 he founded the group CoBrA, made up of artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, the initial letters of which formed the group's name. Besides Karel Appel, the group's most influential member, CoBrA included Asger Jorn, Pierre Alechinsky, Corneille and Jean Atlan. Parallel to American Action Painting, the group advocated an art based on free expression in which the unconscious would reign supreme; an art characterised by a swift and sometimes violent execution that nevertheless preserved figurative references. Appel's version of Abstract—or semi-representational—Expressionism would leave its own particular mark on Spanish painting of the fifties. [J.V.]
Adquisiciones 02/07. [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2007, pp. 62-631, n.º 22.
Goya y el mundo moderno [Cat. exp.]. Barcelona ; Zaragoza : Lunwerg ; Fundación Goya en Aragón, 2008, pp. 346 y 358, n. º 223.
Goya e il mondo moderno. [Cat. exp.]. Milano : Skira, 2010, pp. 285 y 299, n. º 170.
Valeriano Bozal. "Karel Appel : le cheval mourant, 1956 = Karel Appel : le cheval mourant, 1956 = Karel Appel : le cheval mourant, 1956", en B'09 : Buletina = Boletín = Bulletin, n.º 5. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2010, pp. 255-300.
Javier Viar. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 192, n.º 136, ad vocem.