Carl-Henning Pedersen was born in Copenhagen in 1913. At an early age he began taking part in politics, first in the youth association of social democrats and later in the youth association of communists, which better suited his revolutionary activist nature against fascism. In 1933, he attended the public high school of Humblebaek where he met the painter Else Alfelt, who he would marry in 1934 and with whom he would have two daughters. For many years the family divided its time between Copenhagen and the city of Bovbjerg, located on the North Sea, where Carl and Else had a studio. Between 1935 and 1940, Pedersen started to sketch and paint.
He exhibited for the first time, together with his wife, in “Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling” (The Artists' Fall Exhibition) in Copenhagen in 1936. Pedersen associated with the young painters close to abstract movements, and like them, worked under difficult conditions. He went to Paris in 1939, where he encountered the work of Picasso, Matisse and Chagall.
Between 1940 and 1945, he contributed to the journal Helhesten. In the same journal, Pedersen published the text "Arte astratta o arte immaginaria," that supplied the most complete and precise definition, up to that point, of the work principles of the young generation of painters, of which he was a part. This definition, in many ways, was close to that which would be the program of the group Cobra. Between 1945 and 1960, the Danish artists went abroad and, along with Dutch and Belgian artists, founded the group Cobra, which was active between 1948 and 1951. During this period in 1948, Pedersen participated in the Biennial of Venice. He exhibited extensively with Cobra in shows such as its first important show which was held at the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam in 1949, “International Experimental Art.” Afterwords, Pedersen distanced himself from the group and began to travel frequently. His destinations included Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Norway, Lapland, Iceland, Turkey, Nepal, and Jerusalem.
He received the Eckersberg Award in 1950 from the Royal Danish Academy of Art. In 1952, he participated in “Contemporary Drawings from 12 Countries, 1945/1952,” an exhibition held at the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio, the exhibition also traveled to other museums in the United States, while in 1955, he took part in the group exhibition “Expressionism 1900/1955,” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (also a traveling exhibition throughout the United States).
He participated in the 1952, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1964, and 1967 editions of “The Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture” at the Museum of Art of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. The same museum also honored him with solo exhibitions in 1961 and 1968. In 1966, he exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York in the show “European Drawings” that also traveled to Hawaii, Canada, Argentina, and Germany. In 1967, he showed at the “2. Internationale der Zeichnung” in Darmstadt, and then in 1968, he participated in the Premio Marzotto and the “Exhibition of Expressionist Art after 1950” at the Kunstmuseum of Lucerne, which then toured in Romania, Australia, Belgium, and Finland.
Pedersen received the medal of Prince Eugen in 1980, and he participated in the exhibition “Danish Artists, Carl-Henning Pedersen, Else Alfelt, Egil Jacobsen” in Budapest and Warsaw, while in November he had a solo exhibition at Lorenzelli Arte in Milan. During the same year, he completed 13 large paintings and 20 of smaller dimensions in Italy, near Siena. In 1982, he exhibited in the show “Grönningen” in Copenhagen and also in the “Cobra” exhibition hosted by the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In 1983, the inauguration of the painting on glass that was made for the Museum of the Resistance of the Second World War of Copenhagen, entitled The Light of Liberty, took place. In addition, a series of retrospective exhibitions took place: one of paintings and watercolors at the Louisiana Museum, one of drawings and watercolors in Copenhagen, and one of paintings at the Modern Museum of Art, Henie and Onstad Museum, in Norway. Pedersen was asked by the National Fund for the Endowment of the Arts (Statens Kunstfond) to take on the redecoration of the Ribe Cathedral, decorating it with mosaics, glass paintings, and frescos, giving his own, very personal interpretation of Biblical stories and motifs.
Works by Pedersen can be found in the collections of important museums throughout the world: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Göteborg Kunstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden; Louisiana Museum, Humblebaek, Denmark; Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; MoMA, New York; Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway; Nordjyllands Museum, Åalborg, Denmark; State Museum of Copenhagen; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the State Museum of Bucharest.
He died in Copenhagen on 20 February 2007, after a long illness.