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Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

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Untitled, c.1938 oil on board 16 3/4" x 12&qu...

Untitled, c.1938
oil on board
16 3/4" x 12"

Pulsating Heart, c.1946 oil on canvasboard 16"...

Pulsating Heart, c.1946
oil on canvasboard
16" x 12", signed


Prints & Publications

Artist Information

“The magic of painting…can never be fully, rationally explained.  It is the harmony of heart and mind in the capacity of feeling into things that plays the instrument.  The instrument answers the throb of the heart in every instance.  Painting is always intuitively conditioned…Pictorial life is not imitated life; it is, on the contrary, a created reality based on the inherent life within every medium of expression.  We have only to awaken it.” *

Born in Germany in 1880, Hans Hofmann was by far the oldest of the abstract expressionists, although his artwork of the 1950s and 1960s contains a youthful exuberance that is balanced by a masterful understanding of color’s expressive and formal potential. In Europe, Hofmann was a respected teacher and painter. In 1904, he studied at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, where he met Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse. In Germany, he exhibited with the Neue Sezession and the Paul Cassirer Gallery in Berlin before settling in Munich and opening an art school in 1915, the Schule für Bildes Kunst, which acquired an international reputation in the years following World War I. In 1930, Worth Ryder, a former student of Hofmann’s and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, invited Hofmann to teach a summer session. Hofmann returned to the United States the following year, and in 1932, he decided to stay in the country given the rising hostility in Germany towards artists and intellectuals. Hofmann settled in New York, where he procured a teaching position at the Art Students League with the help of Vaclav Vytlacil. In 1934, he opened the Hofmann School of Fine Art at 137 East 57th Street in New York. From its inception, the Hofmann School (which moved to 52 West Eighth Street in 1938) taught an impressive list of students, including, Frank Stella, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Red Grooms, and Helen Frankenthaler. In 1935, Hofmann also opened a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

An enthusiastic and admired teacher, Hofmann was a respected painter throughout his career. In 1941, the year he became a U.S. citizen, Hofmann had a solo exhibition at the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art in New Orleans. His first New York show was at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery in 1944. The following year, the Whitney mounted Contemporary American Painting,

which included work by Hofmann. In 1947, Hofmann found a permanent home at Kootz Gallery, New York, which held exhibitions of his work almost yearly until his death. He also continued to exhibit in Europe at such venues as the Galerie Maeght, Paris—whose owners would later establish the prestigious Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul, France.

Hofmann flourished in the 1950s and 1960s with large canvases that dazzled in their bold planes of invigorating colors. He joined the “Irascibles” in protest against the Met’s exclusion of avant-garde artwork from its juried exhibitions, and he was also part of the Studio 35 three-day symposium on abstract art, which included—among others—Norman Lewis, James Brooks, Theodoros Stamos, and Willem de Kooning. In 1957, the Whitney organized a traveling retrospective of Hofmann’s work, and the following year, Hofmann closed his art school in order to devote all of his energy to painting. The closing of the Hofmann School brought an end to what had been an important institution for the history of American abstraction, and Hofmann’s contribution as an artist-teacher was recognized in the traveling exhibition Hans Hofmann and His Students, organized by William Seitz for MoMA in 1963. Three honorary doctorates in fine art—from Dartmouth College (1962), UC Berkeley (1963), and the Pratt Institute (1965)—also testify to the many artists whose work was enriched by Hofmann and his extraordinary painting. 

* ‑Hans Hofmann, “The Color Problem in Pure Painting—Its Creative Origin,” first published in Hans Hofmann: New Paintings, exh. cat. (New York: Kootz Gallery, 1955). Reprinted in Helmut Friedel and Tina Dickey, Hans Hofmann (Manchester, Vermont: Hudson Hills Press, 1998), 12. (accessed July 2009).