HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
ProvenanceEstate of the artist
Renate, Hans, and Maris Hofmann Trust, 1996, acquired from the above
Private Collection, acquired from the above
ExhibitionFlorida, Naples Museum of Art, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective, 1 November-21 March 2003, no. 48, illustrated in color
University Park, Pennsylvania State University, Palmer Museum of Art, Presentation in Galleries, 7 June 2007-10 October 2009 (temporary loan)
Art in Embassies Program, Washington D.C., United States Ambassador's Residence, Luxembourg
LiteratureExhibition Cat...More...alogue: Florida, Naples Museum of Art, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective, 2003, no. 48, illustrated in color
L. Adams, The Making and Meaning of Art, London, 2006, no. 64, pp. 110-11, illustrated in color
S. Villager, ed., Hans Hofmann: A Catalogue Raisonne of the Paintings, vol. III, Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, Vermont, 2014, no. P1267, p. 267, illustrated in color
No artist bridged the gap between European Modernism and American Abstract Expressionism the same way Hans Hofmann did. The reason is simple. He was trained in Parisian academies prior to World War I and was friendly with Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and, most significantly, Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Conversely, his endeavors as a teacher and later, as a mature artist in full command of his abilities were stimulated — made possible even — by the exhilarating New York milieu that gave rise to Abstract Expressionism. So perhaps it is not surprising that unlike most of the Abstract Expressionists who pursued a single iconographic look — Rothko’s soft-edged rectangles, Franz Klein’s enlarged calligraphic strokes, Clyfford Still’s dark, ragged shapes — Hofmann was constantly reaching for different and contradictory effects. That meant his paintings were wildly varied and that they carved a wide swath toward the most exciting avenues available to contemporary abstraction. Hofmann proved to be a gallant experimenter, refusing to settle on a single style for long.
The Climb was painted in 1960 at a time when most American painters were pushing abstraction in new directions. Not surprisingly, as an outlier, it does not evoke Hofmann’s usual “push and pull’ technique. But it is very much a painting of its time, marked by a sensuousness and a deft, painterly touch. It suggests what Irving Sandler characterized as Hofmann’s hedonistic touch, an optimistic celebration of the lyrical abstraction that overcame the burning darkness of painting in the 40s and trumped even the lighter palette of Pollock or Pousette-Dart that emerged later. While the passages of The Climb are brushed rather than poured or stained, it reflects the delicate lyricism of his former student, Helen Frankenthaler who, since 1952 had experimented with floating areas of color, absorbed into the canvas with watercolor-like ease. She, in turn, had inspired a generation of Color Field painters including Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. On the other hand, these short bands and prismatic slurries recall those halcyon days in Paris when Hofmann worked through color theory with his good friend Robert Delaunay and thought a lot about prisms. Hofmann not only retained elements of Synthetic Cubism, but the lessons he learned from the Fauves and the artists who verily invented abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich, Frantisek Kupka, and Piet Mondrian to name a few of the key players. The Climb is a glorious expression of a painter drawing from both the past and the present, painting in a playful, but not frivolous manner fully informed and prepared to express his abilities as a painter, simply, and with great conviction.
"Life" Magazine Cover“Life” magazine on January 15, 1951.
Irascibles Letter to Metropolitan Museum of ArtMay 20, 1950, Open letter to Metropolitan Museum of Art
As New York City became the avant-garde’s global hub in the 1940s, radical, new approaches to art, such as action painting and abstraction, took root among the informally grouped New York School painters. By 1950, Abstract Expressionism was well underway, but the movement was often overlooked by institutions. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its plan to exhibit a survey of contemporary American painting, many of the New York School painters felt there was a bias against more “progressive” art in the museum’s selection process, prompting them to draft an open letter protesting the show.
The letter garnered attention, and Life magazine published an article on the protest in January 1951, “The Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show.” To accompany the article, Nina Lee photographed 15 of the 18 painters who signed the letter, including Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Clyford Still, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. Today, this article is considered a turning point in the prominence of Abstract Expressionism, and the artists involved are often referred to as the “Irascibles.”
Top Results at Auction
“Lava” (1960) sold for $8,862,500.
“Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently Through My Mind” (1960) sold for $8,597,150.
“Auxerre” (1960) sold for $6,325,000.
“Beatae Memoriae” (1964) sold for $4,827,750.
“Nirvana” (1963) sold for $4,562,500.
Paintings in Museum Collections
The Climb is listed under the number P1267 on page 267 of the third volume of Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings by Suzi Villiger. The catalogue raisonné lists that the painting was held by the artist’s family, even decades after his passing in 1966. The painting was exhibited at Pennsylvania State University’s Palmer Museum of Art in 2007 as well as in the United State Ambassador’s Residence in Luxembourg as part of the Art in Embassies Program in 2012.
Other Works by Hans Hofmann
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