Hans Hofmann (March 21, 1880 – February 17, 1966) was a German-born American abstract expressionist painter.
Hans Hofmann was born in Weißenburg, Bavaria on March 21, 1880, the son of Theodor and Franziska Hofmann. When he was six he moved with his family to Munich. Here his father took a job with the government.
Starting at a young age, Hofmann gravitated towards science and mathematics. At age sixteen, he started work with the Bavarian government as assistant to the director of Public Works where he was able to increase his knowledge of mathematics. He went on to develop and patent such devices as the electromagnetic comptometer, a radar device for ships at sea, a sensitized light bulb, and a portable freezer unit for military use. Even with such great abilities in science and mathematics, Hofmann became interested in creative studies, beginning educational art training after the death of his father.
In 1932 he immigrated to the United States, where he resided until the end of his life.
Hofmann's art work is distinguished by a rigorous concern with pictorial structure, spatial illusion, and color relationships. He was also heavily influenced in his later years by Henri Matisse's ideas about color and form
His completely abstract works date from the 1940s. Hofmann believed that abstract art was a way to get at the important reality. He famously stated that "the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak".
Hofmann was renowned not only as an artist but as a teacher of art, both in his native Germany and later in the U.S. In Munich he founded an art school, where Alf Bayrle, Louise Nevelson, Wolfgang Paalen, Worth Ryder, Bistra Vinarova, and Alfred Jensen, were among his students. He closed this school in 1932, the year he immigrated to the U.S.
In America, he initially taught a summer session at the University of California, Berkeley in 1930, after which he returned to Munich. In 1931 he taught another summer session at the University of California, Berkeley and a semester at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles before again returning to Germany. After Hofmann relocated to New York City he began teaching in 1933 at the Art Students League of New York. Leaving the League in the mid-1930s Hofmann opened his own schools in New York and later in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Many famous or notable artists, especially some who could generally be classified as abstract expressionists, studied with Hofmann in New York and Provincetown. These distinguished alumni included: Lee Krasner, Sam Provenzano, Israel Levitan, Helen Frankenthaler, I. Rice Pereira, Gerome Kamrowski, Michael Loew, Joseph Plaskett, Robert Beauchamp, Fritz Bultman, Cameron Booth, Nicolas Carone, Giorgio Cavallon, Perle Fine, William Ronald, Joan Mitchell, Michael Goldberg, John Grillo, Ray Eames, Larry Rivers, Julius Hatofsky, Jane Frank, Mary Frank, Nell Blaine, Robert De Niro, Sr., Marjorie McKee, Jane Freilicher, Allan Kaprow, Albert Kotin, Red Grooms, Wolf Kahn, Marisol Escobar, Paul Resika, Sy Kattelson, Nicholas Krushenick, Burgoyne Diller, William Littlefield, Mercedes Matter, George McNeil, James Gahagan, Eleanor Hilowitz, Erle Loran, Nancy Frankel, Paul Georges, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Judith Godwin, Lynne Mapp Drexler, Roland Petersen, Ken Jacobs, Anton Weiss, Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle, William Freed, Lillian Orlowsky, Sam Hunter, Donald Jarvis, and Anne Helioff.
In 1958, Hofmann closed his schools in order to devote himself exclusively to his own creative work. Hofmann was a painter and theorist of particular appeal to other artists. American painter Walter Darby Bannard and British artist John Hoyland both had been involved in curating retrospectives of Hofmann's work.
Also prominent as a writer on modern art, Hofmann authored an influential book (sometimes referred to and anthologized as an "essay"), Search for the Real, in which he discussed his push/pull spatial theories, his reverence for nature as a source for art, his conviction that art has spiritual value, and his philosophy of art in general. Hofmann is especially noteworthy as a theorist of the medium who argued that "each medium of expression has its own order of being," "color is a plastic means of creating intervals," and "any line placed on the canvas is already the fifth."
From 1947 through 1966 Hans Hofmann exhibited annually at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York (except for 1948 when the gallery was temporarily closed). Hans Hofmann's recognition increased in the early sixties. In 1963, The Museum of Modern Art gave a full-scale retrospective, organized by William Seitz. The retrospective exhibition circulated various venues through 1965: The Museum of Modern Art, "Hans Hofmann," 11 September-28 November. Catalogue text by William Seitz with excerpts from the artist's writings (64 pages, biography and bibliography). Traveled to Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts, 6 January-2 February 1964), Isaac Delgado Museum of Art (New Orleans, 21 February-15 March 1964), Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York, 30 March-26 April), University of California at Berkeley (11 May-7 June), Gallery of Modern Art (Washington, D.C., 21 June-21 July), Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (10–26 September), Museo de Bellas Artes (Caracas, 29 November-13 December), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, 29 January-15 March 1965), Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna (Turin, Italy, 31 March-30 April), Wuerttembergischer Kunstverein (Stuttgart, 13 May-13 June), Kunstverein in Hamburg (Amerika-Haus) (2 July-31 July), Staedtisches Kunsthaus (Bielefeld, 12 September-10 October 1965).
and followed a circulating exhibition also organized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York City:
The 58 works were represented by 51 artists. 49 paintings, 6 sculptures, 1 “environment.”
Organized by William Seitz for the Museum of Modern Art 6–27 May, and circulated from 1963 to 1965 to Michigan State University (East Lansing, 1–22 July), Akron Art Institute (Ohio, 3–28 September), Indiana University Museum of Art (Bloomington, 11 October-2 November), Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama, 18 November-9 December), Hunter Gallery of Art (Chattanooga, Tennessee, 2–23 January 1964), The Carillon, Richmond Artist's Association (Richmond, Virginia, 9 February-1 March 1964), Elliott Hall, University of North Carolina (Greensboro, 17 March-7 April), Ohio University (Athens, Ohio 21 April-12 May), University of South Florida (Tampa, 1–22 June), Portland Art Museum (Portland, Maine, 18 September-13 October), State University College (Oswego, New York, 26 October-16 November), Ackland Memorial Art Center, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 5–26 January 1965), Goucher College (Towson, Maryland, 8 February-1 March), Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery at the University of Miami (Coral Gables, Florida, now Lowe Art Museum, 17 March-7 April).
In 1988 the British painter John Hoyland curated an exhibition of Hofmann's work at London's Tate Gallery, 'Hans Hofmann: Late Paintings' (March–May). He had first encountered Hofmann's work during his first visit to New York in 1964, in the company of art critic Clement Greenberg, and been immediately impressed.
Hans Hofmann's works are in the permanent collections of many major museums in the United States and throughout the world, including the UC Berkeley Art Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Seattle Art Museum, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Dayton Art Institute, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Delaware Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (Munich), the Museu d'Art Contemporani, (Barcelona), the Tate Gallery (London), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto). In addition to these collections, he also designed a colorful mural located outside the entrance of the High School of Graphic Communication Arts located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan in New York City.
At a Christie's New York auction in 2015, Hofmann’s Auxerre (1960), inspired by the expansive stained glass windows of the Cathédrale Saint Etienne in France, achieved a world auction record for the artist at $6,325,000.
When Hans Hofmann died on February 17, 1966, his widow, Renate Hofmann managed his Estate.
After Renate's death in 1992, the New York Daily News published an article titled, "From Caviar to Cat Food," which detailed the "sad and tortuous story" of Hofmann's widow. The article contended that Renate's court appointed guardians "milk[ed] the Estate for more than a decade" and allowed the mentally unstable Renate to live "with her cats and liquor in a garbage-strewn oceanfront home."
Under threat of prosecution, the original executor of the Hofmann Estate, Robert Warshaw, was successful in having the neglectful guardians pay $8.7 million to the Estate for "extraordinary conscious pain and suffering."
Under the will of Renate Hofmann, The Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust was formally created with Robert Warshaw at its head. The mission of the Trust is "to promote the study and understanding of Hans Hofmann's extraordinary life and works" and to accomplish these goals "through exhibitions, publications and educational activities and programs focusing on Hans Hofmann" as well as forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Hofmann's paintings. The U.S. copyright representative for the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust is the Artists Rights Society.
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