Saturday, 21 March 2015


“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.” - Jackson Pollock

German-born American painter and educator Hans Hofmann (1880–1966) was an influential 20th century artist whose work paved the way for abstract expressionism. 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 sensitised 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 emigrated to the United States, where he resided until the end of his life.

Hofmann moved to Paris in 1904 with the help of an art patron. There, he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. Hofmann immersed himself in Paris’s thriving art scene, meeting such artists as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque. He also became friends with Robert Delaunay. During this period, the work Hofmann created followed the leading avant-garde movement of the time, cubism. In 1910, Hofmann had his first solo show in Berlin.

Living back in Germany at the start of World War I, Hofmann was excused from military service because of an earlier respiratory condition. Unable to return to France during the war, he opened an art school in Munich in 1915. Over the years, Hofmann earned a stellar reputation as an instructor of art. Worth Ryder, a former student, invited Hofmann to teach in the United States for the summer of 1930. Germany’s changing political climate made Hofmann decide to permanently settle in the United States in 1932.

Hofmann based himself in New York City, where he worked as an instructor at the Art Students League before establishing his own school in the city. In 1934, Hofmann began a summer program in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In addition to teaching, Hofmann also continued to make his own art, producing in 1940 “Spring”, a notable work that was created by dripping and splashing paint onto a canvas. Becoming known for his abstract paintings, Hofmann landed a solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in 1944.

In 1957, his work was the subject of a retrospective showing at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. The next year, Hofmann retired from teaching in order to focus on creating art. Hofmann was selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1960, alongside Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Theodore Roszak. By then, he was considered a leading abstract expressionist who created vivid and inventive paintings. In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a major exhibition of his work.

Hofmann became an American citizen in 1941. His first wife, Maria “Miz” Wolfegg, whom he had married in 1924, passed away in 1963. Two years later, Hofmann married Renate Schmitz, who served as a muse for many of his final works. At the age of 85, Hofmann died on February 17, 1966, at his New York City home.

The painting above is Hofmann’s “Composition” painted in 1942. The medium is oil on board and the size is 90 by 105 cm. This piece is part of a private collection and shows the artist’s love of colour and strong geometrical features that add up to a well-harmonised means of expression. There is both tension and rest in the work, expressed by both form and colour. Straight and curved lines, areas of bold colour, energetic brushstrokes coexisting with flat expanses. A highly satisfying work that captivates the viewer’s eye and imagination.

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