This work will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann Catalogue raisonné, edited by Thomas Padon and sponsored by the Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust.
"Painters must speak through paint - not through words."
-- Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann was an important link between European modernism and vanguard American painting in the mid-20th century, and critics venerated him as a key figure in the development of Abstract Expressionism. Hailing from Germany, he settled in the United States after spending several decades pursuing art in Europe, where he had met Picasso, Matisse, Lger and other major figures. Over the span of six decades, Hofmann created a strikingly eclectic oeuvre, which, although hard to classify, testifies to his inexhaustible aesthetic curiosity. As Hofmann declared, "I have devoted my whole life to the search of the Real in painting. I never believed in academic training -- I had none. My instinct told me that I must find everything within myself" (H. Hofmann, quoted in C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1990, p. 110). Hofmann's 1947 oil painting Sparks of the World, with its broad impasto and colorful abstract forms, bears witness to Hofmann's intuitive approach that made him part of the New York School's inner circle. The Shoenberg collection is also particularly rich in works on paper by Hofmann, distinguished both by the variety and the quality of oil studies, ink drawings and prints.
For a long time, critics knew Hofmann best as an influential teacher of the post-war American avant-garde, although we now recognize his accomplishments as an artist. From 1932 to 1958, Hofmann ran art schools in Provincetown and New York, which initiated countless students into the precepts of European modernist art-making. During the summers that he spent in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, he often took the landscape and buildings around him as his prime subject, as exemplified in a series of ink drawings in the Shoenberg collection, dating to 1941 and 1942. This diversely composed group of drawings clearly express Hofmann's interest in cubism, evident in his faceting of space and landscape. In the summer of 1941, Hofmann wrote to a friend that he felt "a very deep need to drawit is quite a wonder what one can do with reduced means" (Ibid., p. 47). He further reflected at the time that, "My work comes along in rather an experimental period which I find myself on the way to the highest freedom" (Ibid., p. 49).
For Hofmann, abstraction was not merely an aesthetic experience, but bore a deep spiritual value. As he explained, "Art to me is the glorification of the human spirit and as such it is the cultural documentation of the time in which it is produced. The deeper sense of all art is obviously to hold the human spirit in a state of eternal rejuvenescence in answer to an ever changing world. Art is an agent destined to counterbalance the burdensomeness of everyday life - it should provide constant esthetic enjoyment" (Ibid., p. 110).