• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2168

    Post War and Contemporary Art Morning Session

    14 May 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 217

    Josef Albers (1888-1976)

    Homage to the Square: Amber Setting

    Price Realised  


    Josef Albers (1888-1976)
    Homage to the Square: Amber Setting
    signed with monogram and dated 'A59' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'Homage to the Square: "Amber Setting" Albers 1959' (on the reverse)
    oil on masonite
    48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.)
    Painted in 1959.

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Anni and Josef Albers Foundation.

    "Color is a magic force," Josef Albers declared (Josef Albers, Mayor Gallery, London 1989, p. 32). In his celebrated series of paintings based on the elemental form of the square, Albers engaged in one of the most profound investigations into the power of color in the history of twentieth-century art. Executed in 1959, Homage to the Square: Amber Setting exemplifies Albers's brilliance in creating both subtle and powerful orchestrations of color.

    Albers began working on his signature series of Homage to the Square paintings in 1950, and devoted himself with enormous passion to this pared-down format until his death in 1976. Employing the repetitive format of several nested squares, Albers achieved an enormous range of emotive effects through his carefully nuanced combinations of hues. Homage to the Square: Amber Setting, a large-scale work from the series, suffuses the viewer with a warmth and radiance that evokes the grandeur of the setting sun. Due to their tonal relationships, the amber-hued squares alternately push and pull one another, expanding and contracting in a state of flux that imparts the austerely geometric composition with a sense of vitality. Albers described how these varying palettes created "different climates" in each painting, so that the "character and feeling alters from painting to painting without any additional 'hand writing' or, so called, texture" (Ibid., p. 31).

    Homage to the Square series represents the culmination of Albers' rigorous experiments in color and form, which he began as a student at the newly formed Bauhaus in the early 1920s. He approached his composition with the utmost precision, treating his studio as a virtual laboratory for his experiements with color. Albers preferred to work on the rough side of masonite treated with more than six coats of pure white gesso, to which he applied pigments straight from the tube with a palette knife. Often starting with the innermost square and working outwards, taking care to avoid overlapping between colors, and leaving a thin band of the white ground exposed around the border. He would use an alternating combination of warm and cool light bulbs while working, avoiding natural light due to its changeable quality. In contrast to this highly impersonal and geometrical framework, he achieved a remarkable range of visual moods. The poetic effects achieved in his chromatic compositions were underlined by the subtitles that he chose for his works in the Homage series, such as Autumn Climax, Looking Deep, Tranquil and New Hope.

    Albers affected generations of students in his long and immensely influential career as a teacher in both Germany and the United States at Black Mountain College and Yale University. Homage to the Square: Amber Setting stands as an iconic representative of Albers's ceaseless investigations of color, which have had lasting impact on artists as diverse as Mark Rothko and Donald Judd.


    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1960

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property of George S. Rosenthal Children's Art Trust


    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Josef Albers, November-December 1959, no. 27.