Josef Albers was a German-born artist celebrated for his extraordinary contributions to colour theory. Starting his career at the Bauhaus before emigrating to America, he is best known for his long-running series of paintings entitled Homage to the Square. His art was closely related to his teaching practice, which culminated in his landmark 1963 treatise Interaction of Colour. For half a century, he showed generations of future artists how to think about the chromatic spectrum.
Albers arrived at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. There he met his future wife Anni, who went on to become a renowned textile artist. In 1925, following the school’s move to Dessau, Albers became one of the first Bauhaus students to be appointed a master, teaching alongside figures including Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Working across a range of disciplines, including glass, photography and carpentry, he produced significant pieces including his iconic Nesting Tables.
After the Bauhaus closed its doors in 1933, Albers moved to America. There he took up a teaching position at the radical Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he remained until 1949. Over the years he would attract a great deal of future talent to the institution, including Robert Rauschenberg as a student and Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell as young teachers. During this period he and Anni made frequent trips to Mexico, discovering a love of pre-Columbian art and architecture that would have an important influence upon his abstract language.
In 1950, Albers was appointed Head of the newly formed Department of Design at Yale University. That year, he began his Structural Constellation series, consisting of geometric drawings and prints. He also made his first Homage to the Square, launching the cycle that would occupy him until his death 26 years later. These nested squares became laboratories for exploring the changing effects of colour, each offering profound revelations about its behaviour in different contexts. Albers applied oil paint using a palette knife, eventually adopting the rough side of Masonite as his support.
Today, these paintings stand among his defining achievements and account for his top prices at auction. Examples such as Homage to the Square: White Nimbus (1964) and Study for Homage to the Square: Red Tetrachord (1962) have performed strongly at Christie’s.