Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

Studio No. II in Blue

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Studio No. II in Blue
signed and dated 'hans hofmann 54' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'Studio No. II in blue 1954 hans hofmann' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 84 in. (121.9 x 213.4 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
The Estate of Hans Hofmann, New York
Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Ameringer Howard Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
J. Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 163 (illustrated in color).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts and Norfolk, The Chrysler Museum, Hans Hofmann, June 1990-April 1991, no. 81, p. 106 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann catalogue raisonné, edited by Thomas Padon.

Painted in 1954, Hans Hofmann's Studio No. 2 in Blue perfectly encapsulates the intellectual rigor and the colorism that made his pictures, and his teachings, so influential to generations of artists in the United States of America from the 1930s onwards. This picture is crammed with color, many of the forms gradually defining themselves as a succession of rectangles, revealing the evolution of his own unique iconography and the emergence of the rectangle which would come to dominate so many of his later paintings. This picture dates from a period of triumphant return for Hofmann, who had painted little during the previous decade and a half. Now, a new style of abstraction emerged, as though fully formed, taking the world by storm. Indeed, it was of an exhibition of Hofmann's paintings in the late 1940s that the term "Abstract Expressionism" had first been used to define the new generation of American painters.

Studio No. 2 in Blue shows a strange tension in its use of bright, spontaneously applied colors and the increasingly rigid forms of the rectangles, as though this were the battleground resulting from the struggle in Hofmann's mind between the influences of the colorism and lyricism of Matisse and the formal sense of harmony and color of Mondrian. Hofmann was fascinated by the possibilities of color and color contrasts, and formally exploited them in his compositions by juxtaposing them, accentuating the effects through the range and variety of textures with which he applied the oils. It is through the interrelationships of the various different areas of color that they all gain more life, more autonomy, lending the entire picture surface a life of its own; this is heightened by the vitality of the brushstrokes and impasto so evident in parts of Studio No. 2 in Blue, adding another dimension to the contrasts and interrelationships between the areas of color. The same year that this picture was painted, Hofmann had stated that:

"The resurrection of the plastic arts is identical with the rediscovery of the life-endowed picture surface as a plastic means. Its concealed plastic secrets were lost in the Renaissance with the discovery of perspective. Only our aesthetically conscious present has rediscovered its inherent plastic laws. This places before us the question: What is plasticity?" (H. Hofmann, quoted in S. Hunter, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1963, p. 44)

To Hofmann, the canvas or support had been liberated by the removal of the illusionistic, the almost cynical rediscovery of the picture-plane as an object in its own right, the suspension of pictorial disbelief and the removal of the prerogative to create the impression of three-dimensional space. The picture itself could now become the focus, and become in this way an arena for a visual feast of color and contrast that would bring light, life and nature into the world. Discussing the evolution of his abstract visual idiom, Hofmann stated that, "There are bigger things to be seen in nature than the object" (H. Hofmann, quoted in I. Sandler, "Hans Hofmann: The Dialectical Master," pp. 77-97, C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, exh.cat., New York, 1990, p. 77). Hofmann's quest was to create, and that act of creation was itself an echo of and an insight into existence itself, the universal. "Theoretically," Hofmann explained, painting "is a process of metabolism whereby color transubstantiates into vital forces that become the real sources of painterly life" (H. Hofmann, quoted in Hunter, op.cit., 1963, p. 46). He sought the mythic, the fundamental and the symphonic in his paintings, conveying it through life and color.

In order to bring nature and life into his works, Hofmann spilled himself into his color, taking advantage of lessons learned courtesy of the Surrealists and some of their American followers and using automatism to an increasing extent in his works. This introduction of chance, of forces from the world outwith the canvas, was intended less as a means of adding autobiographical content to his paintings than as a way of allowing the picture to come into existence through an almost organic means. It allowed new, spontaneous forms to burst into existence. At the same time, it revealed his continued ability to absorb new influences, as well as exerting his own influence on the artists around him. Studio No. 2 in Blue was painted at the height of Hofmann's artistic maturity, which only came about when he was in his sixties, having lived in Paris and Munich as well as the United States, having been on site to witness some of the most incredible and important developments in Western art of the previous half century. Now, his long-standing friendships with artists such as Picasso, Braque and Delaunay, his decades of teaching, his exposure to Cubism, Surrealism, Gorky and Graham, all synthesised to create a new and exciting form of art that celebrated life forces through pure color, creating electric contrasts that filled his work with life. It was this that prompted Clement Greenberg to point to the crucial importance of Hofmann's paintings, as well as his teachings, to the artists of the Post-War avant-garde:

"I find the same quality in Hofmann's painting that I find in his words -- both are completely relevant. His painting is all painting... asserting that painting exists first of all in its medium and must there resolve itself before going on to do anything else" (C. Greenberg, quoted in quoted in I. Sandler, "Hans Hofmann: The Dialectical Master", pp. 77-97, C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, exh.cat., New York, 1990, p. 92).

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