Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

Wild Vine

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Wild Vine
signed and dated 'hans hofmann 61' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'wild wine 1961 hans hofmann' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Kootz Gallery, New York
Mr. David E. Bright, Los Angeles
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1981
J. Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 211 (illustrated in color).
New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann: New Paintings at the Kootz Gallery, January 1962, n. p. (illustrated),
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. 240 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

This painting will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné, sponsored by The Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust.

Pivotal to the development of Abstract Expressionism, Hans Hofmann's work was lively, full of color, geometric and gestural, while always retaining his own unique style. He was described by fellow artist and curator, Walter Darby Bannard, "as one of the great geniuses of painting in our time." With an unparalleled virtuosity, Hofmann incorporated elements of Expressionism, Fauvism and Cubism, and was able to simultaneously work in several different styles at one time. His work also heavily influenced Gestural and Color-Field painters of the following generation. In 1990, Wild Vine was featured in the Hans Hofmann: Retrospective Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Prominent art historian and critic Clement Greenberg wrote in the year Wild Vine was painted that, "Hofmann's name continues to be the one that springs to mind when asked who, among all recent painters in this country, deserves most to be called a master in the full sense of the word."

Having spent the last quarter century in a private collection, Wild Vine emerges as a refreshing work that exemplifies the vibrant color and bold gesture of Hofmann's mature work. Combining gentle brush strokes and thin, translucent washes of color with powerful gestures and thickly applied pigments, Hofmann creates a composition that is rich and unctuous in both texture and color. In his seminal essay, The Color Problem in Pure Painting-Its Creative Origin, for the 1955 Kootz Gallery exhibition catalogue, Hofmann declared, "Color in itself is light. In nature, light creates color; in the picture, color creates light. Every color shade emanates a very characteristic light-no substitute is possible" (H. Hofmann, quoted in Wight, Hans Hofmann, Berkeley, 1957). Wild Vine brilliantly demonstrates this tenet, produced at the pinnacle of the artist's prolific career, after his triumphant return from representing the United States at the 30th Venice Biennale.

In Wild Vine, Hofmann combines gestural strokes with drips and thick, staccato paint to create a mosaic of polychromatic textures that emerge and recede, making color swirl within the composition. Encapsulating his distinctive "push and pull" technique, the present painting demonstrates how Hofmann combines gesture and abstraction to produce a sense of depth and movement. Clearly evident in his work, Hofmann was heavily influenced by the color theories of both Matisse and Kandinsky, which he absorbed into his own philosophy. He took great inspiration from the natural world as well, making flora a significant theme throughout his oeuvre. Hofmann eloquently describes this ethos: "Nature surrounds us in every direction. We may proudly consider ourselves at her middle point - the middle point of unlimited space. Everything in the outer world is related to it in position, movement, rhythm, depth projection, color, light, etc."

Through years of teaching and extensive writing, Hofmann's artistic legacy has influenced generations of artists who went on to become important figures in their own right, including Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Frank Stella, Lee Krasner and Larry Rivers. Due to this far-reaching impact, the significance of his work continues to grow.

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