HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
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HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Roger Sant Collection
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)

Gloria in Excelsis

HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
Gloria in Excelsis
signed and dated 'Hans Hofmann '63' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'Gloria in excelsis 1963 Hans Hofmann' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Kootz Gallery, New York
Private collection, circa 1964
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 10 November 1988, lot 24A
Private collection, Japan
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 20 November 1996, lot 26
Raymond and Patsy Nasher, Dallas
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 2008, lot 42
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume II (1901-1951), Farnham, 2014, p. 427, no. P1515 (illustrated).
New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann, Paintings 1963, February-March 1964, n.p. (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery, Twenty-Ninth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, February-April 1965, no. 53.
New York, Stux Modern, Abstract Expressionists: Studio 35/Downtown, October-December 1990, n.p. (illustrated).
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Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

Heralded as one of the masters of twentieth-century painting, Hans Hofmann’s influence has lasted for generations. Having lived through and learned from some of the most radical advances in Western art, his oeuvre is a crucial bridge between European progress and American innovation. Gloria in Excelsis represents the peak of the artist’s mature career and is a vivid example of his ‘slab’ pictures, a body of work that relied on his deep knowledge of color theory and practiced placement of oil with a brush and palette knife. As is noted in his catalogue raisonné, “Hofmann’s ’slab’ pictures, with their saturated hues and urgent paint application, are his most sought-after and readily recognized works. Intensely colored, pulsing rectangles have become emblematic of the artist” (K. Wilkin, “Hans Hofmann: Tradition and Innovation,” in S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume I, Farnham, 2014, p. 46). A highly influential voice in the abstract canon, Hofmann’s body of work is exceptionally rich and can be linked to many advancements in postwar painting.

A dynamic grouping of rectilinear forms, Gloria in Excelsis is a striking vertical canvas that uses contrasting colors to create a pulsating composition that confronts the viewer with vibrant immediacy. The majority of the upper section is made up of three different shades of red that are modulated by the streaks of underpainting that peeks from between Hofmann’s palette knife applications. In the center of the work, a warm orange rectangle anchors the construction while also tying the areas of yellow and red to each other and contrasting with the verdant forest green section to its left. The bottom of the composition is anchored by a blue quadrilateral and its vibrant-yellow counterpart. A small strip of blue on the far left serves to add further weight to the piece. The interplay of these colors with each other is telling of Hofmann’s adept handling of paint and illustrates the culmination of a theory the artist had been working on since the 1940s. He was a staunch proponent of emphasizing the flatness of the canvas, but he also wanted to create movement and visual depth within his works. Therefore, he taught that artists should use contrasting colors, forms, and textures to create this dynamism while still remaining true to the support. He first published his “push” and “pull” theory in 1948 in a writing called Search for the Real and Other Essays, in which he noted, “Push and Pull are expanding and contracting forces which are activated by carriers in visual motion. Planes are the most important carriers, lines, and points less so…the picture plane reacts automatically in the opposite direction to the stimulus received; thus action continues as long as it receives stimulus in the creative process. Push answers with pull and pull with push…. At the end of his life and at the height of his capacity, Cézanne understood color as a force of push and pull. In his pictures, he created an enormous sense of volume, breathing, pulsating, expanding, contracting through his use of colors” (H. Hofmann, quoted by L. Barnes, “Push and Pull,” in L. Barnes & J. Hülsewig-Johnen (ed.), Creation in Form and Color: Hans Hofmann, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bielfeld, 2016, p. 149). By adhering to his theoretical underpinnings and refining them over a lifetime, Hofmann was able to more fully realize his singular artistic vision.

Beyond his technical prowess and ability to create riveting works that continued to push the envelope, Hofmann was also a prolific teacher. Born in Germany in 1880, Hofmann was encouraged to go to Paris in his twenties where he came into close contact with the Fauvists and Cubists working there. This introduction to the avant-garde had a profound effect on the young artist, and from these early interactions he synthesized his own innovative style. In 1930, Hofmann traveled to the United States to teach. It was there that he was able to introduce many up-and-coming artists to the lessons he had learned firsthand from visionaries of the Parisian art world at the turn of the century. Clement Greenberg, the inimitable American critic, suggested that the painter was “the most important art teacher of our time,” noting, “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” (C. Greenberg, quoted in C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, p. 9). Positioning himself as a pivotal connection between European movements like Cubism and Fauvism and the new gestural energy of Abstract Expressionism, Hofmann instructed a generation of young painters in color theory and technique at the Arts Students League in New York and later at his own schools in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Artists like Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Lee Krasner were among the luminaries that studied under Hofmann, and although they did not receive his teachings directly, Hofmann’s extolling of freedom and expressive tension within the picture plane set the stage for Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, and other Abstract Expressionists in the New York School.

Painted in 1963, Gloria in Excelsis was created at the apex of Hofmann’s career. Realized the same year as a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this dynamic canvas is a testament to the artist’s reputation as one of the most influential artists of a generation. Curator William Seitz, in a text for the MoMA exhibition, extolled, “Hans Hofmann, now working at the peak of production few younger artists could sustain, is one of our major masters. He is a symbol of both the international origins of American painting and its subsequent world influence. It is a sign of greatness, in the career of an artist, when his personal development cannot be separated from that of his epoch; such is the case with Hofmann. He is both a synthesist, who in his work and theory has concentrated the tradition of which he is a part, and a radical inventor who has given impetus to three generations of artists” (W. Seitz, quoted by L. Barnes, op. cit., p. 150). Hofmann truly embodied the driving force of the twentieth century. His career is a poignant encapsulation of the shift from Parisian art centers and European ideas to the abstraction of American painters that would take the world by storm.

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