HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
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HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)

Orchestral Dominance in Red

HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
Orchestral Dominance in Red
signed and dated 'hans hofmann 54' (lower right); signed again, titled, dedicated and dated again 'to Helga Honigsberg “in love to Renate” in deepest appreciation of your own love to her we both sincerely enjoy your great friendship, hans and Renate Hofmann X.14.65 Orchestral dominance in red 1954 hans hofmann' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Helga and Robert Hoenigsberg, New York, gift of the artist, 1965
Anon. sale; Christie’s, New York, 13 May 1981, lot 23
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987
André Emmerich Gallery, ed., ARTnews, May 1983, p. 10, no. 5 (illustrated).
J. F. Cooper, "Galleries Grubby Graffiti on View at Frumkin", New York City Tribune, 11 January 1985, p. B1 (illustrated).
F. Mitchell, "Hans Hofmann's Full to the Brim Strokes, Texture", Art/World, January-February 1985, p. 3.
J. Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, pp. 162 and 275 (illustrated).
D. A. Miller et al., Picturing America: Selection from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and Tokyo, 2005, exh. cat., The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, p. 168.
T. Dickey, Color Creates Light: Studies with Hans Hofmann, Salt Spring Island, Canada, 2011, p. 318.
S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume III: Catalogue Entries P847-PW89 (1952-1965), Surrey, 2014, p. 81, no. P972 (illustrated).
Canada, Edmonton Art Gallery, Hans Hofmann, 1880-1966: An Introduction to His Paintings, July-September 1982, pp. 11-12, no. 4 (illustrated).
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Six Major Paintings: Francis, Frankenthaler, Gottlieb, Hofmann, Louis, and Stella, 1952-1962, March 1983.
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Major Paintings, 1954-1965, January 1985, n.p., no. 1 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Hans Hofmann’s Orchestral Dominance in Red sits kingly atop the intersection of late-Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, evoking through masterful use of color, texture, and mosaiced, geometric crescendos, a symphonic frenzy. Painted in 1954, the titular orchestra of this work does not play for a subdued crowd, but rather stirs an astounding rhythm. At the upper right of the painting, a purple sphere is orbited by rungs of multicolored lines and thick tiles of impasto paint. These strokes filter down the right side of the canvas like autumn leaves falling, suspended in varied opacities, until they greet the lower right corner where those same impasto strokes cluster and vibrate, overlapping against one another. From the bottom right, strokes of ochre, yellow, and green spark into the left side of the canvas, flying upwards against the greater field of red. Thicker appliques of red throughout the painting draw the color’s heavy saturation around the perimeter of the canvas inward, returning the eye back to previous moments to make endless new discoveries.

Earlier in his life, Bavarian-born Hofmann spent time in Paris with the Fauves, and their impact on his later treatment of color is ever-present in this work. As Mark Rothko, a painter contemporary to Hofmann, demonstrated, red is an especially evocative color potent in its expression of passionate, urgent energy. Though its manifestation in Orchestral Dominance in Red skews more joyous and exuberant, this intensity pulses through the very foundation of the painting. The instrument of contrast plays the song of red, and galvanizes the other colors into electric, almost glittering bursts. At the same moment, the strokes of green especially lend a further depth and balance to the red.

In his own words Hofmann remarked that, “In nature light creates the color; in the picture, color creates light.” (T. Dickey, “Spatial Constellations: Rhythms of Nature,” in Hans Hofmann, New York, 1998, p. 89) The application of white embodies its own distinct presence while also creating unique moments of movement as the other colors ripple through it. Conversely, the white resulting from an absence of pigment, whereby the texture of the paint itself interacts with that of the canvas, lends to the creation of an illusion of a light coming from within. Meanwhile, external sources of light reflecting onto the curled lips of impasto throughout create organic shadows that cast movement around the surface of the painting and emphasize the illusion of light with their flickering apparitions.

The variation in the paint’s transparency from opaque shapes applied with a pallet knife to the thin, wash-like treatment, allow the canvas below to shine through, not only as an internal glow of light, but as the thrum of life presenting itself from below the surface like a flush to the cheek after a dance. When master sculptor Benvenuto Cellini cast Perseus and Medusa, he thought of the bronze as if it were blood, and that his poetic mission was in breathing life itself into the material. In his own expression of materiality through oil paint, Hofmann achieves a similar result with Orchestral Dominance in Red. In 1961, critic Clement Greenberg said of Hofmann that, “His paint surfaces breathe as no others do, opening up to animate the air around them, and it is by their open, pulsating surfaces that Hofmann's very best pictures surpass most of Kandinsky's.” (C. Greenberg, Hofmann, Paris, 1961). Without a figure, this breath of life is expressed as pure color, pure light, pure energy.

It is these qualities in particular that Greenberg found emblematic of Hofmann’s work. Hofmann spent much of his life and career as an artist and teacher in New York, where he permanently resided from 1937 until his death in 1966. In fact, Hofmann’s reputation, especially during his lifetime, was that of an excellent teacher, and many of his pupils rose to prominence within postwar movements. Names like Helen Frankenthaler and Allan Kaprow were among those on Hofmann’s roster. As such, the principals of his work distinguished and informed the "new" American painting: the “new liveness of surface, which is responsible in turn for the new kind of "light" that Europeans say they find in it (new American painting).” (C. Greenberg, Hofmann, Paris, 1961) This particular painting was created in a time of Hofmann’s life where he had turned away from teaching and was completely devoted to painting. As such, it reflects the fervor with which he worked during his later years. In the same year that he created Orchestral Dominance in Red, he also created Orchestral Dominance in Green and Orchestral Dominance in Yellow. Though emphasizing different prevailing colors, these works demonstrate a consistent, ecstatic tone characterizing this phase in the artist’s life.

In all, Orchestral Dominance in Red exemplifies Hans Hofmann’s later period, and demonstrates his astounding ability to create light and a sense of life through only color, texture, and the material of oil paint.

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