Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

Sun at the Wall

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Sun at the Wall
signed and dated 'Hans Hofmann 62' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'Sun at the wall 1962 Hans Hofmann' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 36¼ in. (121.9 x 92.1 cm.)
Painted in 1962.
Kootz Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1963
New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann: New Paintings at the Kootz Gallery, March 1963.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Connecticut Collects, January-March 1986.

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann catalogue raisonné, sponsored by the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust.

'In me develops a relationship to my own paintings, and this is mostly a poetic relationship, because what my paintings say is poetry. I consider this poetry expressed in color' (quoted in Jaffe Interview, 1966, p.10).

With its expressive title, Sun at the Wall is magnificent example of Hofmann's late work. Exploring the contrasting duality of form and color, the style employed in this work unifies two distinct concepts of 20th century art. Meticulously constructed through several layers of colored rectangles, the artist incorporates both the use of free spontaneous gesture with the rigorous linearity of the rectangle. The rectangle, which later became recognized as the hallmark of his style, first figured as a major compositional element in 1956. Having originally tested the location of planes with hand colored paper, in later years Hofmann cut forms directly out of commerical Color-Aid paper available from art supply stores. Close examination of many of his pictures with rectangular components often reveal tack holes where his application of pigment was not thick enough to cover them. By 1958, the rectangle had become the primary spatial organizer of Hofmann's compositions. With the subject of his paintings often dictating the picture surface, as well as the colors used, Hofmannn would work to express the idea of a painting's title. Part of the enduring vitality and richness of his oeuvre derives from his ability to dip back into his own artistic vocabulary and rediscover elements of an earlier style with new relevance to his work. Hofmann's signature use of the rectangle best exemplifies this practice and is iconically demonstrated in the visually arresting Sun at the Wall.

Giving the impression that the artist is inviting the viewer to retrace the movements he made in applying the color to the surface, the materiality of the color in Sun at the Wall establishes a sense of volume and spatial depth, but only in terms of painting itself. As described by the artist: 'The finest color shades offer powerful contrasts, they influence each other considerably in a psychological sense, as shapes do. A different color shade gives the same shape another psychological meaning. Difference in plastic or spatial placement (composition) causes any color or shape or color-shape to change completely in psychological expression' (quoted in New Paintings by Hans Hofmann, New York, 1951, p.4). Establishing a dialogue between the painter's active and passive presences, the approach of his gestural style is clearly evident in this exuberant work.

An exceptional artist, teacher and mentor, Hans Hofmann witnessed several of the most influential movements of the late 19th and early 20th century. Surrounded and influenced by some of the greatest artist's of this period, a list that includes: Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Andre Derrain and Wassily Kandinsky, Hofmann developed a preference for still lifes, portraits and landscape motifs. The only artist of the New York School to participate directly in the artistic revolution that took place in Europe during the first decade of the twentieth Century, he successfully immersed himself in the artistic communities of both continents, teaching by day and painting by night. Resisting identification with any one movement or style, Hofmann produced paintings that were characterized by an extraordinary intensity in the treatment of color and form. Using his instinct and connection to nature, he developed his own unique and significant artistic voice. This differed both in approach and technicality, and united his previous styles to form a body of work that is critical and important in the history of Post-War and Contemporary Art.

With no formal academic training and a relatively simple upbringing, it was his journey to Paris that began his development as an artist. Energetically integrating himself into the artistic community, Hofmann would often spend time at the legendary Cafe du Dôme, a place where artists such as Pablo Picasso, George Braque, George Rouault, Fernand Leger and Francis Picabia would meet and share ideas. Exposed to an environment filled with many of the leaders of the modern art movements, Hofmann recalled his years spent in Paris as a period when he had 'been an intimate and integral part in the revolutionary changes that took place throughout this time in the entire field of the visual arts'(quoted in C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, p.18).

Unfortunately, many of his works created during this stage of his career were either destroyed or scattered during the Second World War. It is through his own recollections and those of his friends and students that we learn how crucial this experience was for him as an artist. Using his unusual ability to explore simultaneously what can be considered irreconcilable forms of expression, Hofmann distinguished himself greatly from his peers and served as a deeply influential figure for most important artists of the second generation of the New York School, with many having been his student.

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