Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Property From An Important California Collection
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

First Blaze of the Rising Sun

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
First Blaze of the Rising Sun
signed and dated 'hans hofmann 63' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'First blaze of the rising sun 1963 hans hofmann' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Kootz Gallery, New York, 1964
Private collection, 1964
Pace Wildenstein Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1996
"Exhibit of Abstract Expressionism Opens," The Washington Post, Times Herald, 26 June 1964, p. A1 (illustrated).
P. Haldeman, "Under the California Sun: Mediterranean-Inspired Oasis Blooms in Los Angeles," Architectural Digest, May 2006, pp. 268-269 (illustrated in color).
New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Paintings, 1963, February- March 1964.
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Waltham, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum; New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; University of California at Berkeley; Washington, D.C., Gallery of Modern Art; Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires; Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna; Stuttgart, Werttembergischer Kunstverein; Hamburg, Kunstverein (Amerika Haus); Bielefeld, Stadtisches Kunsthaus, Hans Hofmann, June 1964-October 1965 (exhibited only in Washington, D.C., Gallery of Modern Art and Latin American and European venues).

Brought to you by

Koji Inoue
Koji Inoue

Lot Essay

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

First Blaze of the Rising Sun, the title alone captures the dynamism and magnificence of Hans Hofmann's heroic abstraction. Embarking on a new formal discourse with his nonrepresentational work, Hofmann's exuberant use of color bears the legacy of the Fauvist's penchant for bold, vibrant and, at times, irrational color. Extracting inspiration from the vivaciously hued landscapes of Henri Matisse and Maurice Vlaminck, Hofmann conjures a captivating work that endlessly engages the viewer. An abstract interpretation of the forces its creator defined, First Blaze of the Rising Sun encompasses the 'push' and 'pull' of contrasting colors as well as the rhythms produced by motion and counter motion as defined by the artist's sweeping gestures.

A sumptuous painting teeming with thick impasto, passionate color and explosive brushwork, Hofmann's canvas is charged with violent sweeps, punctuated dabs and a blast of dripping yellow, calmed only by the rigorous linearity of two of the artist's signature rectangles, which barely survive untouched. Relying on free spontaneous gesture and built-up assertive texture, the composition grows wild and organic. Amplifying the intensity of his atmospheric hues, Hofmann establishes a cadence of 'push' and 'pull' as a rhythm of contrasting colors moves diagonally up the canvas. Yet, with all of its dynamic value, in pure modernist tradition, the layering of colors and impasto flattens the picture plane preventing a clear definition between fore, middle and background.

Building upon the modern ideals of abstraction and the flattening of the picture plane, Hofmann simultaneously creates a riddled and intriguing sense of space and depth. "Space is alive; space is dynamic," Hofmann proclaimed (H. Hofmann, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1960, p. 14). And yet, so highly attuned to the representation of space, Hofmann did not generate depth in a conventional way. Employing heavy brushstrokes and layers of color, The artist defined space stating, "Depth, in a pictorial, plastic sense, is not created by the arrangement of the objects one after another, but by the creation of forces in the sense of 'push' and 'pull'" (Ibid, p. 14). Thus, while the elimination of the conventional fore, middle, and background point to the flatness of the composition, the fulsomeness of color and brushwork render it a dynamic arena of living pictorial space.

Having lived in Paris from 1904-1914, Hofmann was the only New York School artist to have directly participated in the aesthetic movements that occurred in Europe during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Partaking in evening sketching classes with Henri Matisse, Hofmann's use of riotous hues is attributed to the influence of Fauvism. Arbitrator of twentieth century art, Clement Greenberg later wrote of their relationship that "One could learn Matisse's color lessons better from Hofmann than from Matisse himself" (C. Greenberg, "The Later Thirties in New York," Art and Culture, Boston, 1961, p. 232). First Blaze of the Rising Sun presents a fervent interest in color, form, and movement. Completely abstracted, the painting--without reference to its title--conveys no illusion of a comprehensive narrative, and yet Hofmann fuses color and texture to create an animated composition. Integral to his work throughout his career, Hofmann so eloquently expresses of his color theories, "In me there develops a real relationship to my paints, and this is mostly a poetic relationship because what my paintings say is poetry. This is poetry expressed in color" (H. Hofmann, quoted in I. Jaffe, "A Conversation with Hans Hofmann," Artforum, vol. 9, Jan. 1971, p. 10).

Never completely abandoning subject matter, despite his importance to and influence over abstraction, Hofmann often drew his inspiration from interiors and landscapes, much as Willem de Kooning drew on the female form in his concurrent Woman series. Distinguished only by their titles for their relationship to nature, Hofmann's paintings differed from other abstract works from the period. Extracting narrative from name, the violent yellow blast that dominates the composition emerges as the namesake of the painting coupled with a supporting cast of atmospheric purples, oranges, and reds captured from the most sublime of sunrises. With a secondary range of verdant greens and vibrant blues alluding to different facets of nature, the overall vitality of the painting abstractly depicts a resplendent sunrise amid a luscious landscape.

While the sunset occupies a greater presence in the history of art, it is Monet's Impression Sunrise that has manifested itself as the image that would serve as the catalyst for Modern art and its subsequent investigations into abstraction. According to Clement Greenberg, it is through Monet's work that "we find any possible precedent for the elision of light-and-dark contrast that Hofmann dares to make for the sake of pure, singing color" (C. Greenberg, Art and Culture, New York, 1971, p. 191). Taking cues from his predecessor, First Blaze of the Rising Sun asserts its modernity, by collapsing the pictorial distinction between color and subject matter, Hofmann takes one step further in the discourse of the total abstraction of nature allowing colors to dictate pattern and form. In this resolutely abstract work, Hofmann links the Impressionist style of loose brushwork with the saturated hues of the Fauvist painters, thereby endowing both movements with new currency and relevance.

However, whereas the previous movements often highlighted the pleasantry in nature--the quiet seascapes and calming pastoral environs outside Paris--Hofmann's painting emerges as the dynamic moment when the first ray of sunlight explodes into the dawn. Echoing the philosophy of the Sublime landscape heralded by nineteenth century English Romantics as well as the Hudson River School, First Blaze of the Rising Sun alludes to the sublime quality of nature where such overwhelming grandeur can be found. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the sublime was associated in particular with the immensity or turbulence of the landscape and human responses to it. Consequently, in Western art, landscapes and seascapes, especially those from the Romantic period, were often represented by towering mountain ranges, deep chasms, and violent storms, presenting a certain amount of peril. Yet, here Hofmann provides a reinvigorated notion of the sublime. Signified here by a single forceful blast of radiant energy, the artist employs dramatic forms and vigorous technique to evoke the fearsome in nature. Created in the context of an increasingly industrialized society in 20th Century America, the painting and title are tinted with nostalgic and mythical suggestions, contributing a romantic quality to the work.

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