Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
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Property from a Distinguished Private Swiss Collection
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

Rhapsody

Details
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Rhapsody
signed and dated 'hans hofmann 58' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again twice 'Rhapsody 1958 hans hofmann 58' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
72 x 32 in. (182.9 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1958.
Provenance
Estate of the artist, 1966
André Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1989
Brett Mitchell Collection, Inc., Cleveland, 1989
Private collection, 1989
Danese, New York, 2006
Galerie Thomas, Munich, 2006
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006
Literature
L. Alloway, "Venice—Europe 1960," Art International, vol. 4, no. 7, 25 September 1960, p. 36 (illustrated).
C. Greenberg, Hofmann, Paris, 1961, p. 54 (illustrated).
F. Bayl, "Hans Hofmann in Deutschland," Art International, vol. 6, no. 7, 25 September 1962, p. 39 (illustrated).
S. Hunter, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1963, p. 29, pl. 94 (illustrated in color).
B. Wolf, "Hans Hofmann Story," Jewish Exponent, 18 October 1963, p. 23 (illustrated).
R. Cork, "Shock of Old," The Listener, 17 March 1988, p. 30.
J. Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, pp. 33 and 183 (illustrated in color).
S. Feinstein, A Portrait of Hans Hofmann as Painter, Teacher, and Friend, New York, 2008, p. 95 (illustrated in color).
S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume III (1952-1965), Farnham, 2014, p. 167, no. P1106 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Chrysler Art Museum of Provincetown, Provincetown Past and Present, September-December 1958.
Venice, XXX Venice Biennale, Four American Artists: Guston, Hofmann, Kline, Roszak, June-October 1960.
Nuremberg, Fränkische Galerie am Marientor; Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein; Berlin, Kongresshalle; Munich, Städtische Galerie München Lenbachhaus, Hans Hofmann, April 1962-January 1963, p. 23, no. 62 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Waltham, The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University; New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art; Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery; Berkeley, University Art Gallery, University of California; Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art; Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires; Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna; Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein; Kunstverein in Hamburg; Bielefeld, Städtisches Kunsthaus, Hans Hofmann, September 1963-October 1965, p. 17, no. 11 (New York; illustrated), n.p., no. 11 (Amsterdam, illustrated), n.p., no. 11 (Turin, illustrated), n.p., no. 11 (Bonn, illustrated).
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Centennial Celebration, Part I, Major Paintings, December 1980-January 1981.
New York, Lever/Meyerson Galleries, Hans Hofmann and his Legacy, October-December 1986 (illustrated in color on the cover and on the exhibition announcement).
London, Tate Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Late Paintings, March-May 1988, p. 33, pl. 8 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Reverberating with both color and energy, Hans Hofmann’s Rhapsody is a striking example of the innovative technique that ensured the artist’s place as one of the most inventive painters of the twentieth century. By carefully combining blocks of vibrant color with expressionistic brushstrokes, Hofmann demonstrates why he came to be regarded as one of the pre-eminent exponents of mid-century passion for expressing the spirituality of color. Painted in 1958, at a highpoint in the artist’s career, his arresting use of color and rich impasto helped to declare this medium as autonomous, setting it apart from centuries of artistic expression. As such, it became an important work in the artist’s oeuvre; widely exhibited (including at the 1960 Venice Biennale) and extensively cited in the artist’s literature, Rhapsody is an important example of Hofmann’s revolutionary painting practice, exemplifying both the technical and aesthetic breakthroughs that he pioneered, and the seismic shifts in art that occurred during this dynamic period of discovery.

Rhapsody was painted during a period in which Hofmann bought what would become the geometric compositions of his famous “push pull” treatise into full realization. This idea lies at the very heart of his painterly practice and sums up the conflict between abstraction and figuration that many artists of his generation experienced. Hofmann relieved this situation by allowing the tensions between the two traditions to play off against each other. These geometric blocks can be seen in the foundations of the current work—the parapets of golden yellow and sizzling red in the left side of the paintings, and the fields of verdant green that populate the lower right corner. In addition, what distinguishes this particular painting is the degree of energetic painterliness that is evident across the highly active surface, described by one curator described as, “..the dynamism of the surface obliterated and swept up the distinct color panes in a vortex of accelerated parallel brush strokes” (J. Yohe, Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 33).

This “vortex” of brushwork is staggering; from broad swathes of vibrant pigment to minute, almost imperceptible, schisms of color, the result is a highly complex and energetic painted surface. This can be most clearly seen in the central portion of the painting where a tumultuous mix of green, blue, yellow, red, and even white, pigments coalesce. Laid down “wet-on-wet” using a brush and a wide palette knife, the slavers of paint come together like tectonic plates, and where they meet becomes the site of the most dramatic elements of Hofmann’s painterly activity. But true to the artist’s “push pull” philosophy, the large expanses of what appear to be monolithic slabs of color elsewhere in the painting are also the site of much action. Under close observation, the large passage of yellow on the left comes alive with peaks and valleys of dramatic impasto, all complemented by the full range of yellow tones from pale white to rich golden orange umbers that bubble up underneath.

The symphony of colors that flow throughout the painting clearly evokes the spirit of Rhapsody’s musical title. The emotive power of color had been the subject of artistic investigation for over a century, and ever since Gauguin espoused that “…color, which is vibration, just as music is, is able to attain what is most universal yet at the same time most elusive in nature: its inner force” (P. Gauguin, quoted by S. Hunter, J. Jacobus, D. Wheeler (eds), Modern Art, New York, 2004, p. 118), artists have been fascinated by the spiritual nature of chromatic pigments. Thus, Hofmann is following in a noble tradition of artists such as Wassily Kandinsky who approached color with a musician’s sensibility. Writing in his now seminal manifesto Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky wrote “ "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul" (W. Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (translated by Michael T. H. Sadler), Whitefish, 2004, p. 32). This was clearly a theme which resonated with Hofmann, as he returned to it in 1966 with another painting titled Rhapsody, now in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

While Hofmann is not being so literal in his musical associations as Kandinsky was, with his more prescribed investigations in the formal properties of paint, Hofmann’s work celebrated a tremendous sense of joyous energy. The title of this work alludes to delight of the senses that is inherent in some of Hofmann’s best work; he would title another work from 1958 after one of nine Greek muses who inspired the creation of literature and visual arts. Terpsichore (translated as ‘delight of dancing’) was the muse who ruled over dance and the dramatic chorus and this familiar combination of power, grace and energy can be seen in the heart of the present work. The spirited brushwork, rich palette of color and almost molten impasto all serve to demonstrate Hofmann’s total mastery of his medium.

As a such Rhapsody has become symbolic of this important period of Hofmann’s career. The painting was included in the artist’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1960, where it hung between Autumn Gold, 1957 (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and The Gate, 1959 (now in the permeant collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). It was also exhibited in a major 1963 major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and later, at a 1988 retrospective of the artist’s work organized by the Tate Gallery in London. The painting was also illustrated on the cover of catalogue for Hans Hofmann and his legacy, an exhibition organized by Cynthia Goodman for the Lever/Meyerson Gallery, New York in 1986.

Hans Hofmann became one of the most influential figures of Abstract Expressionism, representing a crucial bridge between European movements such as Cubism and Fauvism and the new bravura style of American gestural painting. A supremely accomplished painter in his own right, he was also an influential color theorist and teacher, and his ideas influenced a generation of younger painters who flocked to his painting classes at the Arts Students League in New York, and later at his own schools in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Such notable figures as Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Larry Rivers, Allan Kaprow and Red Grooms were some of the many artists who studied under Hofmann. 1958, the year Rhapsody was painted, was an important period in the artist’s career with Hofmann at the height of his creative powers. It is evident in a painting such as the present example that Hofmann had formulated a new kind of painterly expression, one in which he incorporates gestural abstraction, overlapping planes indicating depth and surface, as well as the daring use of color and tonal contrasts to evoke a sense of pure and unbridled energy.
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