HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
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HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
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Property from an Important American 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
Irving Richards, New York, 1964
PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York, 1996
Private collection, California, 1996
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 15 May 2013, lot 56
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
"Exhibit of Abstract Expressionism Opens," The Washington Post, 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).
S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume III: Catalogue Entries 1952-1965, Burlington, 2014, p. 412, no. P1496 (illustrated).
New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Paintings, 1963, February-March 1964.
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, Württembergischen Kunstverein; Kunstverein Hamburg and Bielefeld, Städtisches Kunsthaus, Hans Hofmann, June 1964-October 1965.

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Lot Essay

First Blaze of the Rising Sun, executed in 1963, is a resounding, vibrant example of Hans Hofmann’s most successful period. This painting rewards the thoughtful viewer—enchanting with deep, autumnal colors dancing across the canvas and revelations in every corner. His push and pull philosophy is exemplified here by the colors and shapes culminating in a swirling rhythm with vibrant yellow and blue popping out against duller, darker hues. The picture plane pulses with energy, ready to burst forth like light creeping over the horizon. Hofmann mastered these effects in the last decade of his life. This late career blossoming came, in part, as a result of his retirement from teaching. Beginning at the end of World War I, he operated a respected art school with a star-studded student body, including Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, and Frank Stella. Through this endeavor, Hofmann forged a new generation of modernist artists, though this devotion to education often overshadowed his personal craft. With his retirement in 1958 came a change in priorities and subsequently a monumental era of experimentation and public attention. In the same year this painting was executed, Hofmann received a monumental solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art which was met with critical acclaim. First Blaze of the Rising Sun is a shining beacon of Hofmann’s prowess and command over the canvas.

The arresting composition is teeming with luminous color, thick impasto, and explosive brushstrokes. Different techniques of laying down paint crash into each other, creating a feast for the eyes through Hofmann’s employment of paintbrushes, palette knives, his fingers, and paint straight from the tube. The inviting scale of the work makes gazing upon it a full sensory experience. When standing close enough, the canvas fills the viewer’s field of vision, transporting them into the sublime, romantic fire of daybreak.

This is the thesis of abstraction: that representational subject matter is not mandatory to conjure an emotional response in the viewer. In his essay Search for the Real, Hofmann wrote, “Space expands and contracts in the tensions and functions through which it exists. Space is not a static, inert thing. Space is alive; space is dynamic; space is imbued with movement expressed by forces and counterforces; space vibrates and resounds with color, light and form in the rhythm of life,” (H. Hofmann quoted in L. Barnes, hans hofmann: the nature of abstraction, exh. cat. University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2019, p. 35). Hofmann’s expert understanding of color, shape, and texture gives the painting a depth that few other artists of his time could achieve. Bold, bright colors and sharp, angular shapes are pushed forward in space while muted colors and soft shapes recede.

Hans Hofmann was born in southern Germany in 1880, and as a young man, he became allured to the arts. In 1904, he moved Paris and found himself entrenched in the art movements of the early twentieth century. While there, he was inspired by Fauve artists, including Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne. The radical theories of color he introduced to him in Paris would affect his artistic output and teaching philosophies for the rest of his life.

Hofmann was not the only artist of his time to play with color harmonies and abstraction. What sets him apart is the lasting impact of his teaching on the generation after him. The influence of his instruction is seen in the work of many of the giants in Abstraction Expressionism in the middle of the twentieth century. Sam Hunter said of Hofmann in a 1963 monograph, “By precept and by example, he contributed more perhaps than any single artist toward making a revolutionary style of native painting, and its underlying aesthetic principles, intelligible and accessible to American taste on a wide scale.” There are other artists similar to Hofmann, such as German-born artist Josef Albers. Like Hofmann, Albers also opened a school for art in America. However, Albers school employed multiple instructors and taught many different mediums, while Hofmann’s students learned exclusively from him. Consequently, Albers's influence on his student’s style was not as profound. When you look upon a Hofmann painting such as First Blaze of the Rising Sun, you are looking at the beginnings of a uniquely American wave of art that will permeate the art world for decades to come.

The provenance of First Blaze of the Rising Sun begins at Kootz Gallery, where it was exhibited in 1963. Samuel M. Kootz was one of the first champions of Hofmann’s art beginning in the 1940s. He, along with a few others, including Peggy Guggenheim and Betty Parsons, recognized early on Hofmann’s key role in the development of the New York School and art history as a whole. His oeuvre is impressive from start to finish, but the last decade of his life in particular produced passionate and vivacious works that transcend time. Art critic Rosalind Krauss put it best when she wrote, “It is a testimony to Hofmann’s gifts that he can continue to extend the boundaries of the easel convention to include experiences which are still vigorous and compelling,” (R. Krauss, “Hans Hofmann,” Artforum, Vol. 4, No. 8, April 1966, pp. 47-48). Even eighty years later, Hofmann’s dynamic vision is still compelling today.

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