JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
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JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)

Homage to the Square: Autumn Light

JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
Homage to the Square: Autumn Light
signed with the artist's monogram and dated 'A61' (lower right); signed, titled and dated ‘Homage to the Square: “Autumn Light” Albers 1961’ (on the reverse)
oil on Masonite
40 x 40in. (101.6 x 101.6cm.)
Painted in 1961
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Flair Gallery, Cincinnati.
American Financial Corporation, Cincinnati.
Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013.
Cincinnati, The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Collects: The Corporate View, 1991, p. 68.
Further Details
This work will be included in the Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings by Josef Albers currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation under number 1961.1.66.

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Claudia Schürch
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Lot Essay

A beacon of warm yellows and earthy ochres, Homage to the Square: Autumn Light (1961) is an atmospheric example of Josef Albers’ iconic ‘Homage to the Square’ series. At 40 by 40 inches, it belongs to the second-largest scale on which he realised these paintings. Created from 1950 until his death in 1976, they form one of art history’s most vital investigations into the interaction of colour. Each ‘Homage’ consists of four concentric squares of differently coloured paint, squeezed straight from the tube and spread with a palette knife onto a primed masonite support. The squares are aligned slightly towards the composition’s lower edge, creating broader bands of colour at the top and implying a relationship with gravity and space. The present example is suffused with the autumnal glow of its title. Two closely-valued cadmium yellows radiate outwards from the centre, creating an illusion of depth as they seem to illuminate successive borders of rich ochre. Autumn, a time of transition with its soft sunlight and changing foliage, was a ‘colour climate’ close to Albers’ heart. He made twenty-five ‘Homages’ with the season in their title, including High Autumn (1957, Städel Museum, Frankfurt), Pale Autumn (1963, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), and Autumn Echo (1966, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).

Albers’ ‘Homages’ were indivisible from his life as an educator. Following his first professorship at the Bauhaus in Germany, he relocated in 1933 to Black Mountain College, North Carolina, where he honed his ideas on colour theory. He had his students overlay different combinations of coloured paper, observing how colours were not isolated entities, but rather—as he would later write in his treatise Interaction of Colour—‘present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions’ ( J. Albers, Interaction of Colour, New Haven 1971, p. 5). Following a Bauhaus tradition of using found objects, he also taught them to make so-called matière studies of texture, colour and line, often incorporating the leaves that fell during the dazzling North Carolina autumn. Albers embarked on his ‘Homages’ in 1950, when he began teaching at Yale University’s Department of Design. The fall season in New England was no less spectacular. He told his students there: ‘You mustn’t think of the autumn as a time of sadness, when winter is coming, because all the trees, they know winter is coming, so they get drunk! With colour! Ach, it’s beautiful! So now bring in leaf studies!’ (J. Albers, quoted in F. A. Horowitz and B. Danilowitz, Josef Albers: To Open Eyes, London 2006, p. 232).

Albers described the square format of the ‘Homages’ as ‘only the dish I serve my craziness about colour in’ (J. Albers quoted in N. Welliver, ‘Albers on Albers,’ Art News, January 1966, p. 69). Far from mere academic exercises, these paintings are alive with a sense of visual wonder. While abstract, they are fundamentally outward-looking, encouraging us to see the world around us with fresh eyes. Their gentle imperfections—he worked out from the centre by hand, without masking off the squares’ edges—imbue each hard-edged composition with traces of Albers’ human touch. Where the earliest ‘Homages’ were dominated by strong chromatic contrasts, he pursued increasing subtleties of tone and mood across the decades. Imparting a joyful glow, the finely nuanced core of Homage to the Square: Autumn Light—as in other autumn-themed works from the series—witnesses his particular fondness for yellow. One of Albers’ most formative influences was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1810 Theory of Colour. In painting, Goethe declared, yellow ‘belongs among the luminous and active colours … The eye is gladdened, the heart expands, the feelings are cheered, an immediate warmth seems to waft toward us’ (D. E. Miller, ed., trans., Goethe: The Collected Works, Vol. 12, Scientific Studies, Princeton 1995, p. 279).

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