With the dynamic rhythm of its vertical black brushstrokes, T1954-9 is a beautiful example of Hans Hartung’s powerful calligraphic abstract style, first conceived and developed after his one-year stay in Menorca, Spain, in the mid-1930s. The artist’s energetic gestures trace a spontaneous yet harmonious cluster of large lines, a poetry of forms eluding figuration, on a warm earthy ochre background. Reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy, T1954-9 combines the order conveyed by Hartung’s repeated mark-making with the energy implicit in the process. The quick sweeping of the lines creates an internal dynamism, stressed by the solitary black trace bursting from the left-hand side and disrupting the vertical arrangement of marks. Like the Surrealists, Hartung was interested in automatic drawing – a process of freely improvised mark-making. The present work witnesses a similar fascination for the unpredictable, with the physicality of its lines and the passage of the large paintbrush on the canvas becoming tangible realities.
Executed in 1954, T1954-9 belongs to a phase of the artist’s practice in which he had definitively consecrated himself to the definition of a cutting-edge gestural abstract style, characterized by his iconic long rhythmical brushstrokes. In 1945 he had started painting again, after a six-year artistic hiatus which saw him flee the Nazi regime of his native Germany, escaping to France where he joined the French Foreign Legion. By the mid-1950s he had achieved the solid recognition by the art world that would lead to his receipt of the International Grand Prix for painting at the 1960 Venice Biennale. The artist’s practice during this period would pave the way for some of the major non-figurative artistic movements both in Europe and in the United States. Hartung has undoubtedly had a role as a forerunner of American Lyrical Abstraction of the 1960s and 1970s - of Robert Motherwell and Morris Louis in particular, whose dynamic mark-making and colour-field painting pay tribute to the artist’s pioneering exploration of the possibilities of abstraction.