Hans Hofmann's The Cliff seethes with primordial energy. Oranges, yellows, pinks, reds and blues emerge out of the lush black central form creating a vivid and romantic landscape. Drawing inspiration from a vista overlooking the sea at night, The Cliff depicts distilled elemental natural forces similar to the works of Hofmann's contemporary Clyfford Still. Writing about The Cliff, Sam Hunter observed, "A darkling romanticism, using as its vehicle cataracts of liquid black and white, inspired three of his very finest paintings, in these instances, rather rich and bonded with color as well: The Conjurer of 1959, The Cliff of 1960, and Donnerwolken ziehen of 1961" (S. Hunter, "Hans Hofmann," Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 29). Irving Kaye, a personal friend to the artist, purchased the work from the Kootz Gallery in 1964 where it has remained until now.
Hofmann was a life long teacher and student. His career was largely defined by his influence which has, to some degree, obscured his enormous talent. Clement Greenberg wrote, "Hans Hofmann's art is recognized increasingly as a major fountainhead of style and ideas for the "new" American painting, yet its value, independent of its influence and of Hofmann's role as a teacher, is still the object of qualifications. His omission from the New American Painting show that The Museum of Modern Art sent to Europe (1958-59) is a case in point. A good share of the blame rests with the public of advanced art, which has its own kind of laziness and obtuseness, and usually asks that a 'difficult' artist confine himself to a single readily identifiable manner before it will take trouble with him" (C. Greenberg, Hans Hofmann, Paris, 1961, n.p.). Innovative and energized with dynamic brush work and a poignant palette, The Cliff epitomizes Hofmann's profound contribution as a practitioner of abstract painting.
Driven by his obsessive exploration of Cubism and its infinite variations Hofmann was never satisfied to settle into a signature style instead preferring to have the subject dictate its execution. "I would maintain that the only way to begin placing Hofmann's art is by taking cognizance of the uniqueness of his life's course, which has cut across as many art movements as national boundaries, and put him in several different centers of art at the precise time of their most fruitful activity. On top of that, his career as an artist has cut across at least three artists' generations" (Ibid). Hofmann's is an art of multiplicity in pursuit of the real. In his essay The Search for the Real in the Visual Arts he wrote, "This two-way transformation proceeds from metaphysical perceptions, for metaphysics is the search for the essential nature of reality. And so artistic creation is the metamorphosis of the external physical aspects of a thing into a self-sustaining spiritual reality. Such is the magic act which takes place continuously in the development of a work of art. On this and only on this is creation based" (H. Hofmann, The Search for the Real in the Visual Arts, Boston, 1948, pp. 46). Hofmann's best works like The Cliff take many forms but they are all energized by the pursuit of his art.