Study for Homage to the Square: Late September

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  • Provenance

    The Pollock Gallery Limited, Toronto
    Galerie Denise René, Paris
    Phillips, New York, 14 November 2000, lot 244
    Private Collection (acquired from the above)
    Sotheby's, London, 26 June 2009, lot 202
    Galleria Il Mappamondo, Milan
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A cornerstone of twentieth century abstraction, Josef Albers embarked on his Homage to the Square series in 1950, marking a crucial turning point in the artist’s oeuvre, an aesthetic realisation of a lifetime devoted to examining the effects of form and colour. Applying short and precise strokes of carefully selected shades, from earthy brown to sunflower yellow, in geometric square formulations, Albers’ work penetrates the evocations and memories which we associate with colour. Painted in 1961, the present work, titled Study for Homage to the Square: Late September, evokes the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn, the colours reminiscent of the heat of the summer sun and the autumnal warm tones of leaves on the trees. Previously housed in the collection of influential Parisian gallery and pioneers of abstraction, Galerie Denise René, the present work showcases Albers’ ability to heighten our perception of colour through the physical placement of hues next to each other. Imbuing a gradient of tones, Albers constructs a visual tension, compelling the viewer to indulge their emotional responses to the present work.

    Study for Homage to the Square: Late September was executed two years prior to the publication of Albers’ pioneering magnum opus, the Interaction of Color, 1963. Applying carefully selected paints to his chosen support of Masonite, the hard un-absorbent surface allows the shades to vibrate, like ‘platters to serve colour’ (Josef Albers, quoted in Nicholas Fox Weber, ‘Josef Albers,’ Josef Albers, Milan, 1988, p. 10). Shrewdly pairing particular tones and carefully documenting their usage in sketches and notes on the reverse of his Masonite boards, Albers’ observed, tested and celebrated the varying combinations and psychological effects of colour within his rigorously calculated geometrical compositions, toying with the intensity, luminosity and often deceptive nature of tonality. Particularly drawn to the colour yellow, Albers’ layered, contrasted and synthesized a plethora of yellow tones, evoking the warmth of the sun experienced on his 1947 trip to La Luz, Mexico, on sabbatical from his teaching post at Black Mountain College, Asheville, NC. Inspired by Mexican adobe dwellings, architecturally-balanced temples and sun-soaked buildings, Albers’ colour palette and geometric renderings were informed by the profound influence that Latin American culture had on his practice, evident in the cocoa and golden hues celebrated in the present work. Four tonal bands, carefully aligned in width and positioning, create a gridded, stepped formation, moving from an outer strip of brown to a vivid inner heart of yellow which rings with chromaticity. It is partly this which instils the composition with intrinsic weight and depth; Albers’ irresistibly draws the viewer into his masterfully calculated tonal microcosm.

    Whether informed by his pedagogic career at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College or Yale, learning and teaching were of great importance to Albers’ artistic practice, working in tandem with the development of his progressive theoretical dicta. Evident in his Formlehre and Farblehre classes, Albers placed great emphasis on the marriage of form and colour, the two inextricably linked in his devotion to harmonious and holistic design. First joining the Bauhaus as a student, enrolled on the Vorkurs in 1920, Albers was promoted to professor in half a decade of first joining the school. Introduced to the work of Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, Anni Albers, Paul Klee and László Moholy-Nagy, Albers and his Bauhaus contemporaries sought to subvert traditional limitations of applied and fine arts, seeking to merge exquisite design with functional everyday objects to achieve a utopian standard, laden with the possibility of positive social change. It is this simplicity of design, sleekness of execution and amalgamation of sumptuous colour and form, which are characteristic of Albers’ paintings. The hopefulness and infinite possibilities of his colour theory are celebrated in Study for Homage to the Square: Late September, encapsulated in the artist’s renowned clarity of line, pioneering tonal experimentation and individual colour palette.

25

Study for Homage to the Square: Late September

signed with the artist's monogram and dated '61' lower right; further signed, titled and dated '"Study for Homage to the Square: Late September" Albers 1961' on the reverse
oil on Masonite
40.4 x 40 cm (15 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1961, this painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Josef Albers currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and is registered under no. JAAF 1961.1.59.

Estimate
£250,000 - 350,000 

sold for £321,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018