Hans Hofmann - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • "My aim in painting is to create pulsating, luminous and open surfaces that emanate a mystic light, determined exclusively through painterly development, and in accordance with my deepest insight into the experience of life and nature."
    —Hans Hofmann, 1962

    Painted in 1963, In Upper Regions is a striking example of Hans Hofmann’s late “Slab” paintings that are deemed the greatest achievements of his career. In this large-scale composition, a jewel-toned ground emerges between layers of rich dark pigment. From thick impasto to diaphanous brushwork, sweeping gestures to measured strokes, In Upper Regions showcases the spectacular painterly prowess he unleashed after retiring from his career as a gifted art teacher in 1958. The present work featured in Hofmann's solo exhibition at the Kootz Gallery, New York in 1964, and was later shown at the artist’s major retrospective at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from 1976 to 1977. Not seen for nearly two decades, In Upper Regions set Hofmann’s world auction record at the time of its sale in New York in 2003.


    Hans Hofmann in his Provincetown studio, 1963. Image: © 1991 Hans Namuth Estate, Courtesy Center for Creative Photography 

    "Space was never a static thing, but alive, and its life can be felt in the rhythm in which everything in a visual ensemble exists." 
    —Hans Hofmann
    The diverse body of “Slab” compositions Hofmann produced between the late 1950s until his death in 1966 comprise the artist’s most recognized and highly coveted works. In Upper Regions is among a discrete number of “Slab” paintings created in this period that forgo the sharp rectangular forms more common to his mature oeuvre. As Paul Moorhouse discussed in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, these “Slabs” without strict geometries maintain a more organic character in their freedom of handling and sensuous engagement with color.i The present work eloquently manifests Hofmann’s celebrated “push-and-pull” theory—the illusion of depth and movement created by the tension between colored forms. Without relying on austere form, here Hofmann utilizes color to function as spatial planes in themselves purely through his dynamic application, perfectly capturing his statement: “Only very great painting becomes so plastically sensitive, for the expression of the deepest in man calls for unexpected and surprising associations.”ii


    Museum Collections: Non-Geometric Abstractions, 1963


  • In the last years of his life when the present work was conceived, Hofmann’s abstractions became distinguished for their lyricism and explosive compositions. As Hofmann espoused, “When the impulses which stir us to profound emotion are integrated with the medium of expression, every interview of the soul may become art. This is contingent upon mastery of the medium.”iii Indeed Moorhouse noted of this late period that Hofmann’s “elevated level of engagement with painting led inevitably to works in which Hofmann touched on even more immaterial themes connected with the passage of time, death, memory, passion, and the sublime.”iv As suggested by its title, In Upper Regions may regard the passing of his wife, Miz, in the same year of the present work’s creation. “When I name a picture,” the artist shared, “the title comes from the feeling the painting suggests. I work constantly toward poetic suggestion and I choose the names for my paintings accordingly.”v

    "That the artist can use formal and expressive means to communicate his ‘inner world’ is central to an appreciation of Hofmann’s late work...Through painting, ideas and feelings are given form and substance."
    —Paul Moorhouse

    [left] Henri Matisse, The Riverbank, 1907. Kunstmuseum Basel. Image: Kunstmuseum Basel, Martin P. Bühler, Artwork: © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau: The Garden I, 1910. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. Image: HIIP / Art Resource, Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP

    Recalling the chromatic scheme of Henri Matisse’s The Riverbank, 1907 and Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau landscapes, In Upper Regions demonstrates the great influence of these artists on Hofmann’s practice. It manifests his lifelong admiration for Matisse’s Fauvist palette and rendering of space through unmodulated color, as well as his affinity with Kandinsky’s notions on the spiritual possibilities of abstraction. Karen Wilkin has observed, “Many of Hofmann’s most uninhibited, ‘loose’ abstractions, with their soft-edged patches of intense color and whiplash drawing, appear informed by Kandinsky’s dynamic paintings from 1910-1914.”vi Conjuring the expressive handling and subjective evocations of his predecessor’s Improvisations, the present work ultimately materializes Hofmann’s paramount doctrine: “Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: First, nature, which works upon us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and his materials; third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world.”vii 


    i Paul Moorhouse, “The Structure of Imagination: Hofmann’s Late Paintings,” in Suzi Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume I, Surrey, 2014, pp. 54-61.
    ii Hans Hofmann, “The Search for the Real in the Visual Arts,” in Sam Hunter, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 1964, p. 41.
    iii Hans Hofmann, “Painting and Culture,” in Sarah T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr., eds., Search for the Real: And Other Essays, Andover, MA, 1967, p. 46.
    iv Paul Moorhouse, “The Structure of Imagination: Hofmann’s Late Paintings,” in Suzi Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume I, Surrey, 2014, p. 61.
    v Hans Hofmannn, quoted in Katherine Kuh, “Hans Hofmann,” in The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Modern Artists, New York, 1962, p. 119.
    vi Karen Wilkin, “Becoming Hans Hofmann,” Art & Antiques Magazine, May 2013, online.
    vii Hans Hofmann, “Painting and Culture,” in Sarah T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr., eds., Search for the Real: And Other Essays, Andover, MA, 1967, p. 55.

    • Provenance

      Kootz Gallery, New York (acquired by 1964)
      David N. Marks and Adele Marks, New York (acquired from the above in 1964)
      Sotheby's, New York, November 12, 2003, lot 16
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Paintings, 1963, February 18–March 7, 1964, n.p. (illustrated)
      Washington D.C., The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 14, 1976–April 3, 1977, no. 64, p. 96 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Thomas Neumann, "Reviews and previews," ARTnews, March 1964, vol. 63, no. 1, p. 8 (illustrated)
      Clement Greenberg, "America Takes the Lead 1945-1965," Art in America, August-September 1965, p. 116 (illustrated)
      The Editors of Art in America, ed., The Artist in America, New York, 1967, p. 219 (illustrated)
      Irving Sandler, "Hans Hofmann: The Pedagogical Master," Art in America, May-June 1973, vol. 61, no. 3, p. 48 (illustrated)
      Suzi Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume III: Catalogue Entries 1952-1965, Farnham, 2014, no. P1490, p. 408 (illustrated)

Property of an American Collector


In Upper Regions

signed and dated "hans hofmann 63" lower right; signed, titled, inscribed and dated "Cat #1507 in upper regions 1963 hans hofmann" on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm)
Painted in 1963.

Full Cataloguing

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $2,571,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Associate Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022