Hans Hofmann - New Now New York Tuesday, September 28, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "What I would hate most is to repeat myself over and over again." —Hans Hofmann

    Executed at a decisive point in the artist’s career, Untitled exemplifies the explorations of color and space that distinguished Hans Hofmann’s impactful and ever evolving practice; both as artist and teacher, Hofmann advanced painterly abstraction in the mid-twentieth century America perhaps more than any of his contemporaries. Untitled is paradigmatic of Hofmann’s push-pull technique and exemplifies the unique status of drawing as part of his repertoire, serving as a medium for relentless experimentation and executed with a notably delicate touch compared to his otherwise heavy-handed practice.


    Critics and historians alike recognize Hofmann’s immeasurable impact on the advancement of abstraction in the United States; Clement Greenberg dubbed him “in all probability the most important art teacher of our time.”1 Lauded in Europe and the United States, Hofmann mentored artists including Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner at his schools in Munich, New York, and Provincetown. His curriculum traced through the early stages of abstraction, aided by his personal encounters with European innovations from the early 1900s in Paris and Munich. Drawings such as Untitled were integral to his teachings as he incorporated active artmaking in his lectures to students; Hofmann’s innovative techniques and teaching methods inspired and guided new generations of artists in the United States, notably the Abstract Expressionists and the Color Field painters.


    Drawing It Out 


    A tangle of vivid colors, organic outlines, and free-flowing splatters, Untitled is a defining example of Hofmann’s uncategorizable fusion and evolution of styles that impacted a so many leading artists. The work bursts with energy: its intense oranges and reds rival the chromatic vigor of Matisse’s Fauvist color schemes, and the loose forms and spindly lines challenge Kandinsky’s compositions of the 1910s. Nevertheless, Hofmann achieves incredibly compositional harmony and creates impressive space within the work; evident throughout Untitled is Hofmann’s interplay of shapes and colors to create the illusion of depth, never violating the two-dimensional plane. Hofmann deepens the composition through simultaneous use of expanding and contracting forces, opening strata of depth within one image, exemplifying the effect of the push-pull technique.


    Paper was an important proving ground for Hofmann and integral to his metamorphosis as an artist; it was a primary medium for much of his life, comprising much of the little work that remains from his early years living in Europe. Hofmann even abandoned painting in the late 1920s and early 1930s when he moved to the United States, only returning to it in 1934. Curator Karen Wilkin writes that Hofmann’s drawings bear witness to his entire aesthetic vocabulary noting that “on paper, Hofmann appears to have relaxed his aggressive touch.”2 The graceful lightness of works such as Untitled stands in stark contrast to the explosive bravado of Hofmann’s paintings and works executed on board; Hofmann’s drawings reflect his wide range as an artist, with Untitled illustrative of Hofmann’s ability to incorporate fluidity and non-linearity in his artworks.


    1 Clement Greenberg, “Art”, The Nation, vol. 160, no. 16, April 21, 1945, p. 469

    2 Hans Hofmann: Works on Paper, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, 2017, p. 38

    • Provenance

      The Estate of the Artist (acquired by descent in 1966)
      André Emmerich Gallery, New York
      Makler Gallery, Philadelphia
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Sotheby’s, New York, September 10, 2008, lot 86
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owners

Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.



signed “Hans Hofmann” lower right; numbered "M810-10" on the reverse; stamped with the Estate of Hans Hofmann stamp on the backing board
gouache on paper
22 3/4 x 18 3/4 in. (57.8 x 47.6 cm)
Executed in 1937.

Full Cataloguing

$15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for $44,100

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig

Head of New Now Sale

212 940 1279


New Now

New York Auction 28 September 2021