Hans Hofmann - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

Create your first list.

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

  • Provenance

    Estate of the Artist (1966-1996)
    Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust (acquired from the above in 1996)
    Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann, March 7 - 25, 1961
    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; Houston, Museum of Fine Art, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 14, 1976 - April 3, 1977, no. 43, p. 84 (illustrated)
    Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, A Time & Place: East and West Coast Abstraction from the '60s and '70s, July 21 - August 27, 2005
    New York, Ameringer Yohe Fine Art, Hans Hofmann: The Unabashed Unconscious; Reflections on Hofmann and Surrealism, March 30 - April 29, 2006, p. 53 (illustrated)
    Chicago, KN Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Exuberant Eye, May 10 - June 30, 2007, p. 11 (illustrated, p. 45)
    New York, Hollis Taggart Galleries, Gesture and Abstraction: AbEx Gallery Selections, October 17 - November 12, 2011
    New York, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, Hans Hofmann: Art Like Life Is Real, March 15 - April 21, 2012, p. 11 (illustrated, p. 47)
    Museum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern, Hans Hofmann: Magnum Opus, March 9 - June 16, 2013, p. 144 (illustrated, p. 87)

  • Literature

    Robert M. Coates, "The Art Galleries: The Splendid Century," The New Yorker, 37, no. 6, March 25, 1961, p. 128
    Irving H. Sandler, "Reviews and Previews," ARTnews, 60, no. 2, April 1961, p. 10
    Lawrence Smith, "In the Galleries: Hans Hofmann," Arts, 35, no. 7, April 1961, p. 58
    Sam Hunter, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1963, pl. 119 (illustrated)
    Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1986, p. 81 (mentioned as Aquatic Gardens)
    James Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 208 (illustrated)
    Karen Wilkin, "Becoming Hans Hofmann," Art & Antiques, 36, no. 5, May 2013, p. 74 (illustrated)
    Suzi Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume III: 1952-1965, London, 2014, no. P1253, p. 258 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay


    Karen Wilkin

    Karen Wilkin has curated four Hans Hofmann exhibitions in the U.S. and Germany, including Hans Hofmann: Works on Paper, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, FL and Portland Art Museum, ME, 2017. She contributed to and edited the introductory essays for the Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné.

    Hans Hofmann’s free-wheeling, exuberant Aquatic Garden, 1960, is vivid testimony that at 80, the veteran painter was at the height of his powers. Born in 1880 in Bavaria, Hofmann died in 1966, in New York, a few weeks short of his 86th birthday. The 95 ¾ inch painting is likely Hofmann’s tallest, most insistently vertical work and sums up many of his life-long concerns and investigates new, challenging possibilities. His fascination with creating oppositions in order to evoke space – so-called “push/pull” – declares itself in Aquatic Garden’s bold contrasts of salmons, oranges, and reds with chalky greens and clear blues, and in the varied paint applications, from delicate sweeps to crisp-edged pools to whiplash loops and trickles. The explosive energy of Aquatic Garden is typical of Hofmann, but the fluidity of the painting, which recalls the freedom with which he worked on paper, is unusual. He often had a heavy hand with paint, applying saturated, full-throttle color with an intensity equal to that of his older compatriots, the German Expressionists. But when Hofmann used watercolor, gouache, or crayon, he reveled in the pleasure of manipulating materials with fluent movements of the hand. That pleasure, translated into subtly inflected, full-arm gestures, at an unexpectedly large scale, informs and energizes Aquatic Garden, and modulates its luminous palette, with its expanse of tawny salmon pink (some of it being the color of the support). It’s worth noting that Aquatic Garden is painted on laminated fiberboard. Hofmann clearly liked the resistance this kind of surface offered, since he often used similar types of board, in various sizes, as supports for many different kind of media.

    The unexpected aspects of Aquatic Garden are themselves characteristic of Hofmann. He never settled for a single way of making a painting, but explored the broadest implications of each of his works, no matter where they might lead. These restless changes, Hofmann’s enthusiastic admirer, the critic Clement Greenberg explained, came about because the painter had “so much to say;” he was, the critic noted, “a virtuoso of invention” (Clement Greenberg, “Hans Hofmann: Grand Old Rebel,” Art News, January 1959, in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4, Modernism with A Vengeance, 1957-1959, Chicago, 1986, p. 68).

    Hofmann’s pictures always appear to be about conflicting possibilities. Like Aquatic Garden, they depend on expressive differences among edges, colors, and densities, differences that conspire to evoke space in ways that defy both conventional illusionism and literal flatness. These contrasts can be read as visual metaphors for Hofmann’s conviction that even “pure” abstract paintings were informed by his perception of his surroundings. In his teaching and writings, Hofmann stressed the opposition of actuality and the invented world of the work of art. “In nature,” Hofmann wrote, italicizing for emphasis, “light creates the color; in the picture, color creates light.” And “We must always distinguish between form in a physical sense (nature) and form in an aesthetical sense (the form of the work itself as a creation of the mind)” (Hans Hofmann, “The Color Problem in Pure Painting – Its Creative Origin,” in Karen Wilkin, Hans Hofmann: a Retrospective, exh. cat., George Braziller, New York, 2003, p. 39). Yet he concluded by asserting “Being inexhaustible, life and nature are a constant stimulus for a creative mind” – even though “form in an aesthetical sense,” created by the mind, is distinct from “form in a physical sense (nature),” its ultimate source is the artist’s experience of the world around him. This paradox reminds us that Hofmann’s wife is said to have described him as “the embodiment of contradiction” (Hans Hofmann, in Karen Wilkin, Hans Hofmann: a Retrospective, exh. cat., George Braziller, New York, 2003).

    During Hofmann’s lifetime, his inventiveness was sometimes seen as problematic. At the time, serious artists – including the Abstract Expressionists with whom he exhibited – were expected to develop identifiable signature images, such as Barnett Newman’s Zips or Mark Rothko’s floating rectangles. It could be argued, however, that Hofmann’s indifference to consistency was simply a function of his charismatic personality, in the Walt Whitman “I am large, I contain multitudes” manner. His many ways of thinking about and making paintings could be read as a “signature” as distinctive as any of his colleagues’ recognizable tropes. Admiration for Hofmann increased in his later years when he seemed to concentrate on the geometric Slab paintings that remain his best-known works. In fact, he continued to make many different types of pictures, as if celebrating his newfound liberation from teaching. In 1956, Hofmann closed his legendary school on 8th Street and the following summer, ended his summer classes in Provincetown, freeing himself to devote himself fully to the studio for the first time since he opened the Hofmann Schule für Bildende Kunst, in Munich, in 1915. During this last experimental period, he explored, as he did in Aquatic Garden, new kinds of gestures, new harmonies of color and surface, and new moods, creating some of his most achieved, innovative work.

    The potency of Hofmann’s late paintings was recognized at the time. During the artist’s last decade, Greenberg organized a small Hofmann retrospective at Bennington College and later published a monograph on his work. A large Hofmann retrospective was seen at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and then traveled across the U.S. Soon after, Hofmann was included in Documenta 1959, in Kassel, Germany, and the following year – when he painted Aquatic Garden – he was selected, along with Philip Guston, Franz Kline, and Theodore Roszak, to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.

    Sometimes, Hofmann’s late innovations, such as Aquatic Garden’s pools, drawing with threads of paint, and blurred swipes, suggest that he paid attention to the work of the younger artists with whom he exhibited. His former student and friend, Helen Frankenthaler, wittily explained this as “Hans saying ‘O.K. kids. This is how you do it’" (Helen Frankenthaler, quoted in Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 35). But as Aquatic Garden demonstrates, what remains unchanged and wholly Hofmann’s own is his ability to create an exhilarating sense of unstable space and movement, a distillation, perhaps of the fluctuating richness of the natural world. Hofmann tested the limits of complexity and simplicity, and of density and transparency, exulting in the many ways paint could be deployed, making variations in gesture and application the main carriers of drama.

    The radiant canvases of Hofmann’s last years, such as Aquatic Garden, introduce us to an artist who, while no less vigorous than his younger self, celebrated nuance and subtlety as well as energy and enthusiasm. He himself might have resisted any attempt to unravel the complex components of his work. “At the time of making a picture,” he wrote, “I want not to know what I am doing; a picture should be made with feeling, not with knowing” (Hans Hofmann, quoted in Elaine de Kooning, “Hans Hofmann Paints a Picture,” Art News, February 1950, p. 40).


Aquatic Garden

signed and dated "60 hans hofmann" lower right; further signed, titled, inscribed and dated "Cat# 1009 aquatic garden 1960 hans hofmann" on the reverse
oil on Upson board
95 3/4 x 47 3/4 in. (243.2 x 121.3 cm.)
Painted in 1960.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $975,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017