Homage to the Square

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  • Provenance

    The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
    Waddington Galleries, London
    Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels
    Private Collection, Belgium
    Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Knokke
    Private Collection, Belgium

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘When you see how each colour helps, hates, penetrates, touches, doesn't, that's parallel to life.’ Josef Albers

    There is a personal association one has to each of Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square paintings, making them visually poignant, as is demonstrated in the present lot from 1962. The Homage to the Square format took root in 1950 while Albers was teaching at the famous Black Mountain College; his artistic practice was informed by his previous Bauhaus teaching and his own European design values which were preferential to minimal, formal and rigid artistic forms. Rendered in shades from sunflower to mustard yellow, each colour in the present work harps on a personal experience, tapping into the emotional complexities of how one perceives and interprets colour. Albers heightens this perception by allowing the physical meeting of different hues, creating a subtle visual tension where one colour starts and another colour ends.

    The three or four layered squares, varying in hue have been rendered by Albers with a palette knife, applying the paint in short and precise strokes to the Masonite board, an un-absorbent and rigid support. Albers would describe his painting technique in often routine terms; he likened it to how he spreads butter on his toast in the morning and considered the final compositions like ‘platters to serve colour’ (Josef Albers quoted in Nicholas Fox Weber, ‘Josef Albers,’ Josef Albers, Milan, 1988, p. 10). The practicality of his process was predicated on skills learned from his father, a builder and house painter. When painting a door, his father told him, start in the middle and paint outward, ‘That way you catch the drips, and don’t get your cuffs dirty’ (Josef Albers, quoted in Nicholas Fox Weber, 'The Artist as Alchemist,' Josef Albers: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1988, p. 15).

    Homage to the Square creates a remarkable ocular affect, the vibrant, glowing yellow centre sits nestled within three gradually darkening tones. Undeniable in vivacity, the colours appear to float on different optical planes. As Albers explains, 'In action, we see the colours as being in front of or behind one another, over or under one another. They give the illusion of being transparent or translucent and tend to move up or down' (Josef Albers, quoted in Eugen Gomringer, Josef Albers, New York, 1967, p. 138). The present work from 1962 was followed just one year later by Albers’ 1963 book entitled Interaction of Colour, which has become a magnum opus in art education by explaining the complexities of colour theory. For Albers, working with colour was about engaging with his materials in a personal way, explaining that ‘as we begin principally with the material, colour itself, and its action and interaction as registered in our minds, we practice first and mainly a study of ourselves’ (Josef Albers, Interaction of Color [1963], New Haven and London 2006)

  • Artist Bio

    Josef Albers

    German-American • 1888 - 1976

    Josef Albers was a German-American artist and educator, best known for his series Homage to the Square. His rigid, geometric works focus on the interplay of color and shape, and Albers is considered one of the fathers of both Minimalism and Conceptual Art. 

    Albers was born in Bottrop, Germany, and relocated to Munich in 1919 to study at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Albers began his career as an educator at the famous Bauhaus in 1922, first as a stained glass instructor and then as a full professor in 1925. Working at the Bauhaus brought Albers into contact with many other famous artists of the period, including Kandinsky and Klee. When the Nazis forced the Bauhaus’ closure in 1933, Albers left Germany and settled permanently in the United States. 

    For ten years, Albers (and his wife, fellow artist Anni Albers) taught at Black Mountain College, a progressive school in North Carolina. Between his time there and later at Yale University, Albers taught a number of artists who would later become quite famous, including Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Eva Hesse, Ruth Asawa and Richard Anuszkiewicz.

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Property from a Distinguished European Collection

Homage to the Square

dated '62' on the reverse
oil on Masonite
40.6 x 40.6 cm (15 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1962, this work will be included in the forthcoming Josef Albers Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and is registered under number JAAF 1976.1.203.

£300,000 - 500,000 

sold for £381,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018