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  • Overview

    'Look! The colour orange is at the door and says to the yellow, “You go first.” But the yellow is also polite and says, “No, you go first.” They are like good friends and their conversation is very charming.' —Josef AlbersEvincing luminous bands of yellow and ochre on an intimately scaled, squared surface, Study for Homage to the Square: Hard, Softer, Soft Edge perfectly encapsulates the exploration of colour, rhythm and spatial movement that defined Josef Albers’s iconic Homage to the Square series. Within a punctilious composition of nestled squares, Albers separates cadmium yellow from introspective maroon, and as one grows more radiant, the other appears increasingly subdued. In their interaction, the chromatic variants become playful and elusive, shifting away from their objective nature and instead forming serendipitous illusions. Painted in 1964, just one year after Albers had published his seminal treatise Interaction of Color, Study for Homage to the Square: Hard, Softer, Soft Edge demonstrates the technical mastery of colour and form that the artist had attained with his titular series, more than a decade after first embarking on it. 'Seeing several of these paintings next to each other makes it obvious that each painting is an instrumentation in its own,’ the artist explained. ‘This means that they are all of different palettes, and, therefore, so to speak, of different climates. Choice of the colours used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction'.1

     

    Portrait of the artist.
    Josef Albers at his studio, August 1960. © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / DACS 2021.

     

    Homage to the Square

    'The square is not a goal in itself; rather, it above all gives a form to color and to the genuinely painterly organization of color.' —Heinz LiesbrockSince commencing the series in 1950, Albers painted his Homages to the Square compositions every day as a kind of meditative exercise, continuously pursuing his investigations into colour theory until the end of his life. Seeking to minimise evidence of the artist’s hand, Albers employed unmixed paint directly from the tube, applying it with a palette knife in short and precise strokes. As with all of his Homage to the Squares, Albers carefully recorded the technical details of his composition's execution, documenting the types of paint used on the reverse of the Masonite panel. Alongside his minimal and systematic application of colour, this methodical codification clearly reflected a conceptual understanding of painting that anticipated much of art making in the mid-1960s, when painting was stripped of its transcendental aims. Notably, the works’ repeated square format is redolent of such artistic precedents as Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square of 1915, and concurrent creations including Frank Stella’s 1960s concentric squares. The two artists’ seminal contributions differed greatly in artistic and conceptual intention, yet converged in the appreciation of the graphic properties enabled by the square.

     

    Left: Frank Stella, Single Concentric Squares (violet to red violet half-step), 1974, acrylic on canvas, The Archive of Frank Stella, New York. Image: Steven Sloman. © 2021. Photo Art Resource/Scala, Florence. © Frank Stella. ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021. 
    Right: Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, C20th, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Image: Bridgeman Images.

     

    The Possibilities of Colour

    'When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color.'
    —Josef Albers
    Albers’ dedication to investigating the properties of colour hailed him one of the foremost theorists of art in the twentieth century. Bolstered by his teaching experience at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale University, Albers was acutely sensitive to the subject of colour — its variations, its emotional potential, its reliance on individuated perceptions. For him, tone and hue, saturation and brightness became animated through a vivid synaesthesia which personified every shade: ‘Look!’ he described. ‘The colour orange is at the door and says to the yellow, “You go first.” But the yellow is also polite and says, “No, you go first.” They are like good friends and their conversation is very charming’.2 In Study for Homage to the Square: Hard, Softer, Soft Edge, Albers stages this charismatic encounter, listening attentively to the entrancing, mysterious conversations of colour. The methodical application of paint only emphasises the innate sense of camaraderie that exists between the chromes, exuding a straightforward, effortless symbiosis that is immediately striking and touching to the viewer.

     

    Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: "Ascending", 1953, oil on composition board, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.  Image: © 2021. Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala. © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / DACS 2021.
    Left: Josef Albers, Homage to the Square - Insert, 1959, oil on fibreboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC. Image: © 2021. Photo Smithsonian American Art Museum/Art Resource/Scala, Florence. © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / DACS 2021.
    Right: Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: "Ascending", 1953, oil on composition board, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Image: © 2021. Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala. © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / DACS 2021.

     

    For Albers, the purpose of the integration of colour was to evoke different moods and visual effects through the contrasting combination of seemingly overlapping squares – often reflected in his titles, which he regarded as poetic language. Study for Homage to the Square: Hard, Softer, Soft Edge beautifully exemplifies this idiosyncratic feature, but also, importantly testifies to Albers’ particular affection for the colour yellow (the artist once stated he ‘was for years in the yellow period’).3 Deeply influenced by Goethe’s 1810 Theory of Color, Albers viewed the luminous hue as caring, curing and uplifting. Indeed, Study for Homage to the Square: Hard, Softer, Soft Edge echoes Goethe’s words that ‘a strong yellow…has a magnificent and noble effect…The eye is gladdened, the heart expands, the feelings are cheered, an immediate warmth seems to waft toward us’.4

     

    Master of Geometric

     

    Master of Geometric shows archival footage and imagery of Josef Albers’s life and work.

     

     

    1 Josef Albers, quoted in Josef Albers, exh. cat., The Mayor Gallery, London, 1989, p. 31.
    2 Josef Albers, quoted in Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz, Josef Albers: To Open Eyes, New York, 2006, p. 199.

    3 Josef Albers, quoted in ‘Oral history interview with Josef Albers’, June 22 - July 5, 1968, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., online.

    4 Goethe…

    • Provenance

      The Pollock Gallery Ltd., Toronto
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1972)
      Christie's, New York, 16 May 2013, lot 328
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma; Miami, The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, Global Exchange: Geometric abstraction since 1950, 7 May 2014 - 4 January 2015
      Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Buenos Aires, Obsesión geométrica: escuela americana 1965-2015, 17 October 2015 - 13 March 2016, p. 114 (illustrated)
      New York, El Museo del Barrio, The Illusive Eye, 3 February - 21 May 2016

    • Artist Biography

      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.

      View More Works

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Study for Homage to the Square: Hard, Softer, Soft Edge

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'A64' lower right; signed, titled and dated 'Study for Homage to the Square: ''Hard, Softer, Soft Edge'' Albers 1964' on the reverse
oil on Masonite
40.2 x 40.2 cm (15 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1964, 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. 1964.1.13.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £327,600

Contact Specialist

 

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

 

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021