Josef Albers - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Beyeler, Basel
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Basel, Galerie Beyeler, ALBERS, March – April 1973, no. 16, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘They all are 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 - influencing and changing each other forth and back. Thus, character and feeling alter from painting to painting without any additional ‘hand writing’ or, so-called, texture. Though the underlying symmetrical and quasi-concentric order of squares remains the same in all paintings – in proportion and placement – these same squares group or single themselves, connect and separate in many different ways’ (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. 14).

    Masterful in its geometry and form, Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4 is an exceptional example of Josef Albers’ command of colour and visual language. Initially criticised by the likes of Clement Greenberg and Donald Judd, Albers’ works from the iconic Homage to the Square series have become enshrined within the art historical canon as hallmarks for the interaction of colour and form. Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4 , which was exhibited alongside other works from the series at Galerie Beyeler, Basel, in 1973, is composed of carefully aligned geometric squares and gleams with Albers’ mastery of a colour.

    The optical effects of the exquisite colour combination radiate from the simplicity of form, expertly illustrating the artist’s notion that adjustments to placement, shape and light significantly alter ones perception of colour. Presenting the viewer with a vivid structure of yellow and grey, three tonal bands are skilfully aligned within the composition. Carefully harmonised, the colours evolve downwards; diverging vertically, the interaction of tone and form within the squares instills depth, weight and movement into the composition. Shrewdly documenting his precise and innovative use of colour, later to be broken down in his published writings, the present work refers to the artist’s use of Reddish Naples Yellow, Cadmium Yellow and Gray #7. Albers’ fine calculation is evident beyond the exact pairing of colour, the pristinely worked surface leaving the viewer’s gaze absolutely focused on the chromatic impression.

    Albers’ lifelong obsession with colour theory, the nature of perception and the psychological effects of colour within space, culminated in his most celebrated series of works, Homage to the Square. From the series, which occupied the final 26 years of the artists life, Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4 beautifully presents the viewer with the pillars of Albers’ pedagogic practice. The composition celebrates the principles of his instruction, from the Bauhaus to Black Mountain College and Yale, the Farbenlehre and Formlehre (colour course and form course), to observation, representation and composition, encompassing theories of space, colour and design. The present work, emblematic of Albers’ teachings, reveals ‘on the one hand the intuitive search for and discovery of form; on the other hand the knowledge and application of the fundamental laws of form…’ (George Heard Hampton, Josef Albers: Paintings, Prints, Projects, New Haven, 1956, p. 23). Albers’ immense legacy is evident through the creative output of subsequent artistic generations. In his expressive use and mastery of the varying potential of vibrant colour, imparted through his instruction at Black Mountain College, Kenneth Noland’s series of geometric canvases with a single motif recall Albers’ treatment of his Homage to the Square works.

    In 1963, Albers published his Interaction of Colour, a tome composed of text and silkscreen plates based on his colour course. This volume, outlining his philosophies on the intensity, relativity and temperature of colour, the subtraction, transparency and deception of colour, and the transformation, intersection and juxtaposition of colour, was considered a ‘grand passport to perception’ (Josef Albers and Nicholas Fox Weber, Interaction of Colour, New Haven, 2009, p. xiii). Published at the midpoint of his 25-year exploration of the Homage to the Square series, the treatise is a significant and in-depth exploration and explanation of complex colour theory principles. Displaying these principles Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4 is a rich celebration of the unique authority of Albers’ influence. The expansive impact of Albers’ teaching is clearly evident through his method, which his followers came to recognise and engage with in their own artistic practices. Richard Serra, who arrived at Yale following Albers’ departure, became Albers’ assistant during the time his teacher penned Interaction of Colour. Serra’s sculptural notions on the conditions of artistic production and confrontation of aesthetic paradoxes through the exploration of medium originate from Albers’ strict and logical formalisation.

    Celebrated as the first living artist to have a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Albers’ nuanced layering of colour in the present work is hypnotic. Fuelled with the artist’s repetitive polyphony, Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4 is a radiant example of the characteristic individuality with which each work is composed, presenting a truly unique chromatic experience.

  • 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.

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Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4

signed with the artist’s monogram and dated ‘59’ lower right; further signed, titled, numbered, inscribed and dated ‘Albers “Study for Homage for the Square; Sel: E. B. 4” 1959’ on the reverse
oil on Masonite, in artist's frame
40 x 40 cm (15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1959, 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. JAAF 1959.1.92.

£300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for £345,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017