Hans Hofman 1880 —1966



HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)


"Color is a plastic means of creating intervals... color harmonics produced by special relationships, or tensions. We differentiate now between formal tensions and color tensions, just as we differentiate in music between counterpoint and harmony." - Hans Hofmann


Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) is one of the most important figures of postwar American art. Celebrated for his exuberant, color-filled canvases, and renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists-first in his native Germany, then in New York and Provincetown-Hofmann played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism.

As a teacher he brought to America direct knowledge of the work of a celebrated group of European modernists (prior to World War I he had lived and studied in Paris) and developed his own philosophy of art, which he expressed in essays which are among the most engaging discussions of painting in the twentieth century, including "The Color Problem in Pure Painting-Its Creative Origin."

Hofmann believed fervently that a modern artist must remain faithful to the flatness of the canvas support. To suggest depth and movement in the picture - to create what he called "push and pull" in the image - artists should create contrasts of color, form, and texture.

Although renowned for his ideas, Hofmann once said that "painters must speak through paint, not through words." And his own foremost medium of expression was color: "The whole world, as we experience it visually,"  he said, "comes to us through the mystic realm of color." 

Hofmann taught art for over four decades; his impressive list of students includes Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Alfred Jensen, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. As an artist Hofmann tirelessly explored pictorial structure, spatial tensions and color relationships. In his earliest portraits done just years into the twentieth century, his interior scenes of the 1940s and his signature canvases of the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Hofmann brought to his paintings what art historian Karen Wilkin has described as a "range from loose accumulations of brushy strokes...to crisply tailored arrangements of rectangles...but that somehow seems less significant than their uniform intensity, their common pounding energy and their consistent physicality."

Hofmann was born Johann Georg Hofmann in Weissenberg, in the Bavarian state of Germany in 1880 and raised and educated in Munich. After initial studies in science and mathematics, he began studying art in 1898. With the support of Berlin art patron Phillip Freudenberg, Hofmann was able to move to Paris in 1904, taking classes at both the Académie de la Grande Chaumière (with fellow student Henri Matisse) and the Académie Colarossi. In Paris Hofmann observed and absorbed the innovations of the most adventurous artists of the day including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Fernand Léger and Henri Matisse, many of whom he met and became friendly with. Hofmann would remain in Paris until 1914 when the advent of World War I required him to return to Germany. In 1915, unable to enroll in the military due to a respiratory ailment, Hofmann opened an innovative school for art in Munich, where he transmitted what he had learned from the avant-garde in Paris. The school's reputation spread internationally, especially after the war, attracting students from Europe and the United States, thus beginning what was to be almost a lifetime of teaching for Hofmann.

At the invitation of Worth Ryder, one of his former students, Hofmann went to the University of California, Berkeley, to teach in the summer of 1930. He returned to Berkeley the following year, a momentous one which also saw his first American solo exhibition at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Because of the deteriorating circumstances in pre-war Germany, Hofmann made the decision to remain in the United States permanently (his wife, Maria, would join him in 1939). In 1932 he settled in New York where he again taught art, first at The Art Students League, then, a year later, at his own school (adding in 1935 summer sessions in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he also lived). For eager young Americans, most of whom had traveled little-constrained in the 1930s by the Depression and in the 1940s by World War II and its aftermath-contact with Hofmann served as an invaluable alternative for direct contact with the European sources of Modernism. By 1960 noted art historian Clement Greenberg called Hofmann "in all probability the most important art teacher of our time." His school would remain a vital presence in the New York art world until 1958 when the seventy-eight year old Hofmann decided to devote himself full-time to painting.

Although Hofmann did not come to the United States until he was over fifty, he is embraced as an American painter and regarded as a key member of the Abstract Expressionists. For all his connections to that movement, and to abstraction itself, his work was nonetheless and by his own admission firmly rooted in the visible world. He combined Cubist structure and intense Fauvist color into a highly personal visual language with which he endlessly explored pictorial structures and chromatic relationships. Hofmann created volume in his compositions not by rendering or modeling but through contrasts of color, shape and surface. Beginning in the mid-1940s with a one-person exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's The Art of This Century Gallery in New York, Hofmann's paintings were the subject of exhibitions at major institutions such as the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art. Hofmann was also one of four artists representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1960.

Hofmann was close to 70 years old when, in a dazzling burst of energy he painted most of the large, highly recognizable canvases of the late 1950s and 1960s that assured his reputation. With their stacked, overlapping and floating rectangles and clear, saturated hues, these extraordinary paintings continued up until the end of his remarkable long career what Hofmann had first explored as an artist over six decades earlier.


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View synoptic biography below.

Provincetown Landscape

Provincetown Landscape
Casein on board

25 x 30 inches

Highlights of an illustrious career


1880   Hans Hofmann is born in Weissenburg in Bavaria, Germany, on March 21. His father Theodor Hofmann, a government official, and his mother Franciska, the daughter of a prominent brewer and wine producer, have three sons and two daughters. Hans was the second son.

1886   The family moves to Munich. Hofmann attends public schools and develops special interests in mathematics, science, and music. He plays the violin, piano and organ and begins to draw.

1896   With his father's help, finds a position as assistant to the director of public works of the state of Bavaria. Patents several scientific inventions.

1898   Studies painting with Willi Schwarz, who introduces him to Impressionism, at Moritz Heymann's art school in Munich.

1900   Meets Maria "Miz" Wolfegg, his future wife.

1903   Through Willi Schwarz, he meets Phillip Freudenberg, the nephew of a Berlin collector, who becomes his patron from 1904 to 1914 and enables him to live in Paris (though he often summers in Germany).

1904   Frequents the Café du Dome, a haunt of artists and writers, with Jules Pascin, a friend from Mortiz Heymann's school. Miz joins him in Paris. Attends evening sketch classes at the école de la Grand Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. Meets Picasso, Braque and Matisse.

1908   Exhibits with the Neue Sezession in Berlin, and again in 1909.

1910   First one-person exhibition held at Paul Cassirer Gallery, Berlin. Meets and befriends Robert Delaunay.

1914   Hofmann and Miz leave Paris for Corsica to recuperate from what proves to be tuberculosis. Called to Germany by the illness of his sister, they are forced by the outbreak of World War I to remain in the country. Financial assistance from Phillip Freudenberg ends.

1915   Ineligible for the army because of the aftereffects of his lung condition, and with Freudenberg's assistance terminated by the war, Hofmann decides to earn a living by teaching. Opens the Schule für Bildenes Kunst in Munich.

1918   After the war his school becomes known abroad and attracts foreign students. Between 1922 and

1929 holds summer sessions in Bavaria, Yugoslavia, Italy and France. Makes frequent trips to Paris. Has little time to paint but draws continually.

1930   At the invitation of former student Worth Ryder, teaches a summer session at the University of California, Berkeley, where Ryder is an associate professor in the Department of Art. Returns to Munich for the winter.

1931   In the spring, teaches at the Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles, and again at Berkeley in the summer. Exhibits drawings at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco-his first one-person exhibition in the United States.

1932   Returns to Chouinard School of Art in the summer. Advised by Miz not to return to Munich because of growing political hostility towards intellectuals, Hofmann settles in New York. Former student Vaclav Vytlacil helps arrange a teaching position at The Art Students League of New York.

1933   Spends the summer as a guest instructor at the Thurn School of Art in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In the fall opens a school in New York at 444 Madison Avenue. Begins to paint again.

1934   Upon the expiration of his visa, travels to Bermuda where he stays for several months before returning to the United States with a permanent visa. Teaches again at the Thurn School of Art. Opens the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts at 137 East 57th Street in New York.

1935   Opens a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

1936   Hofmann moves his school to 52 West Ninth Street in New York.

1938   The Hofmann School moves again to 52 West Eighth Street, its permanent home in New York until

1958. Hofmann's lecture series at the school in the winter of 1938-39 is attended by such figures as Arshile Gorky and Clement Greenberg.

1941   Becomes an American citizen. Delivers an address at the annual meeting of American Abstract Artists at the Riverside Museum. Solo exhibition at the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans.

1942   Lee Krasner, formerly a Hofmann student, introduces him to Jackson Pollock.

1944   First exhibition in New York at Peggy Guggenheim's The Art of This Century Gallery. Hans Hofmann, Paintings 1941-1944 opens at The Arts Club of Chicago and travels to the Milwaukee Art Institute. Hofmann's paintings are included in Forty American Moderns at 67 Gallery and Abstract and Surrealist Art in America at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery (arranged by Sidney Janis in conjunction with publication of Janis' book of the same title) in New York. Meets critic Clement Greenberg. Close friendship with author and critic Harold Rosenberg begins.

1945   Included in Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Included in all subsequent Whitney painting annuals.

1947   Exhibits at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and in Pittsburgh. Begins to exhibit with the Kootz Gallery, New York, which would hold a one-person show of Hofmann's work each year (except 1948 and 1956) until the artist's death.

1948   Retrospective exhibition of his work at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, in conjunction with publication of his book, The Search for the Real and Other Essays.

1949   Travels to Paris to attend the opening of his exhibition at the Galerie Maeght and visits the studios of Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and Miró. Helps Fritz Bultman and Weldon Kees organize Forum 49, a summer series of lectures, panels and exhibitions at Gallery 200 in Provincetown.

1950   Participates in a three-day symposium at Studio 35 with William Baziotes, James Brooks, Willem de Kooning, Herbert Ferber, Theodoros Stamos, David Smith and Bradley Walker Tomlin. Joins the "Irascibles," a group of Abstract Expressionist artists in an open letter protesting the exclusion of the avant-garde from an upcoming exhibition of American art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

1954   Solo exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

1955   Clement Greenberg organizes a small retrospective of Hofmann's paintings at Bennington College in Vermont.

1957   Retrospective exhibition held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, traveling to Des Moines, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Utica and Baltimore.

1958   Ceases teaching to devote himself full-time to painting. Moves his studios into his former New York and Provincetown schools. Completes a mosaic mural for the exterior of the New York School of Printing at 439 West 49th Street.

1960   Represents the United States with Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Theodore Roszac at the XXX Venice Biennale.

1962   Retrospective exhibition opens at the Frankische Galerie am Marientor, Nuremburg and travels to Cologne, Berlin and Munich. Exhibition Oils on Paper 1961-1962 opens in Munich. Awarded Honorary Membership in the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Nuremberg and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Dartmouth College.

1963   Miz Hofmann dies. Retrospective exhibition Hans Hofmann and His Students organized by William Seitz opens at The Museum of Modern Art and travels throughout the United States, South America and Europe. Signs an agreement to donate forty-five paintings to the University of California, Berkeley, and to fund the construction of a gallery in his honor at the University's new museum, then in the planning stage

1964   Receives an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley and the Solomon Guggenheim International Award. Becomes a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York. Renate Schmitz inspires The Renate Series

1966   Hans Hofmann dies on February 17 in New York.


Hans Hofmann and his students: MoMA exhibition 1963-1965


Hans Hofmann

Robert Beauchamp

Nell Blaine

Cameron Booth

Fritz Bultman

Nicolas Carone

Giorgio Cavallon

Perle Fine

Jean Follett

Miles Forst

Mary Frank

Helen Frankenthaler

William Freed

Jane Freilicher

Paul Georges

Michael Goldberg

Robert Goodnough

John Grillo

John Haley

Paul Harris

Julius Hatofsky

Dorothy Heller

Carl Holty

Alfred Jensen

Wolf Kahn

Allan Kaprow

Karl Kasten

Albert Kotin

Lee Krasner

Linda Lindeberg

Michael Loew

Erle Loran

Mercedes Matter

George McNeil

Jan Müller

Louise Nevelson

Robert De Niro, Sr.

George Earl Ortman

Stephen Pace

Felix Pasilis

Robert Richenburg

Larry Rivers

Ludwig Sander

David Loeffler Smith

Richard Stankiewicz

Joe Stefanelli

Myron Stout

Albert Swinden

Anne Tabachnick

Vaclav Vytlacil

Glenn Wessels

Wilfred Zogbaum

Museum Collections:

Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Museum of South Texas, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi

Aspen Art Museum

Auckland Art Gallery

Baltimore Museum of Art

Berkeley Art Museum, University of California

The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cleveland Museum of Art

Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk

Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College

Dallas Museum of Art

DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA

Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington

Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Germanische Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg

Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca

High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga

Indianapolis Museum of Art

Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Kunsthaus Hamburg

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables

Mead Art Museum, Amherst College

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Milwaukee Art Museum

Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY

Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg

Musée de Grenoble

Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

The Newark Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philip Musée de Grenoble

Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

The Newark Museum

Palm Springs Art Museumand Muriel Berman Museum of Art, Ursinus College, ollegeville, PA

Portland Art Museum, OR

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence

Speed Art Museum, Louisville

Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

Tate Gallery, London

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Toledo Museum of Art

Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University

University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor

Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

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