Reverberating with color and energy, Hans Hofmann’s Auxerre is a supreme example of the innovative technique that ensured the artist’s place as one of the most inventive painters of the twentieth century. Inspired by the expansive stained glass windows of the Cathédrale Saint Etienne in France, this painting has also been exhibited under the poetic title Auxerre, France: St. Etienne’s Glorious Light emanated by its Windows, as Remembered. Here, Hofmann assembles a lyrical composition of warm and vivid hues, building up geometric blocks of color to produce a surface that is rich in both visual and textural details. Cautiously laying down strata of contrasting colors in freshly applied paint, Hofmann not only produces an intricately patterned surface but also in the process becomes one of the pre-eminent exponents of mid-century passion for expressing the materiality of paint. Thus, by showcasing the thickness of the paint and the flatness of the canvas, Hofmann helped to declare this medium as autonomous, setting it apart from other marks of artistic expression. Auxerre is an important example of Hofmann’s revolutionary painting practice, exemplifying both the technical and aesthetic breakthroughs that Hofmann pioneered, and it resonates with the seismic shifts in art that occurred during this dynamic period of discovery.
Encapsulating his distinctive “push and pull” technique of implying space while asserting the primacy of the flat canvas, Auxerre demonstrates the robust way in which Hofmann’s paintings dramatize the dynamic oscillation between volumes and voids on the one hand and two-dimensional color planes on the other. “I am often asked how I approach my work,” Hofmann wrote in 1962 on the importance of the act of painting. “Let me confess: I hold my mind and my work free from any association foreign to the act of painting. I am thoroughly inspired and agitated by the actions themselves which the development of painting continuously requires....This seems simple but it is actually the fruit of long research” (H. Hofmann, “Hans Hofmann on Art,” in Art Journal, Vol. 22, Spring 1963, p. 18). This “push-pull” of contrasting color and contiguous form lies at the very heart of his work and succinctly epitomizes the conflict between abstraction and figuration with which many artists of his generation struggled. A decade earlier Henri Matisse had confronted the same issues with works such as The Creole Dancer, his chromatoc tour-de-force now housed in the Musee Matisse in Nice. But unlike the French Master who retained some degree of figuration, Hofmann embraced abstraction in its totality. Hofmann allowed the tensions between the two traditions to play off against each other and in the process discovered a new visual language that challenged the traditions of the past.
Hofmann began his career surrounded and influenced by famous artists — after arriving in Paris in 1904, he frequented the legendary Café du Dôme in the company of artists such as Pablo Picasso, George Braque, George Rouault, and Fernand Leger. Conversely, he would spend his later years teaching and greatly inspiriting impressive artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Alfred Jensen, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. Hofmann is in fact the only New York School artist to have also directly participated in the artistic movements that occurred in Europe in the first two decades of the 20th Century. A prolific teacher who inspired some of the most important Post-War American artists, Hofmann closed his art schools in New York and Provincetown in 1958 and concentrated on his own paintings resulting in some of the most important works of his mature career.
As one of the major figures of Abstract Expressionism, Hans Hofmann represents a crucial bridge between European movements such as Cubism and Fauvism and the new bravura style of American painting. In 1960, Hofmann was at the height of his creative powers, as he refined and distilled his painterly technique and its underlying principles. It is evident in a painting such as Auxerre that Hofmann has formulated a new kind of painterly expression, one in which he incorporates the Cubist structure of overlapping planes in order to indicate depth and surface, as well as adapting the Fauvist daring use of color and tonal contrasts to evoke a sense of pure and unbridled joy.
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'hans hofmann 60' (lower right)
1960s, Paintings, Post War
New York, Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann, March 1961.
Nuremberg, Fränkische Galerie am Marientor; Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein; Berlin, Kongreßhalle and Munich, Städtische Galerie München Lenbachpalais, Hans Hofmann, April 1962-January 1963, no. 71.
City Art Museum of Saint Louis, 200 Years of American Painting, April-May 1964, p. 58 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Smithsonian Institution and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 1976-April 1977, p. 84, no. 44 (illustrated).
Neuberger Museum, State University of New York at Purchase, and Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, The Window in Twentieth-Century Art, September 1986-June 1987, p. 89 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
60 x 52 in. (152.4 x 132.1 cm.)
C. Burrows, "Hofmann Event," New York Herald Tribune, 12 March 1961, p. 19 (illustrated).
I. Sandler, "Reviews and Previews," ARTnews, 60, no. 2, April 1961, p. 10.
W.F., "Bis an die Grenze der Willkür- Ausstellung Hans Hofmann," Die Welt, 20 June 1962.
K. Kuh, The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 1962, p. 127, pl. 57.
S. Hunter, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1963, pl. 121 (illustrated).
E. Epstein, "Art Collection Inspires Wardrobe Colors,"The Sunday Star, 17 October 1965, p. H (installation view illustrated in color).
"Hans Hofmann Retrospective at the Hirshhorn," The Smithsonian Torch, no. 76-10, November 1976, p. 6 (illustrated).
L. Carley, "The Neuberger Review," The LOAD, 1 October 1986, p. 9.
Hans Hofmann: Magnum Opus, exh. cat., Kaiserslautern, MPK Museum Pfalzgalerie, 2013, pp. 139-140.
S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonne´ of Paintings, Vol III (1952-1965), Farnham, 2014, p. 281, cat. no. P1280 (illustrated in color).
Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Lee Ault, New Canaan, Connecticut
Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, New York
Collection of Robert and Mercedes Eichholz, 1965
By descent to the present owner
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