This work will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné, sponsored by the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust.
"It was a day as gray and grim as my mood, but we passed the Richard Gray Gallery, I caught a glimpse of a painting hanging in the window. The vivid hot colors were like a burst of sunshine piercing the drizzle and murk. I asked my driver to stop and back up, and then I went into the gallery for a closer look. I had never heard of the artist, Hans Hofmann, but I fell in love with the painting, Beatae Memoriae, an abstract with broad slabs of bright color that had caught my eye. I bought it but I would never sell it. Forty years later I still love it, and if the house was burning down, it would be the first painting I'd try to save."
An embodiment of the virtuosity of Hans Hofmann's manners and rhythmic fluctuations, Beatae Memoriae is, as its title suggests, "of blessed memory." Executed at the pinnacle of Hofmann's prolific career, a few years after his triumphant return from representing the United States at the 13th Venice Biennale, Beatae Memoriae, with its vivid hot colors, speaks of a protean individuality as well as the desire to share that distinctiveness in the passionate search for certain underlying principles that would propel modern art forward. Purchased almost by chance, Beatae Memoriae is a testament to the collector's keen eye as well as the painting's standalone magnificence. "I was a delegate from California for Bobby Kennedy. I was coming back from the convention driving down Michigan Boulevard and I saw this wonderful painting in the window," Andy Williams explained. "Brilliant red and green and I just loved it and I didn't know anything about it. And I stopped at Richard Gray Gallery and I said, 'How much is it?' And he told me how much it was and I asked him if it was a good painter and he said, 'Yes, it's a great painter. Hans Hofmann.' I had no idea but I bought it!" (A. Williams, interviewed by J.P. Engelen, New York, 2010). Having spent the past three decades in Andy William's private collection, Beatae Memoriae emerges as a profoundly important work that brilliantly manifests the philosophy of Hans Hofmann--painter, theorist, and teacher.
With its expressive Latin title, Beatae Memoriae is a magnificent example of Hofmann's late paintings, and is rightly seen as a culmination of decades of investigations and theorization leading the genealogy of modern art in new and ingenious directions. For Hofmann, the subject matter and the associated emotions determined not only the particulars of the painting's surface, texture and color, but also the title. Here, as though looking back through his long artistic journey, blissfully immersed in his memories, Hofmann self-reflexively dips back into his own artistic vocabulary and rediscovers elements of his earlier innovations with new relevance to his current work. "My paintings are always images of my whole psychic makeup," Hofmann wrote in 1960. "I've also been asked, what do you want to convey? And I say, nothing but my own nature ... I am nothing but an optimist" (H. Hofmann, quoted in D. Ashton (ed.), Twentieth Century Artists on Art, New York, 1985, p. 217). With its stacked, overlapping and floating rectangles, vibrant saturated hues, and narrow in between passages, this extraordinary late painting gloriously embodies what Hofmann had first explored as an artist over six decades earlier and exemplifies his masterful handling of the palette knife and pigment. In Beatae Memoriae, Hofmann combines gestural strokes with drips and thick, staccato paint to create a mosaic of polychromatic textures that emerge and recede, making color swirl within the composition. Not through modeling, but rather calculated contrasts of color, shape, and surface, Hofmann achieves volume and depth in these late compositions. "Depth, in a pictorial, plastic sense, is not created by the arrangement of objects one after another toward a vanishing point, in the sense of the Renaissance perspective," he remarked, "but on the contrary ... by the creation of forces in the sense of push and pull" (H. Hofmann, "The Search for the Real in the Visual Arts," in J. Yohe (ed.), Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 46).
Encapsulating this distinctive push and pull technique of implying space while asserting the primacy of the flat canvas, Beatae Memoriae 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. Hofmann likened these formal and chromatic tensions to the complex symphonic relationships between musical sounds. Finding an unparalleled delight in the physical act of painting, Hofmann approached his work as a magical experience that's product evoked a certain mood, sensibility, as well as a fusion of stillness and maelstrom of energies. "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).
First introduced to Hofmann's work in 1956, the rectangle emerged as his signature compositional element and the principle spatial organizer of these late canvases, thus resulting in their recognition as the hallmark of Hofmann's style. Following Braque's example, Hofmann employed a method of preparing his paintings using rectangles of colored paper pinned to the canvas to ensure the success of his attempts to organize geometric planes and color relations. Close examination of many of his pictures with rectangular components often reveal these tack marks. "The very fact that it teeters on the edge of a kind of art like Mondrian's is one of the things that gives it its climactic quality," Greenberg wrote of Hofmann's new painting style in this period, "that sums up the realizations of a whole epic of modernist art, and at the same time points toward the next one" (C. Greenberg, Hofmann, Paris, 1961, p. 38).
Painted two years before the artist's death, Beatae Memoriae encapsulates the memory of the visual profoundness and influence of its maker. Capturing the attention and support of one of the most powerful and prominent art historians and critics of the twentieth century, Clement Greenberg, Hans Hofmann was lauded as "the most important art teacher of our time" (C. Greenberg, quoted in C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, p. 9). Greenberg even went so far as to remark that he personally owed "more to the illumination received from Hofmann's lectures than from any other source," and that he found "the same quality in his paintings." Three years before Beatae Memoriae was painted, Greenberg pronounced: "Hofmann's name continues to be the one that springs to mind when asked who, among all recent painters in this country, deserves most to be called a master in the full sense of the word" (Ibid.).
Oil on canvas
Andy Williams: An American Legend
Signed and dated 'hans hofmann 64' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again 'beatae memoriae (of blessed memory) 1964 hans hofmann' (on the reverse)
Hans Hofmann , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Hans Hofmann, January-February 1967.
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Paintings, January-March 1968.
New York and Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery; Richard Gray Gallery: Forty Years, May-October 2003.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm.)
H. Rosenberg, "Homage to Hans Hofmann," ARTnews, January 1967, p. 49 (illustrated).
S. Stark Morrow, "Architectural Digest Visits: Andy Williams," Architectural Digest, September 1978, p. 126 (illustrated in color).
C. Ratcliff, "Architectural Digest Visits: Andy Williams," Architectural Digest, July 1987, p. 40 (illustrated in color).
A. Williams, Moon River and Me: A Memoir, New York, 2009, pp. 217 and 274.
Kootz Gallery, New York
Susan and David Workman, New York, 1964
Kootz Gallery, New York, 1966
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, 1968
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1968