Hans Hofmann

Art on This Day


Hans Hofmann, renowned Abstract Expressionist and accomplished teacher, was born on this day in 1880.


As a native German, he started his art education by attending institutions in Munich. In 1904 he moved to Paris, where he was introduced to fellow artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque during the time he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. Works from that period were exhibited at Hofmann's first solo show in Berlin at the Galerie Paul Cassirer in 1910. At that time he also met Henri Matisse and Robert Delaunay, who are believed to ignite his interest in the experiments with colors. Their influence as well as the Cubist’s approach to forms resulted in the artist’s unique theory now known as “push and pull’’. Its ideas revolved around creating pictorial space and relationships between different aspects of an artwork such as colours and forms. 


On the verge of World War I, Hofmann returned to Munich and focused more on pursuing his career as a teacher. In 1915 he founded an art school on his own. The initial idea was to create a progressive place for young, promising artists to gain experience working in a studio. Although the school had been thriving for more than 15 years, Hofmann decided to close it and relocate to the United States permanently. After finally settling in New York in 1932, he began conducting evening classes at an innovative school called Art Students League. Lee Krasner and Ray Eames number among most prominent students learning under his tutelage. 


Hofmann’s abstract compositions stand out due to their vibrancy, richness of colours and boldness of contrasts – the best examples are To Miz - Pax Vobiscum (1964) and The Golden Wall (1961). Surprisingly, his definite turn to complete abstraction dates back to the early 1940s. From that moment on, he relentlessly experimented with different techniques. This exploration is best illustrated by works such as Fantasia (1943) or The Wind (1944), containing visible paint “drips’’, later popularised by Jackson Pollock. His multiple solo exhibitions and travelling retrospectives were organized by some of the most influential organisations such as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (in 1957 and 1990) and his works are in the collections of more than 100 museums around the world.



What is more, he was a successful writer, as he produced several essays expressing his own theory, which are still relevant to modern debates on art e.g. “The Colour Problem in Pure Painting—Its Creative Origin. ’’