Hans Hoffmann (March 21, 1880, Weissenburg, Bavaria – February 17, 1966, New York) was a German-born American artist, a representative of Abstract Expressionism, also known as an art teacher.
His career spanned two generations and two continents, and he is thought to have preceded and influenced Abstract Expressionism. Born and educated on the outskirts of Munich, he was an active participant in the European avant-garde of the early twentieth century and brought with him a deep understanding and synthesis of Symbolism, Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism when he emigrated to the United States in 1932. Hoffmann”s painting is characterized by a strict concern for pictorial structure and unity, spatial illusionism, and the use of bold colors for expressive means. The influential critic Clement Greenberg considered H. Hoffmann”s first solo exhibition in New York at Peggy Guggenheim”s Art of this Century in 1944 (along with the Jackson Pollock exhibition in late 1943) a breakthrough in painting over geometric abstraction that heralded abstract expressionism.
In the decade that followed, G. Hoffmann”s recognition grew through numerous exhibitions, notably at the Kutz Gallery, culminating in major retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1957) and the Museum of Modern Art (1963), which took place throughout the United States, South America and Europe. His work is in the permanent collections of major museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Modern Gallery, the German National Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hans Hoffmann is also considered one of the most influential art teachers of the 20th century. He founded an art school in Munich in 1915 that drew on the ideas and work of Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky and the Cubists; some art historians believe it was the first modern art school in the world. After moving to the United States, he reopened the school in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, until he stepped away from teaching in 1958 to paint full-time. His teaching was a major influence on postwar American avant-garde artists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Nell Blaine, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Louise Berlawski-Nevelson and Larry Rivers, among many others, as well as Greenberg”s theories, which emphasized the medium, the pictorial plane and the unity of the work. Some of H. Hoffmann”s other key tenets include his spatial theories of “repulsion
Hans Hoffmann died of a heart attack in New York City on February 17, 1966, at the age of 85.
Hans Hoffmann was born in Weissenburg, Bavaria, on March 21, 1880, to Theodor Friedrich Hoffmann (1855-1903) and Franziska Manger Hoffmann (1849-1921). In 1886 his family moved to Munich, where his father took a job with the government. From a young age G. Hoffmann was drawn to science and mathematics. At the age of sixteen he followed his father into public service, working for the Bavarian government as assistant director of the Department of Public Works. There he expanded his knowledge of mathematics, eventually developing and patenting devices such as an electromagnetic comptometer, a radar for naval vessels, and a portable freezer for military use. At this time G. Hoffmann also became interested in art, beginning in 1898-1899 to study art with the German artist Moritz Heimann. In 1898 he begins studying painting at a private art school in Munich.
Between 1900 and 1904, Hoffmann met his future wife Maria “Miz” Wolfegg (1885-1963) in Munich and also met Philipp Freudenberg, the owner of the Berlin luxury department store Kaufhaus Gerson and an avid art collector. Freudenberg became a patron of H. Hoffmann over the next decade, allowing him to move and live in Paris with Mies. From 1904 to 1914, right up to the outbreak of the First World War, Hoffmann lived in Paris, where he attended the Académie de la Grand Chaumiere, where Henri Matisse also studied. This was the time of the birth and development of such artistic movements as Fauvism and Cubism, and the young Hoffmann was under their strong influence. At the same time, he meets the artists Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay-Terk in Paris, establishing friendship with them. Hoffmann worked and exhibited in Paris until the beginning of the First World War, creating paintings influenced by the Cubists and Paul Cézanne.
Returning to Germany, was declared unfit for military service due to a respiratory disease, Hoffmann in 1915, he opens an art school in Munich, where, among others, the future head of the Department of Art at the University of California at Berkeley, Worth Ryder, is studying.
At Ryder”s invitation, G. Hoffman visits the United States for the first time in 1930 and stays there forever in 1932. G. Hoffmann and Miz lived apart for six years until she received an immigrant visa to the United States in 1939. He first teaches courses at the Art Students” League and opens his own art school in 1933. Among others, such masters of abstract art as Ray Ames, Allan Kaprow and Lee Krasner studied under Hoffmann.
In 1941 G. Hoffmann became an American citizen. At this time his works attracted increasing attention and recognition from critics, art dealers and museums.
In 1942, Lee Krasner introduced the teacher to her husband, the artist Jackson Pollock, who helped Hoffmann organize his first solo exhibition in 1944 at the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery. From 1935 onwards abstract tendencies became more and more apparent in the artist”s work.
In 1946 G. Hoffmann exhibited at the Mortimer Brand Gallery. Art critic Robert Coates, who reviewed the exhibition in The New Yorker magazine, invents the term “abstract expressionism” to describe what he sees. At the same time, Hoffmann”s work differs from the paintings of other classics of abstract expressionism such as Adolf Gottlieb, Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko, which Hoffmann found “tragic and timeless. Hoffmann, on the other hand, was a “hedonist of abstract expressionism,” as Irving Sandler called him. Curiously, Sandler also calls A. Matisse, Hoffmann”s fellow student in Paris, a “hedonist.
In 1947 the artist takes part – together with Theodoros Stamos, Ed Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Clifford Steele – in the group exhibition The Ideographic Picture organized by B. Newman. Newman at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
In 1948 G. Hoffmann publishes his theoretical work, an essay entitled “The Search for Reality in Fine Art.
In 1958, after more than 40 years of teaching, including at the prestigious art schools of New York and Princeton (Massachusetts), the artist left teaching and devoted himself entirely to painting in order to concentrate on painting, which led to the late blossoming of his creativity (at the age of seventy-eight).
In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a retrospective exhibition of Hans Hoffmann”s work. That same year, Miz Hoffmann, his partner and wife for over sixty years, passed away after an operation.
Two years later, Hoffman married Renate Schmitz, who remained with him until his death from a heart attack in New York City on February 17, 1966, shortly before his 86th birthday.
Hoffmann”s art, in general, is characterized by a strict concern for pictorial structure and unity, the development of spatial illusion through the “attraction and repulsion” of color, form, and placement, and the use of bold, often single primary color for expressive means. In the first decades of the century he painted in a modernist, though still identifiable pictorial style, creating landscapes, still lifes and portraits, largely influenced by Cubism and Paul Cézanne in terms of form and Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh in terms of color.
Г. Hoffmann began a long period focusing exclusively on drawing sometime in the 1920s, returning to painting in 1935. By 1940, however, he had begun to paint entirely abstract works, such as Spring, a small oil painting on a “drop” panel. Art historians describe this work and others such as Wind (1942), Fantasia (1943) and Sizzle (1944) in terms of their “painterly attacks,” sharp contrasts, intense color and gestural spontaneity, as “records of the artist”s intense experience” with paints, color and processes that were arbitrary, casual and direct as well as intentional. These works demonstrate H. Hoffmann”s early stylistic experimentation with techniques that would later be called “action painting,” which made Pollock and others famous by the end of the decade. H. Hoffmann believed that abstract art was a way to get at an important reality, once stating that “the ability to simplify means eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.
G. Hoffman”s work in the 1940s was supported by several key figures who ushered in a new era of growing influence for art dealers and galleries, including Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Parsons and Samuel M. Kutz. His first solo exhibition in New York at the Guggenheim Gallery, “The Art of This Century,” in 1944 received positive reviews in the New York Times, ARTnews and Arts Digest. That same year G. Hoffman was featured in a solo exhibition at the Art Club of Chicago and in two key group exhibitions of abstract and surrealist art in the United States, curated by Sidney Janis and Parsons. In reviewing H. Hoffmann”s exhibition in 1945, Greenberg wrote: “Hoffmann has become a force to be reckoned with both in practice and in the interpretation of contemporary art. Not all critics were unanimous in their praise; for example, Robert Coates, one of the first to call the new works “abstract expressionism,” in a 1946 review of Hoffmann”s work, expressed a skeptical attitude toward the “splashes and smears” style of painting In 1947 Hoffmann Hoffmann began exhibiting annually at the Kutz Gallery in New York City (and did so every year until 1966, except in 1948, when the gallery temporarily closed), and continued to receive acclaim over the next decade.
In the later period G. Hoffmann often worked less gesturally, producing works such as Gates (1959-60), Pompeii (1959) or To Miz – Pax Vobiscum (memorial 1964 after Miz”s death), which were weakly devoted to architectural volumes and were sometimes called his “paintings on slabs”. In these works he used rectangles of sensuous colors that reinforced the form of his consistent format of easel painting and sometimes suggested a modular logic, but escaped definitive understanding through areas of modular paint and irregular shapes.
In 1957, the Whitney Museum exhibited a major retrospective of Hoffmann, which within the next year visited seven other museums in the United States. In his review of the retrospective, critic Harold Rosenberg wrote: “No American artist has been able to organize an exhibition with more diversity than Hans Hoffmann. In 1960 G. Hoffmann was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale along with Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Theodor Roszak.
In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art presented a full-scale retrospective organized by William Seitz, with a catalog including excerpts from Hoffmann”s works. Over the next two years, the exhibition traveled to five other locations in the United States, to museums in Buenos Aires and Caracas, and finally to five museums in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
Posthumous retrospectives of Hoffmann”s work include exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum (1976), the Whitney Museum (1990) and the Tate Gallery in London (“Hans Hoffmann: Late Paintings,” 1988), curated by British artist John Hoyland. D. Hoyland first became acquainted with the works of Hoffmann during his first visit to New York in 1964 in the company of Clement Greenberg and was immediately impressed.
Г. Hoffmann was known not only as an artist but also as an art teacher, both in his native Germany and later in the United States. His value as a teacher lay in the consistency and uncompromising rigor of his artistic standards and his ability to teach the fundamental principles of postwar abstraction to a wide variety of students. He founded his first school of fine art in Munich in 1915, drawing on the ideas and works of Paul Cézanne, the Cubists and Wassily Kandinsky. His practical teaching methods included constant discussion of art theory, sessions of drawing from life, and regular criticism of Hoffmann himself, which was rare at the Academy. By the mid-1920s he had developed a reputation as an advanced teacher and attracted an international community of students seeking more avant-garde instruction, including Alf Beyerle, Alfred Jensen, Louise Nevelson, Wolfgang Paalen, and Wart Ryder. G. Hoffmann directed the school, including summer sessions held throughout Germany as well as in Austria, Croatia, Italy, and France, until he emigrated to the United States in 1932.
In the United States he first taught a summer session at the University of California at Berkeley in 1930 at the invitation of a former student, Worth Ryder, who was then a member of the art faculty. The following year he taught again at Berkeley and at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles before returning to Germany. After moving to New York, he began teaching at the Art Students League of New York in 1933. By 1934, H. Hoffman had opened his own schools in New York City and in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Many famous artists studied under him, including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Ray Eames, Larry Rivers, Allan Kaprow, Red Grooms, Nell Blaine, Irene Rice Pereira, Jerome Kamrowski, Fritz Bultman, Israel Levitan, Robert De Niro Sr., Jane Freilicher, Wolf Kahn, Marisol Escobar, Burgoyne Diller, James Gahagan, Richard Stankevich, Linda Lindeberg, Lillian Orlowski, Louise Mattiasdottir and Nina Tryggvadottir. Among his students was Beulah Stevenson, longtime curator of the Brooklyn Museum. In 1958 G. Hoffman closed his schools to devote himself exclusively to his own art. In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a traveling exhibition, Hans Hoffmann and His Students, which included 58 works by 51 artists.
Although he is credited with teaching a number of the most gifted women artists of the period – at a time when they were still quite rare – H. Hoffmann is sometimes described as displaying a “straightforward male chauvinist attitude. Lee Krasner, who remained his student, compared some of his criticisms to the backhanded praise often received by female artists (e.g., “so good you”d never know it was done by a woman!”). Sculptor Lila Katzen recounted that he told her that “”only men have wings for art.
H. Hoffmann”s influential writings on contemporary art were collected in The Search for the Real and Other Essays (1948), which included his musings on spatial theories of “repulsion
Г. Hoffmann was convinced of the spiritual and social value of art. In 1932 he wrote: “Providing guidance from teachers and supporting developing artists is a national duty, an insurance of spiritual solidarity. What we do for art, we do for ourselves, for our children and for the future.”
H. Hoffman”s works are in the permanent collections of many major museums in the United States and around the world, including: The University of California Berkeley Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Seattle Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (Munich), Museum of Modern Art (Barcelona), Tate Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto). G. Hoffmann also designed a public project, a colorful mural located at the entrance to the Graduate School of Graphic Communication Arts, located in the Hell”s Kitchen district of Manhattan.
At a 2015 Christie”s auction in New York, H. Hoffmann”s painting “Auxerre” (1960), inspired by the vast stained glass windows of Catedral Saint-Etienne in France, reached a world auction record for the artist of $6,325,000.
When H. Hoffmann died on February 17, 1966, his widow, Renate Hoffmann, administered his estate. After Renate”s death in 1992, the New York Daily News published an article entitled “From Caviar to Cat Food,” which detailed the “sad and painful story” of Hoffmann”s widow. The article claimed that Renata”s court-appointed guardians “milked her property for more than a decade” and allowed the mentally unstable Renata to live “with her cats and alcohol in a garbage-strewn oceanfront home.” Under threat of prosecution, the original executor of G. Hoffman”s estate, Robert Warshaw, succeeded in having the negligent guardians pay $8.7 million for “extreme pain and suffering.”
According to Renate Hoffmann”s will, the Renate, Hans and Maria Hoffmann Foundation was formally established with R. Warshaw as its head. The Foundation”s mission is “to promote the study and understanding of the extraordinary life and work of Hans Hoffmann” and to achieve these goals “through exhibitions, publications, and educational events and programs dedicated to Hans Hoffmann” as well as a catalog of H. Hoffmann. The copyright representative in the United States for the Renate, Hans and Maria Hoffmann Foundation is the Artists” Rights Society.