Artist biography

American painter, teacher and theorist of German birth.

Almost all the work produced by Hofmann in Paris was destroyed in World War I. He was visiting Germany when war was declared and was unable to return to France, but for health reasons he was pronounced unfit for service. To support himself he opened his own art school in 1915. He had relatively few pupils during the war, but as his fame spread after 1918 he attracted students from all over the world.

In the 1930s and 1940s Hofmann played an increasingly prominent role in American art, particularly in transmitting modernist theories and new artistic developments. He taught many younger artists who later became established figures. The importance of his own art was for a long time overshadowed by his immense influence as a teacher and theorist, but by the late 1950s he was beginning to be recognised as one of the major figures of Abstract expressionism.

Within a few years, however, Hofmann had developed a highly distinctive form of abstraction based on patches of vivid colour, vigorous gestures and textural contrasts. Although the dense surfaces and impulsive application of paint in his works of the 1950s can be associated with action painting, his work was distinguished by a rigorous concern with pictorial structure, spatial illusion and colour relationships. He is admired for his late paintings in which he placed rectangles of single colours against more loosely painted backgrounds to establish dynamic pictorial relationships as well as a strong surface design.

F. S. Wight: Hans Hofmann (Berkeley, 1957)
C. Greenberg: Hofmann (Paris, 1961)
H. Rosenberg: ‘Hans Hofmann's “Life” Class', Port. & ARTnews Annu., vi (1962), pp. 16–31, 110–15
F. Bultman: ‘The Achievement of Hans Hofmann', ARTnews, lxii (Sept 1963), pp. 43–5, 54–5
S. Hunter: Hans Hofmann (New York, 1963) [incl. five essays by Hofmann]
H. Rosenberg: ‘Hans Hofmann and the Stability of the New', New Yorker, xxxix (2 Nov 1963), pp. 100, 103–5, 108–10
Hans Hofmann (exh. cat. by W. Seitz, New York, MOMA, 1963)
T. Hess: ‘The Mystery of Hans Hofmann', ARTnews, lxiii (Feb 1965), pp. 39, 54–5
I. Sandler: ‘Hans Hofmann: The Pedagogical Master', A. America, lxi (May 1973), pp. 48–57
Hans Hofmann (exh. cat. by W. D. Bannard, Houston, Mus. F.A., 1976)
C. Goodman: ‘Hans Hofmann as Teacher', A. Mag., liii (April 1979), pp. 22–8
——: Hans Hofmann (New York, 1986) [incl. bibliog. and list of Hofmann's writings]
Hans Hofmann: The Late Paintings (exh. cat., intro. J. Hoyland; London, Tate, 1988)


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