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Hans Hofmann papers, circa 1904-2011

Biographical Note

German-born Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), a leading figure of the 20th century art world, was the first painter to be called an Abstract Expressionist. An esteemed and influential teacher, Hofmann operated his own school in Munich and later in New York City and Provincetown, Mass. He wrote extensively on theoretical aspects of modern art, and about himself as an artist and teacher, and was in demand as a speaker. Hofmann alternated among a variety of styles and techniques throughout his career. Many paintings combine Fauve-inspired color and Cubist structure; influenced by the Surrealist's automatism, much of Hofmann's abstract work often uses poured and spattered paint.
Johann (Hans) Georg Albert Hofmann showed musical and artistic talent as a boy and excelled in the study of science and mathematics. Technical knowledge acquired through working as assistant to the Director of Public Works of the State of Bavaria enabled him, while still a teenager, to invent several mechanical devices. Hofmann attended Moritz Heymann's Munich art school in 1898. Willi Schwarz, one of his teachers during this period, introduced him to Impressionism, and by visiting galleries Hofmann's awareness of contemporary art movements expanded. Schwarz also introduced him to art collector Phillip Freudenberg whose patronage made a move to Paris possible.
Hofmann arrived in Paris in 1904 and began attending evening sketch classes at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie de la Chaumière where Matisse was among his fellow students. During his 10 years in Paris, Hofmann established a close friendship with Robert Delaunay and met Braque, Arthur B. Carles, Léger, Picasso, and Leo Stein. He painted Cubist landscapes, still lifes, and figure studies, and participated in group shows with Neue Sezessions, Berlin, 1908 and 1909. In 1910, the Paul Cassierer Gallery, Berlin, presented Hofmann's first solo exhibition.
When World War I broke out, Hofmann was visiting Germany. War conditions prevented his return to Paris and terminated Freudenberg's financial assistance. Disqualified for military service due to a lung condition, Hofmann decided to earn his living by teaching. The Hans Hofmann Schule für Bildende Kunst in Munich opened in 1915 and was a success from its earliest days. Beginning in 1917, summer courses were offered in locations such as Italy, France, Bavaria, and Dalmatia. After the war, Hofmann's school began to attract American students including Carl Holty, Alfred Jensen, Louise Nevelson, Worth Ryder, Vaclav Vytlacil, and Glenn Wessels.
Hofmann first came to the United States in 1930, when former student Worth Ryder, art department chairman at the University of California, Berkeley, invited him to teach the summer session at Berkeley. He returned to California the following year, teaching a semester at the Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles, followed by another summer session at Berkeley. Hofmann moved to New York in 1932 because of the political situation at home and at the urging of his wife, who was to remain in Germany until 1939.
While Hofmann served as guest instructor at the Thurn School of Art, Gloucester, Mass., during the summers of 1932 and 1933, his Munich school offered summer sessions taught by Edmund Daniel Kinzinger. Its 1933 prospectus noted, "Mr. Hofmann will probably conduct the summer school personally..." But he did not return, and the school closed in the fall of 1933.
Hofmann taught at Art Students League in the fall of 1932. The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts opened in New York City in the autumn of 1933, operating in several locations before moving to permanent quarters at 52 West 8th Street in 1938. He established the summer school at Provincetown, Mass. in 1934. Firsthand knowledge of Picasso, Matisse, and european modern art trends, along with his theories and the freedom he offered students, made Hofmann a widely admired, influential, and important teacher. Among his students were: Burgoyne Diller, Ray Eames, Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Harry Holtzman, Allen Kaprow, Lillian Kiesler, Lee Krasner, George McNeil, Irene Rice Pereira, and Richard Stankiewicz. In addition, art critic Clement Greenberg was significantly influenced by Hofmann's lectures on artistic theory. Both schools flourished until Hofmann decided to close them in 1958; after teaching for 43 consecutive years, he wanted to paint full-time.
In his writings, Hofmann expanded on theories regarding form, color, and space developed during his years in Paris. His most important text, Das Malerbuch: Form und Farbe in Gestaltung, based on notes begun in Paris circa 1904, was written during his second summer at Berkeley, 1931. That same year, Glenn Wessels translated it into English as Creation in Form and Color. Although Hofmann produced additional notes and revisions over the next two decades, the manuscript remains unpublished. Hofmann wrote essays and articles, many of which were published. A collection of Hofmann's writings, Search for the Real and Other Essays, was published in conjunction with his 1948 retrospective exhibition at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Mass., the first solo show of an Abstract Expressionist to be organized by a museum. Other published and unpublished articles, essays, and shorter writings that elucidate his theoretical concerns include: "The Mystification of the Two- and Three-Dimensional in the Visual Arts," 1946; "Pictorial Function of Colours," 1950; "Space Pictorially Realized Through the Intrinsic Faculty of the Colours to Express Volume," 1951; "The Color Problem in Pure painting-Its Creative Origin," 1955; "The Creative Process-Its Physical and Metaphysical Performing," 1956; "Nature as Experience and Its Pictorial Realization," undated; and "Pure Colour Space," undated.
Hofmann's lectures to his own students, and talks presented to art groups and the general public addressed many of the same themes. He gave his first American lecture in 1930 at the University of Minnesota, and presented talks to a variety of groups while in California. Hofmann was a frequent speaker at the Provincetown Art Association, and participated in the "Forum 49" series he helped to organize at Gallery 200 in Provincetown, 1949.
In the last decade of his life, Hofmann produced a large number of paintings. He was represented in the XXX Venice Biennale, 1960, and major retrospective exhibitions were organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1957, and the Museum of Modern Art, 1963. In 1963, he made a gift of 45 paintings to the University of California, Berkeley, and funded construction of a wing to house them in the soon-to-be-built University Art Museum. Hans Hofmann died in New York City on Feb. 17, 1966.
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Hans Hofmann is born in Weissenburg, Bavaria, on 21 March, the son of Theodor and Franziska Hofmann.
The family moves to Munich, where Theodor becomes a government official. Hans studies mathematics, science, and music at the gymnasium. He plays the violin, piano and organ and begins to draw.
With his father's help, finds a position as assistant to the director of public works of the State of Bavaria. Develops his technical knowledge of mathematics, resulting in several scientific inventions, including an electromagnetic comptometer.
Studies with Willi Schwarz at Moritz Heymann's art school in Munich, where he is introduced to Impressionism.
Meets Maria (Miz) Wolfegg, his future wife.
Through Willi Schwarz, he meets the nephew of a Berlin collector, Philipp Freudenberg, who becomes his patron from 1904-1914 and enables him to live in Paris.
Frequents the Café du Dome, a haunt of artists and writers, with Jules Pascin, a friend from Moritz Heymann's school. Miz joins him in Paris. Attends evening sketch class at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. Meets Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse.
Exhibits with the Neue Sezession in Berlin and again in 1909. Miz designs scarves with Sonia Delaunay (then Sonia Uhde).
First one-person exhibition held at Paul Cassirer Gallery, Berlin. Meets Robert Delaunay, with whom he designs patterns for Sonia Delaunay's Cubist fashions. During their close friendship, both men develop as colorists.
Hans and Miz leave Paris for Corsica so that Hans can regain his health during a bout of what turned out to be tuberculosis. Called to Germany by the illness of his sister Rosa, they are caught on the Tegernsee by the outbreak of World War I.
Disqualified for the army due to the after effects of his lung condition, and with the assistance of Freudenberg terminated by the war, Hofmann decides to earn a living teaching. In the spring, he opens the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts at 40 Georgenstrasse, Munich.
After the war his school becomes known abroad and attracts foreign students such as Worth Ryder, Glenn Wessels, Louise Nevelson, Vaclav Vytlacil, Carl Holty, Alfred Jensen, and Ludwig Sander. Holds summer session at Tegernsee, Bavaria (1922), Ragusa (1924), Capri (1925-1927), St. Tropez (1928-1929). Makes frequent trips to Paris. Has little time to paint but draws continually.
Marries Miz Wolfegg on 5 June.
A series of his drawings is reproduced by a photographic process known as Lichtdrucke.
At the invitation of Worth Ryder, teaches in a summer session at the University of California, Berkeley, where Ryder is chairman of the Department of Art. Returns to Munich for the winter.
In the spring, teaches at the Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles, and again at Berkeley in the summer. Wessels helps him with the first translation of his book Form und Farbe in der Gestaltung, begun in 1904. Exhibits a series of drawings at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, his first show in the United States.
Returns to the Chouinard School of Art in the summer. Advised by Miz not to return to Munich because of a growing political hostility to intellectuals, settles in New York. Vaclav Vytlacil helps arrange a teaching position for him at the Art Students League.
Summer sessions at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts continue in St. Tropez (1932) and Murnau (1933), taught by Edmund Daniel Kinzinger. The school closes in the fall of 1933, and Miz gives up the lease in 1936.
Spends the summer as guest instructor at the Thurn School of Art in Gloucester, Mass. In the fall, opens the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts at 444 Madison Avenue in New York. After a prolonged period of drawing, begins to paint again.
Upon the expiration of his visa, travels to Bermuda to return with a permanent visa. Opens a summer school in Provincetown, Mass. The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts opens at 137 East 57th Street in New York. In 1936, the Hofmann School moves to 52 West 9th Street.
The Hofmann School moves to 52 West 8th Street. A planned European summer session (traveling to Paris, the Cote d'Azure, Italy, and Capri) is called off after Hitler moves into Austria in the Spring. Delivers a lecture series once a month at the school in the winter of 1938-39, which is attend by the vanguard of the New York art world, including Arshile Gorky and Clement Greenberg.
Miz Hofmann arrives in America. After a stay in New Orleans, joins her husband in Provincetown. They spend five months each summer in Provincetown and the rest of the year in New York.
Becomes an American citizen. Delivers an address at the annual meeting of the American Abstract Artists at the Riverside Museum. One-person exhibition at the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans.
Hofmann's former student Lee Krasner introduces him to Jackson Pollock.
First exhibition in New York at Art of This Century Gallery, arranged by Peggy Guggenheim. "Hans Hofmann, Paintings, 1941-1944" opens at the Arts Club in Chicago and travels on to the Milwaukee Art Institute in January 1945. Howard Putzel includes Hofmann in "Forty American Moderns" at 67 Gallery, New York. He is also included in "Abstract and Surrealist Art in America" at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York (arranged by Sidney Janis in conjunction with publication of Janis's book of the same title).
Exhibitions at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, in Pittsburgh, and at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. The Texas show travels to Denton, Tex.; Norman, Okla.; and Memphis, Tenn. Begins to exhibit with the Kootz Gallery in New York. Kootz holds a one-person show of Hofmann's work each year until his death (with the exception of 1948 and 1956).
Retrospective exhibition a the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass., in conjunction with publication of his book, Search For the Real and Other Essays.
Travels to Paris to attend the opening of his exhibition at the Galerie Maeght and visits the studios of Picassso, Braque, Constantin Brancusi, and Joan Miro. Helps Fritz Bultman and Weldon Kees organize Forum 49, a summer series of lectures, panels, and exhibitions at Gallery 200 in Provincetown.
Participates in a three-day symposium at Studio 35 in New York with William Baziotes, James Brooks, Willem de Kooning, Herbert Ferber, Theodoros Stamos, David Smith, and Bradley Walker Tomlin. Joins the "Irascibles"-a group of Abstract Expressionists-in an open letter protesting the exclusion of the avant-garde from an upcoming exhibition of American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Juries the 60th Annual Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago with Aline Louchheim and Peter Blume.
One-person exhibition held at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Designs mosaic murals for the lobby of the new William Kaufmann Building, architect William Lescaze, at 711 Third Avenue, New York. Retrospective held at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia.
Retrospective exhibitions held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which then travel to Des Moines, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Utica, and Baltimore.
Hofmann ceases teaching to devote himself full time to painting. He moves his studio into the New York and Provincetown schools. Completes a mosaic mural for the exterior of the New York School of Printing (Kelley and Gruzen, architects) at 439 West 49th Street.
Represents the United States with Philip Guston, Franz Kline, and Theodore Roszak at the XXX Venice Biennale.
Retrospective exhibition opens in Germany at the Frankische Galerie am Marientor, Nuremberg, and travels to the Kolnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, and the Kongreilhalle, Berlin. In Munich, Neue Galerie im Kunstlerhaus presents "Oils on Paper, 1961-1962." Awarded an honorary membership in the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Nuremberg and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Dartmouth College in Hanover, N. H.
Miz Hofmann dies. Retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art organized by William Seitz travels throughout the United States and internationally to locations in South America and Europe, including Stuttgart, Hamburg, and Bielefeld. Signs a historic agreement to donate 45 paintings to the University of California at Berkeley and to fund the construction of a gallery in his honor at the new university museum, then in the planning stage. The exhibition "Hans Hofmann and His Students," organized by the Museum of Modern Art, circulates in the United States and Canada.
Awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Serves on the jury for the 1964 Solomon Guggenheim International Award. Becomes a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York. Renate Schmitz inspires the Renate series.
Awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Pratt Institute, New York. Marries Renate Schmitz on 14 October.
Hans Hofmann dies on 17 February in New York.