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    Description

    Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
    Pink Phantasie, 1950
    Oil on panel
    14-1/4 x 20-1/4 inches (36.2 x 51.4 cm)
    Signed lower right: hans hofmann
    Inscribed verso: Cat. 1091 / 1090

    PROVENANCE:
    Estate of the artist, 1966-1974, (Estate no. M-0051);
    André Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1974;
    Private collection, acquired from the above, 1974.

    EXHIBITED:
    Kootz Gallery, New York, "Hans Hofmann: New Paintings," October 24-November 13, 1950;
    Fine Arts Committee of the Great Neck Education Association, Great Neck, New York, "Art in America: 20th Century," March 1-14, 1953;
    H.C. Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts, "Hans Hofmann," July 26-August 8, 1955;
    Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida, "Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective," November 1, 2003-March 21, 2004;
    The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, "Hans Hofmann: Circa 1950," January 2009-October 17, 2010.

    LITERATURE:
    Kootz Gallery, Hans Hofmann: New Paintings, New York, 1950, cat. no. 1 (as Pink Fantasy);
    Fine Arts Committee of the Great Neck Education Association, Art in America: 20th Century, 1953, cat. no. 22 (as Pink Fantasy);
    Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, Modern Masters Series 10, Abbeville Press, New York, 1986, p. 65;
    Naples Museum of Art, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective, 2003, cat. no. 24, illustrated in color (as Pink Fantasy);
    The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Hans Hofmann: Circa 1950, 2009, pp. 107 & 142, illustrated in color;
    Boulanger, Art New England, 2009, p. 55;
    Suzi Villiger, Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume II: Catalogue Entries P1-P846 (1901-1951), Lund Humphries, Burlington, Vermont, 2014, cat. no. P771, p. 472.

    Like his painting Pink Phantasie, Hans Hofmann the artist was colorful, exuberant, inventive, and hard to categorize, at various times in his long career called an Expressionist, neo-Cubist, Surrealist, the leader of the New York vanguard, the Father of Abstract Expressionism, and the "best art teacher of the twentieth century" (F. Stella in B. Buhlmann, ed., Hans Hofmann: Magnum Opus, Germany, p. 26). Paris in the early 1900s provided the German-born Hofmann with a strong foundation in Fauvism and Cubism; he met Henri Matisse at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and palled around with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and André Derain, all regulars at the famed Café du Dome. During World War I, Hofmann returned to Munich, where he befriended abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky and opened his first art school, a center for European avant-garde experimentation. His reputation as a charismatic teacher followed him to the United States, his new home beginning in the 1930s; after teaching at New York's Art Students League, he founded his own Hofmann School of Fine Arts in New York, as well as a summer academy in Provincetown, Massachusetts, both meccas for Abstract Expressionism during the 1940s and '50s that attracted the likes of Helen Frankenthaler, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson, and Red Grooms. It wasn't until the end of his career that Hofmann, who had purposefully defied definition by any art movement, became lauded for his abstract "Slab" paintings - rectangles of vibrant colors pulsing atop viscous tapestries of paint.

    Hofmann painted Pink Phantasie in 1950 at age seventy, a critical moment for him in terms of artistic development and gallery promotion. During the late 1940s, he had been increasingly moving toward pure abstraction, discarding the Matisse-ian Provincetown interiors and Surrealist biomorphic creatures of his early 1940s canvases. Impressed by Hofmann's new boldly hued, vigorously painted abstractions, the New York gallerist Samuel L. Kootz, famous for representing Picasso, scandalously wooed Hofmann away from his dealer, Betty Parsons, and organized for him a successful one-man show in 1947, an exhibition at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1949, and annual New York shows from 1949-66.

    Kootz helped put Hofmann on the map in 1950 as a leading figure in the American vanguard. In April, Hofmann participated in a three-day symposium in New York, "Sessions at Studio 35," which gathered over a dozen Abstract Expressionists, later dubbed "The Irascibles," including Willem de Kooning, Adoph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, and Ad Reinhardt, and culminated in their writing a protest letter to the director the Metropolitan Museum of Art for shunning contemporary art in the exhibition American Painting Today. In August, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum featured Hofmann along with such abstractionists as William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Reinhardt, and Mark Rothko in Post-Abstract Painting 1950-France and America, "the most radical . . . show of contemporary art in America since the 1913 Armory Show" (J. Rush and C. Morris, ed., Hans Hofmann Circa 1950, Waltham, Massachusetts, 2008, p. 10). In October, Kootz opened a novel collaborative exhibit spotlighting Hofmann, The Muralist and the Architect, in which paired artists and architects-Gottlieb with Marcel Breuer, Baziotes with Philip Johnson, Motherwell with Walter Gropius, and Hofmann with Jose Luis Sert and Paul Lester Weiner--designed mural studies for a bell tower and plaza in Chimbote, Peru. Although the "Chimbote Project" was never realized, Hofmann's nine oil studies, mosaics of gestural brushwork, vivid colors, and geometric shapes, visualize the abandoned joy of his newfound abstraction.

    During this period as he embraced pure abstraction, Hofmann was also revising his writings on painting technique for his texts Search for the Real: And Other Essays (1948) and The Painter and His Problems (updated 1948). His most impactful theoretical concept was that of "push and pull," the dynamic relationship of pictorial elements that simultaneously asserted the flatness of the canvas and the illusion of space. For Hofmann, counterbalanced colors, values, and textures, as well as overlapping shapes, were the major agents in achieving this pull-and-pull tension. In Pink Phantasie, for instance, energized, sweeping brushstrokes of pale and hot pink ground more concentrated, lava-like encrustations of goldenrod-white, sky blue-pink, and forest green-magenta. Further enlivening this pink confection are broad striated lines of paint: an orange-red border framing the left half of the painting and, its counterpoint, a turquoise whiplash curve dominating the right half. Two rounded shapes in diagonal corners-an orange-pink-delineated one in the lower left, filled predominantly with warm tangerine and lemon strokes, and the turquoise-delineated one in the upper right, accented with cool cobalt passages--stabilize the composition structurally and chromatically. So, too, do the strategically placed three magenta "dots" near the right side, whose weightiness anchors the overall movement. Such pictorial opposites effect a vibrating optical sensation forcing the brain to shift between surface and depth, containment and openness.

    In its celebration of push and pull, Pink Phantasie points to one of the greatest influences on Hofmann, the Russian-born "father of abstraction," Wassily Kandinsky. Both men were brilliant theoreticians and teachers, as well as pioneers of abstraction. Upon meeting Kandinsky in Munich in 1914, Hofmann was immediately taken with his literary magnum opus, On the Spiritual in Art, in which Kandinsky posited that it is the goal of the artist to juxtapose colors and forms stemming from a unique "internal necessity," or "vibration of the soul"; paradoxically, only then can a harmonious composition emerge. Like Kandinsky, Hofmann taught that form and color were inter-dependent and that they were manifestations not of an objective reality, but of the artist's subjective vision, or spirituality. The art historian Karen Wilkin points out that "although [Hofmann] never attached as specific associations to shapes, colors and lines as Kandinsky did in his theoretical treatises, . . . it is plain from the swirling, loose-edged abstract images that recur throughout Hofmann's oeuvre, some overlaid with swirling whiplash lines, that he was thoroughly familiar with Kandinsksy's dynamic, lyrical abstractions of the period between 1910 and 1914. Hofmann, in fact, owned several Kandinskys of this type including Untitled Improvisation III (1914, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), intimate works on paper and cardboard notable for their exuberant gestures, fluid strokes of paint and calligraphic drawing, all of which have clear echoes in Hofmann's own works on paper and in many of his canvases" (K. Wilkin, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective, New York, 2003, pp. 33-4). The "lyrical abstraction" of Untitled Improvisation III is evident in the curving lines, "planetary" shapes, and bold color of Pink Phantasie, and in other Hofmann paintings of this period, such as Symphony (1946, Merzbacher Art Foundation) and Study for Chimbote Mural (1950, Estate of the artist).

    Clement Greenberg, the famous art critic and champion of Abstract Expressionism, noted stylistic similarities in the work of Kandinsky and Hofmann. Yet he believed Hofmann advanced abstraction by activating the canvas through the push and pull of color, form, and texture. In a 1961 essay on Hoffman, Greenberg wrote, "[Paul] Klee and [Chaim] Soutine were perhaps the first to address the picture surface consciously as a responsive rather than an inert object, and painting itself as an affair of prodding and pushing, scoring and marking, rather than of simply inscribing or covering. Hofmann had taken this approach further, and made it do more. His paint surfaces breathe as no other do, opening up to animate the air around them, it is by their open, pulsating surfaces that Hofmann's very best pictures surpass most of Kandinsky's, as I feel they do" (Rush and Morris, pp. 32-3).

    Also like Kandinsky, Hofmann wrote extensively on the intersection of music and painting. In his 1911 On the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky assigned musical terms to his different types of painting: the "Impression," based on recognizable nature, the "Improvisation," born impulsively out of the unconscious, and most complex, the "Composition," where internal feelings were systematically explored over a period of time through numerous studies. For Kandinsky, color values were linked to musical scales, and only by tapping into his inner self could the artist realize a color-balanced "symphony." Hofmann reiterated this concept in his essay "The Color Problem in Pure Painting-Its Creative Origin": "[T]he color scales . . . are comparable to the tone scales in music. They can be played in major or minor. . . . A [color] interval can function in the sense of a second, a third, a fourth, etc. Like the sound in music. This characteristic makes color a plastic means of the first order, since painting is a continued process of color-development, its ultimate aim being the creation of maximum volume-expansion into depth, combined (but in counteraction to it) with utmost contraction. From the counter play of both these forces emerges the ultimate monumentality and the plastic synthesis of the work" (Wilkin, pp. 40-1). In addition, many of Hofmann's painting titles from the 1940s on reference music, notably Pink Phantasie, the German spelling of "fantasia," or a musical piece rooted in improvisation. Other musical titles include Red Phantasy, Fantasia, Capriccio, Symphony, Rhapsody, Quartet, Blue Rhythm, and Nocturne.

    With its exhilarating, expressive color and frenzied brushwork, all held within dynamic equilibrium, Pink Phantasie is the ultimate fantasia. Fellow artist Sir Anthony Caro may have had it in mind when he praised Hofmann's contribution to modernism: "Earlier my eye had been too much attuned to an art that was laid back, to staining and close value. Now that I was able to take a thicker, more built picture, I welcomed Hofmann's range, . . . his stacking, his passionate way of making colours sing. Photographs of Hofmann show an old man full of life, smiling, attacking a painting with gusto. I equate his art with Bartok's music, the arbitrary and fierce pressed into unforeseen order. . . . Have I overpraised him? I think not: for me this still underrated artist stands out as one of the great painters of the century" (A. Caro, "An Artist's Language," in Wilkin, pp. 45-6).




    Condition Report*: Faint surface soiling; thin horizontal cracks throughout. Framed: 16 x 22 inches.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2017
    22nd Monday
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