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    Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
    Holocaust, 1953
    Oil on panel
    25 x 30 inches (63.5 x 76.2 cm)
    Signed and dated on the reverse: Hans Hofmann / 1953
    Numbered in the artist's estate stamp on the reverse: M-0248

    The artist;
    Estate of the above, 1966;
    Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust, 1996;
    Hacket-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, 2003;
    Ameringer Yohe Fine Art, New York, 2005;
    Private collection, Nevada.

    Emmerich, New York, 1995 (label verso);
    Galerie Haas & Fuchs, Berlin, 1997;
    PAAM, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 2000;
    Hacket-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, 2005.

    Forman, Cape Cod Times (solo exh. rev.), 2000, comm p. B2;
    Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, 2002, p. 155, comm. p. 29, illustrated;
    Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, December 2003, ad for exhibition. Art in America 91, no. 12, p. 15, illustrated;
    Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, January 2004, ad for exhibition, ARTnews 103, no. 1, p. 11, illustrated;
    Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, 2004, exhibition announcement card, illustrated;
    S. Villiger et al., Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, London, 2014, p. 50, no. P921, illustrated.

    The famed Abstract Expressionist took a somewhat circuitous path toward the signature style that he is now best remembered for: the shimmeringly vibrant rectangles of pure, floating color, commonly
    referred to as his "Slab" paintings. Decades before that, with works like The Wind (1944), Hofmann evinced a looser, chance-based hand, leading to a still-unsettled debate as to whether he or Jackson Pollock had first pioneered the "drip" technique of painting. Holocaust (1953), a chaotic maelstrom of violent color, is unique even among Hofmann's more gestural abstractions. It pulsates with a foreboding, dark energy. And while most of the German-born, nature-loving artist's canvases were graced with light-footed, evocative titles-like Above Deep Waters or Dew and Dusk--this painting consciously alludes to one of the primary horrors of the 20th century.

    Hofmann had relocated from Germany to the United States in the early 1930s, settling in New York City and, later, the fertile creative enclave of Provincetown, Massachusetts. By the 1950s, then in his early seventies, Hofmann had already established his reputation as both a boldly experimental artist and a terrifically influential teacher. Just under ten years before Holocaust was completed, the artist had been given his splashy New York debut at Peggy Guggenheim's legendary Art of This Century gallery. He was showing with the Kootz Gallery, home also to Adolph Gottlieb and Robert Motherwell; his work had hung in pivotal exhibitions, like 1947's "The Ideographic Picture" at Betty Parsons Gallery, alongside that of peers like Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.

    The artist Elaine de Kooning offers some fascinating insights into Hofmann's practice in "Hans Hofmann Paints a Picture," a 1950 article for ARTNews. We learn of his spontaneity and speed ("a painting
    must be finished in one sweep") and a habit for arranging still life tableaux--a "white bowl, three apples, an ashtray, a small pitcher and a jar of show-card color"--in order to generate abstract compositions in which basically no trace of the source material remains, other than intimations of shape, tone, and shadow. De Kooning notes that, often, the title came last; Hofmann "finds his subject only when the picture is finished," she writes.

    What are we to make, then, of a painting whose subject ends up being Germany's systematic program for the mass extermination of millions of Jews and other so-called "undesirables"? None of Hofmann's paintings from the decade come anywhere close in terms of engaging with such horrors. Other oil-on-board studies and works from the 1950s are more in line with a piece like Pink Phantasie (1950): a swooping, kinetic confection in which the titular pigment plays a bold, starring role. The AbEx master's sense of color, play, and movement are all equally at work in Holocaust, yet the subject Hofmann found for this singular composition is one that has always been cast as beyond comprehension or representation.

    Divorced from its title, Holocaust would never be associated with its historical reference. The modestly scaled work is pure abstraction, with a churning, circular energy (let your eye settle on the lower-left corner of the panel and you'll find it coaxed upward, counterclockwise, into a ceaseless, tumbling funnel). Hofmann, who always delighted in the buoyancy of primary colors, is in some ways working in such a mode here-but the composition is hijacked by splotches of screaming, crimson red. Along the painting's borders, a cloud of dense black hovers, perhaps on the verge of closing in. If the artist, laboring in his Provincetown studio, was in the habit of casually arranging furniture and tableware to inspire his abstractions, Holocaust suggests a fascinating anomaly for Hofmann, whose process mandated that he steadfastly stuck to "painting from life." In this violent, brilliant, uncommon work from the Abstract Expressionist icon, we catch a glimpse of a diversion from that well-worn path: An attempt to paint from history, or from historical memory; to paint something that words would always fail, something beyond the imagination.

    Condition Report*: Minor surface grime; craquelure, most noticeable in areas where pigment is particularly thick; under UV light, there appears to be no inpaint; otherwise, there do not appear to be any major condition issues. Framed Dimensions 34 X 38.5 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, 2018
    24th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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