HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966) A Certain Mood, 1959
Lot 8
HANS HOFMANN
(1880-1966)
A Certain Mood, 1959
Sold for US$ 1,387,500 inc. premium

Post-War & Contemporary Art

16 May 2017, 16:00 EDT

New York

Lot Details
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966) A Certain Mood, 1959 HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966) A Certain Mood, 1959
HANS HOFMANN (1880-1966)
A Certain Mood, 1959

signed and dated 'hans hofmann 59-' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'A certain mood hans hofmann 1959' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas

40 x 29 3/8 in.
101.5 x 74.5 cm

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Collection of Anne Steinman, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1961).
    Collection of R. Bolt, New York.
    Eva J. Pape Fine Art, New York.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994.

    Literature
    S. Villiger (ed.), Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Vol III (1952-1965), Farnham, 2014, no. P1197, HH cat. no. 997-1959, p. 232 (not illustrated).


    A Certain Mood, 1959, is an impulsive yet methodical synthesis of abstraction and experience, archetypal of the energy, exuberance and pictorial harmonization that characterizes Hans Hofmann's mature work.

    A prolific educator and innovator, Hofmann is credited with opening the first school of modern art in Munich in 1915, before eventually settling in New York in 1932. His extensive teaching in both the United States and abroad is perhaps Hofmann's most enduring legacy within the field of European modernism, influencing iconic figures Helen Frankenthaler and Louise Nevelson and forming close relationships with expressionist champions such as Jackson Pollock. Hofmann's decision to close his art school in 1958 in order to devote himself to painting full-time is particularly significant, positing the present work at the very epicenter of the artist's creative output. That same year, Hofmann moved out of his Provincetown studio, and, as a result, his depiction of space began to originate from the figural arrangement of color and form in a drastic departure from his representational landscapes. Ultimately, Hofmann sought to capture organic feeling as articulated by the tangible movement of paint on canvas. The title of the present work serves to reaffirm Hofmann's shift in artistic concern by creating life inside the canvas rather than referencing a perceived reality. Here, digested experience is suggested by geometric rigor and colorful vitality: Hofmann provides just enough context for the viewer to begin to guess at the work's meaning, leaving us suspended in a state of longing. Only Hofmann himself could so eloquently encapsulate the sublime aura of the present work, noting, "I work in different 'veins' not different styles. In doing so it is always the expression of the prevailing mood that dominates the creative urge."1

    Of paramount importance is the commingling of stylistic gestures which imbues the surface of the canvas. Consistently revolutionary in his approach, Hofmann was one of the first modernists to drip and splatter layers of paint directly onto the canvas, contributing to the illusion of spatial depth on a flat surface. Hofmann additionally accomplishes this by dragging a palette knife along thick swaths of impasto, generating motion that is accentuated by contrasting light and cool colors. On brilliant display in A Certain Mood is Hofmann's trademark 'push and pull' technique, in which visual tension is achieved by the reaction and interaction of color and form, rather than a naturalistic representation, which dominates the viewer's perspective. Demonstrative passages of knifed and brushed stretches of pigment advance and recede in a dynamic dance, exemplifying the revelry of the present work. Overlapping and intersecting planes expand the viewer's perception of two-dimensional painting by eliciting a sensory response that is as much physical as it is visual. Curator of the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Hofmann's work and Color Field painter Walter Darby Bannard further suggests that, "By the subtle enforcement of two sets of areas at slightly different apparent depth, Hofmann crumbled the resistant flatness of the surface."2


    A Certain Mood seems to encompass an entire kaleidoscopic range of hues, diverting the eye through nebulous chambers of jet black oils and up into a fiery, encaustic expanse that hovers just atop the center of the composition, radiating as bright as a sunset before it delves underneath the horizon. Hofmann delicately infuses rich cobalt planes with bursts of pristine ivory and warm yellows while pushing mossy green stretches of paint towards the exterior perimeter. Shades of ochre and jade green emerge faintly through areas of charcoal brushstrokes as violet-tinged streaks edge inward in a prominent manifestation of Hofmann's boldly affective palette. Perhaps renowned Post-War abstractionist Frank Stella best summated the exceptionality of Hofmann's understanding of color and form, stating, "To put it simply, Hofmann's ability to handle paint, to fuse the action of painting and drawing into a single, immediate gesture carried colored pigment into the viewer's presence with the force of a bomb. The power of this visual explosion catalyzed the bond of European and American art, cementing the first half of twentieth-century art inseparably to the second half... Hofmann's paintings of the '50s and '60s... were magnificent. They were without precedent except in Hofmann's own work. More amazingly, they were without equal when they were painted and are without equal in quality since they were painted."3 He goes on to note, "... Hofmann's genius lay in his ability to expand our dimensional experience of the pictorial surface, in this case brilliantly enlarging the clean, liberated, and open planar surface made available to abstraction after the abandonment of the conventional recessional space that perspective offered. He believed that color alone could activate a flat shape on a flat surface, making it appear as if the colored shape had enough substance to both create its own space within that surface and occupy a space in front of it."4

    A Certain Mood is unquestionably among Hofmann's most momentous works. Conceived at the pinnacle of Hofmann's sophisticated expressionism, A Certain Mood is illustrative of the artist's intuitive grasp of modernist practices and theory, which placed a palatable emphasis on sensory experience and the complexities that result from the clash between formal painterly precedents and uninhibited emotive gestures. With A Certain Mood Hofmann leaves us on the edge of our seats, forever enraptured by its unprecedented conviction and unparalleled emotion.

    1. H. Hofmann, Hans Hofmann papers, [circa 1904]-2011, bulk 1945-2000, circa 1904-2011, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
    2. W. D. Bannard, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 1976, p. 20.
    3. F. Stella, "The Artist of the Century", in American Heritage, vol. 50, no. 7, November 1999, pp. 14, 16, reproduced in S. Villiger (ed.), Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Vol I, Farnham, 2014, p. 9.
    4. F. Stella, "The Artist of the Century", in American Heritage, vol. 50, no. 7, November 1999, http://www.americanheritage.com/content/artist-century?page=2.
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