Hans Hoffman is probably best remembered for his vividly colorful, exuberant compositions. From paintings of geometric color fields to canvases featuring wild flights of fancy, Hoffman had a successful career as an Abstract Expressionist that spanned from the late 1940’s to the mid sixties. What is sometimes overlooked in reviewing Hoffman’s artistic life is his role as a teacher and mentor.
Born in Weissenberg Bavaria in 1880, Hoffman and his family soon moved to Munich where his father worked in the government. Initially drawn to mathematics Hoffman began to work for the Director of Public Works for the state of Bavaria where he eventually developed and patented several devices for the government including the electromagnetic comptometer. Despite his success and genius for science and mathematics, Hoffman was drawn to creative studies. After the death of his father in the late 1800’s, he enrolled in Moritz Heymann’s art school in Munich. Hoffman traveled to Paris and studied and painted until he was forced to return to Munich at the outbreak of WWl.
In Munich Hoffman set up his own school which trained artists such as Alf Bayrle, Louise Nevelson, Wolfgang Paalen, Worth Ryder and Alfred Jensen. Soon came invitations to teach in The United States at the University of California. Several visits to the U.S, coupled with political tensions rising in Europe convinced Hoffman to close the Munich school and emigrate to the U.S. in 1930. He began teaching at the Art Student’s League in New York City, and in 1933 opened the Hans Hoffman school of fine art. in 1935 he opened a summer school in Provincetown MA. The Provincetown school was a place for seasoned young artists to master the practice of working in the studio, to hone their skills and to escape from New York City.
Hoffman was adamant that all great art begins and ends in the studio, and only through rigorous repetition could an artist truly master the medium. While never receiving formal training himself , Hoffman was an expert technician and had the ability to impart his knowledge and enthusiasm to his students, such as: Nell Blaine, Wolf Kahn, Richard Stankiewicz, Robert De Niro, Sr., Lee Krasner, Mercedes Matter, Red Grooms, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Allan Kaprow, Jan Muller and Larry Rivers.
Painting from still life setups and models was an essential part of the studio experience. Hoffman’s sometimes unorthodox teaching methods often surprised students, such as his penchant for making changes directly on student’s work. In his teaching Hoffman constantly stressed his concept of Push/Pull, the importance of combining opposing forces in one’s art, be that color or shape. His desire for the student to find his/her own voice led him to never show his own work to the students.
After 43 years of teaching, 23 of them in Provincetown, Hofmann closed both of his schools in 1958 so that he could devote his full attention to his own painting.
Despite a long career, it was only in his latter years that Hoffman was truly recognized as a great painter. He was given a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1963. He went on to stage an exhibition at the Kootz Gallery in New York, shortly before his death in 1966.
Woodshed Gallery Auctions is proud to offer this charcoal drawing attributed to Mr. Hoffman, reported to have come from the estate sale at his Provincetown studio. This charcoal drawing will be part of our auction on Feb. 22 – Prints and Drawings by old and Modern Masters.