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Hans Hofmann Photo

Hans Hofmann

German-American Painter and Theoretician

Born: March 21, 1880 - Weissenberg, Bavaria
Died: February 17, 1966 - New York City, NY
Movements and Styles:
Abstract Expressionism
"Color is a plastic means of creating intervals... color harmonics produced by special relationships, or tensions. We differentiate now between formal tensions and color tensions, just as we differentiate in music between counterpoint and harmony."
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Hans Hofmann Signature
"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
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Hans Hofmann Signature
"Art is to me the glorification of the human spirit, and as such it is the cultural documentation of the time in which it is produced."
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Hans Hofmann Signature
"Painters must speak through paint, not through words."
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Hans Hofmann Signature
"The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of color."
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Hans Hofmann Signature

Summary of Hans Hofmann

A pioneering artist and teacher, Hans Hofmann emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1930. He brought with him a deep knowledge of French art, gleaned from years spent in Paris before World War I, and this proved crucial in spreading European modernist styles and ideas in the United States. He taught Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Larry Rivers, and he formed a close relationship with Jackson Pollock. Hofmann's own style represented a fusion of various modes, and his later work made a powerful contribution to Abstract Expressionism.


  • Hofmann's years in Paris brought him into direct contact with artists such as Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, and Robert Delaunay, and his own style would come to be a fusion of various modes. At various times his work blended Cubist structure with Fauvist color, Expressionist energy, and touches of Surrealism.
  • Hofmann believed fervently that a modern artist must remain faithful to the flatness of the canvas support. To suggest depth and movement in the picture - to create what he called "push and pull" in the image - artists should create contrasts of color, form, and texture.
  • Nature was the origin of art, Hofmann believed, and no matter how abstract his pictures seemed to become, he always sought to maintain in them a link to the world of objects. Even when his canvases seemed to be only collections of forms and colors, Hofmann argued that they still contained the suggestion of movement - and movement was the pulse of nature.
  • Although renowned for his ideas, Hofmann once said that "painters must speak through paint, not through words." And his own foremost medium of expression was color: "The whole world, as we experience it visually," he said, "comes to us through the mystic realm of color."

Biography of Hans Hofmann

Hans Hofmann Photo

Born Johan Georg Albert in Weissenberg, Bavaria in 1880, Hofmann was a precocious child, showing early inclinations towards mathematics, music, science, literature, and art. When he was six years old, his family moved to Munich where his father had secured a job in the government bureaucracy. In time his father would use his position to help find a position for his son working for the Director of Public Works of the State of Bavaria, and it was here that Hofmann began his working life and where he patented several scientific inventions, including a radar device for ships, whilst still in his teenage years.

Important Art by Hans Hofmann

Progression of Art
c. 1944

The Wind

Pictures such as The Wind have been at the center of a long controversy over whether Hofmann inspired Jackson Pollock's use of the drip technique. Some have claimed that Pollock saw pictures like this when he visited Hofmann's studio in 1942, and that this inspired his first use of poured paint in 1943.It was first thought that this work was produced in 1942, but now, professionals believe, that The Wind was produced around 1944, and that it was Pollock and Hofmann's twin interest in the work of André Masson, among others, that led both men to experiment with dripped paint at the same time.

Oil, duco, gouache and India ink on poster board - Collection University of California, Berkeley Art Museum


Self-Portrait with Brushes

Hofmann created many self-portrait drawings and paintings, usually depicting himself at work. Self-Portrait with Brushes is typical of his approach, yet it stands out in the way it combines styles to create an expressive character sketch. Using bold outlines to exaggerate his own features - creating a broad triangular nose and tousled hair - Hofmann projects a playful persona in a blue on yellow palette set within the interior space of his studio.

Casein on plywood - Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York



In 1947, Hofmann abandoned painting on board and began to use canvas. He also began to explore a wider variety of styles, and Ecstasy reflects his experiments, showing his continued loyalty to European masters such as Joan Miro and Hans Arp at a time when many of Hofmann's American colleagues were trying to overcome European influences.

Oil on canvas - University of California, Berkeley Art Museum


The Conjurer

Moving from geometric into fluid forms and a more intense color range, The Conjurer demonstrates the diversity of Hofmann's mature style. He uses density of color and constellations of shapes to evoke psychological and spatial relationships, rather than objective reality.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich


The Garden

Revisiting one of his earliest inspirations, Pointillism, Hofmann here uses thick dabs of paint to create the mosaic of polychromatic textures that structures the composition. The flowers depicted were those grown by his first wife, Miz, and the sumptuous blooms that emerge and recede in the picture create a dynamism that makes the color swirl.

Oil on Plywood - University of California, Berkeley Art Museum


To Miz - Pax Vobiscum

Hofmann's first wife, Miz, was a constant support and companion to him for almost 60 years, and after her death he painted this vibrant canvas as a memorial. He used the relationship of bright colors to create shapes expressing his feelings of loss.

Oil on canvas - Collection Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, Museum purchase

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Hans Hofmann Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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