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1880-1966

Hans Hofmann

By Robert M. Coates

The several arts differ, each from each, both in practice and fulfillment, and one of the advantages the painter enjoys, envied by many of the others, is that if he ever achieves recognition, his success is cumulative. In other words, and if he lives long enough that is, the canvases that went unsold in his youth, and that often (as in the case of Claude Monet, for one instance) barely escaped being burned to provide warmth and fuel, become a mainstay later on – a comfortable, negotiable property and a prop against old age.

In no other branch of the arts does this apply. The writer, poor wretch, cannot dig out manuscripts dating from his younger years and sell them, nor can the composer find musicians to play his fumbling early exercises in point and counterpoint. For some reason, perhaps having to do with the immediacy of painting—the fact that being visual, it may be taken in at a glance—even the earliest efforts of the practitioner here have an interest that is not only documentary but often intrinsic in themselves.

Hans Hofmann, happily, was one of the durable ones, but he differs from the others in that his beginning struggles were nowhere near as dire as some of his fellows’ were. Born in 1880, in Germany, he was already fairly well established as an artist when he came to this country in 1930. But he was, at that period, much better known as a teacher than as a painter, and indeed a certain sense of a continuing function as innovator, illuminator—teacher, in short—flavors his whole career.

For it was he, more than any other, who founded, formulated, and synthesized philosophically the modern abstract-expressionist movement, a school of which he was one of the undisputed leaders and of which he was certainly, in point of achievement as well as age, its dean.

This occurred in his later years, and the fortunate thing is not only that he was around long enough to enjoy the encomiums, but also productive and vigorous enough, large-minded enough too, to continue in the exploration and deployment of his mature talents to the last. His last exhibition, put on at the Kootz Gallery only shortly before he died, aged eighty-five, was in all respects one of the most brilliant of his career.

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