(1880 – 1966), Germany

Hans Hofmann Biography

A prominent artist and celebrated teacher, Hans Hofmann was an important American-German figure in Abstract Expressionism. He influenced a generation of artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Frank Stella.

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Hofmann's colourful paintings of irregular forms express a unique style that merges elements of Cubism with Fauvism.

Early Years

Hofmann was born in 1880 in Weissenburg in Bavaria, Germany. Originally a student of science and engineering, he developed an interest in the arts and abandoned his scientific studies to attend art school in Munich in 1898. During his training, Hofmann learnt about art movements like Impressionism and Pointillism.

In 1904, Hofmann moved to Paris and befriended artists Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay and Georges Braque. He began to adopt a unique style of Cubist painting coined Orphism.

After ten years of living in Paris, Hofmann was forced to move back to Munich in 1914 when World War I began. In 1915, he established the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art and taught artists like Alfred Jensen and Louise Nevelson. He grew a reputation as a progressive arts lecturer and was consequently invited to teach at the University of California, Berkeley. His relationship with the university contributed to him gaining permanent residency in the United States from the 1930s onwards.

Artistic Style

Han's Hofmann's artistic style uses vivid colour and geometric shapes to give the impression of movement and space in his paintings, referred to as his 'push and pull' technique. Hofmann mastered contemporary abstraction by refusing to adhere to a singular style.


Laburnum (1954)

Laburnum (1954) is an Abstract Expressionist painting made from oil on linen. In this work, Hofmann uses thick impasto to create layers of texture. The painting depicts rectangular forms balancing beside scribbles, scrapes and drippings of colour, giving the artwork a visceral quality.

Pompeii (1959)

Pompeii (1959) is a large abstract oil painting that belongs to Hofmann's collection of 'slab' paintings. Arguably his most famous series of work, Hofmann's 'slab' artworks feature thickly-textured rectangles of paint besides shifting swathes of colour.

In Pompeii (1959), Hofmann uses a kaleidoscope of colours to depict gestural abstract compositions. He creates the feeling of space and movement by using different colours and shapes to give the illusion of differing depths of perspective. Hofmann often mapped out his 'slab' paintings by pinning rectangles of coloured paper to the canvas.

Search for the Real, and Other Essays (1948)

Written over a period of 40 years for his own teaching purposes and for periodical journals, Hofmann's Search for the Real, and Other Essays (1948) is a collection of essays on art and visual culture. In the book, Hofmann explores contemporary visual expression under subheadings like 'Painting and Culture', 'On the Aims of Art' and 'Plastic Creation'.

Search for the Real, and Other Essays was originally published by the Addison Gallery of American Art in Massachusetts for the Hans Hofmann retrospective in 1948.

Awards and Accolades

Thirteen of Hans Hofmann's paintings were featured at the Venice Biennale in Italy in 1960. Curated by Baltimore Museum of Art Director Adelyn D. Breeskin, the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale included Hofmann's work alongside artists Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Theodore Roszak.

Hans Hofmann's artwork is included in the permanent collections of several major museums and galleries throughout the world. Selected collections include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and the Tate Modern in London.


Hans Hofmann work has been exhibited globally, including at the Venice Biennale, the Museum of Metropolitan Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Select solo exhibitions include Hans Hofmann, Miles McEnery Gallery, New York (2021—22); Works on Paper, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Wyoming (2021); Hans Hofmann: Color and Form, American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich (2019-20); The Post-War Years: 1945—1946, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York (2017); Push and Pull: Hans Hofmann, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley (2016); Hans Hofmann: Selected Paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2014—15).

Select group exhibitions include Do You Think It Needs A Cloud?, Miles McEnery Gallery, New York (2020); The Irascibles: Painters Against the Museum (New York, 1950), Fundación Juan March, Madrid (2020); Color Beyond Description: The Watercolors of Charles Hawthorne, Hans Hofmann and Paul Resika, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown (2019); Sublime Abstraction, Heather James Fine Art, Palm Desert (2017—18); Now's the Time, Sheldon Museum of Art, Nebraska (2017); Abstract Expressionism, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2016—17); Art in the Making, Freedman Art, New York (2014—15); From Abstract Expression to Colored Planes, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle (2013—15).


Hans Hofmann's website can be found here.

Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2021

Hans Hofmann
featured artworks

Shangri-La by Hans Hofmann contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Hans Hofmann Shangri-La, 1961 Oil on canvas
96.5 x 76.2 cm
Hollis Taggart
Untitled by Hans Hofmann contemporary artwork painting
Hans Hofmann Untitled, c. 1945 Watercolour and ink on paper
61 x 47.9 cm
Hollis Taggart
Red Lamp by Hans Hofmann contemporary artwork painting
Hans Hofmann Red Lamp, 1955 Oil, gouache, and graphite on board
52 x 31 inches
Hollis Taggart
Landscape No. 105 by Hans Hofmann contemporary artwork painting
Hans Hofmann Landscape No. 105, 1942 Oil on board
23 7/8 x 28 3/4 inches
Hollis Taggart

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