Artist Biography: Hans Hofmann

Hans Hofmann


Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) is one of the most important figures of postwar American art. Celebrated for his exuberant, color-filled canvases, and renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists—first in his native Germany, then in New York and Provincetown—Hofmann played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism.

As a teacher he brought to America direct knowledge of the work of a celebrated group of European modernists (prior to World War I he had lived and studied in Paris) and developed his own philosophy of art, which he expressed in essays which are among the most engaging discussions of painting in the twentieth century, including “The Color Problem in Pure Painting—Its Creative Origin.” Hofmann taught art for over four decades; his impressive list of students includes Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Alfred Jensen, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. As an artist Hofmann tirelessly explored pictorial structure, spatial tensions and color relationships. In his earliest portraits done just years into the twentieth century, his interior scenes of the 1940s and his signature canvases of the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Hofmann brought to his paintings what art historian Karen Wilkin has described as a “range from loose accumulations of brushy strokes…to crisply tailored arrangements of rectangles…but that somehow seems less significant than their uniform intensity, their common pounding energy and their consistent physicality.”

1880 Hans Hofmann is born in Weissenburg in Bavaria, Germany, on March 21. His father
Theodor Hofmann, a government official, and his mother Franciska, the daughter of
a prominent brewer and wine producer, have three sons and two daughters. Hans
was the second son.
1886 The family moves to Munich. Hofmann attends public schools and develops special
interests in mathematics, science, and music. He plays the violin, piano and organ
and begins to draw.
1896 With his father’s help, finds a position as assistant to the director of public works of
the state of Bavaria. Patents several scientific inventions.
1898 Studies painting with Willi Schwarz, who introduces him to Impressionism, at Moritz
Heymann’s art school in Munich.
1900 Meets Maria “Miz” Wolfegg, his future wife.
1903 Through Willi Schwarz, he meets Phillip Freudenberg, the nephew of a Berlin
collector, who becomes his patron from 1904 to 1914 and enables him to live in
Paris (though he often summers in Germany).
1904 Frequents the Café du Dome, a haunt of artists and writers, with Jules Pascin, a
friend from Mortiz Heymann’s school. Miz joins him in Paris. Attends evening sketch
classes at the école de la Grand Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. Meets
Picasso, Braque and Matisse.
1908 Exhibits with the Neue Sezession in Berlin, and again in 1909.
1910 First one-person exhibition held at Paul Cassirer Gallery, Berlin. Meets and befriends
Robert Delaunay.
1914 Hofmann and Miz leave Paris for Corsica to recuperate from what proves to be
tuberculosis. Called to Germany by the illness of his sister, they are forced by the
outbreak of World War I to remain in the country. Financial assistance from Phillip Freudenberg ends.
1915 Ineligible for the army because of the aftereffects of his lung condition, and with
Freudenberg’s assistance terminated by the war, Hofmann decides to earn a living
by teaching. Opens the Schule für Bildenes Kunst in Munich.
1918 After the war his school becomes known abroad and attracts foreign students.
Between 1922 and 1929 holds summer sessions in Bavaria, Yugoslavia, Italy and
France. Makes frequent trips to Paris. Has little time to paint but draws continually.
1924 Marries Miz Wolfegg.
1930 At the invitation of former student Worth Ryder, teaches a summer session at the
University of California, Berkeley, where Ryder is an associate professor in the
Department of Art. Returns to Munich for the winter.
1931 In the spring, teaches at the Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles, and again at
Berkeley in the summer. Exhibits drawings at the California Palace of the Legion of
Honor, San Francisco—his first one-person exhibition in the United States.
1932 Returns to Chouinard School of Art in the summer. Advised by Miz not to return to
Munich because of growing political hostility towards intellectuals, Hofmann settles
in New York. Former student Vaclav Vytlacil helps arrange a teaching position at
The Art Students League of New York.
1933 Spends the summer as a guest instructor at the Thurn School of Art in Gloucester,
Massachusetts. In the fall opens a school in New York at 444 Madison Avenue.
Begins to paint again.
1934 Upon the expiration of his visa, travels to Bermuda where he stays for several
months before returning to the United States with a permanent visa. Teaches again
at the Thurn School of Art. Opens the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts at 137
East 57th Street in New York.
1935 Opens a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
1936 Hofmann moves his school to 52 West Ninth Street in New York.
1938 The Hofmann School moves again to 52 West Eighth Street, its permanent home in
New York until 1958. Hofmann’s lecture series at the school in the winter of 1938-
39 is attended by such figures as Arshile Gorky and Clement Greenberg.
1939 Miz Hofmann arrives in America and joins her husband in Provincetown. From that
year on they spend five months each summer in Provincetown and the rest of the
year in New York.
1941 Becomes an American citizen. Delivers an address at the annual meeting of
American Abstract Artists at the Riverside Museum. Solo exhibition at the Isaac
Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans.
1942 Lee Krasner, formerly a Hofmann student, introduces him to Jackson Pollock.
1944 First exhibition in New York at Peggy Guggenheim’s The Art of This Century Gallery.
Hans Hofmann, Paintings 1941-1944 opens at The Arts Club of Chicago and travels
to the Milwaukee Art Institute. Hofmann’s paintings are included in Forty American
Moderns at 67 Gallery and Abstract and Surrealist Art in America at the Mortimer
Brandt Gallery (arranged by Sidney Janis in conjunction with publication of Janis’
book of the same title) in New York. Meets critic Clement Greenberg. Close
friendship with author and critic Harold Rosenberg begins.
1945 Included in Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American
Art, New York. Included in all subsequent Whitney painting annuals.
1947 Exhibits at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and in
Pittsburgh. Begins to exhibit with the Kootz Gallery, New York, which would hold a
one-person show of Hofmann’s work each year (except 1948 and 1956) until the
artist’s death.
1948 Retrospective exhibition of his work at the Addison Gallery of American Art in
Andover, Massachusetts, in conjunction with publication of his book, The Search
for the Real and Other Essays.
1949 Travels to Paris to attend the opening of his exhibition at the Galerie Maeght and
visits the studios of Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and Miró. Helps Fritz Bultman and
Weldon Kees organize Forum 49, a summer series of lectures, panels and exhibitions
at Gallery 200 in Provincetown.
1950 Participates in a three-day symposium at Studio 35 with William Baziotes, James
Brooks, Willem de Kooning, Herbert Ferber, Theodoros Stamos, David Smith and
Bradley Walker Tomlin. Joins the “Irascibles,” a group of Abstract Expressionist
artists in an open letter protesting the exclusion of the avant-garde from an
upcoming exhibition of American art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
1951 Juries the 60th Annual American Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago with Aline
Louchheim and Peter Blume.
1954 Solo exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
1955 Clement Greenberg organizes a small retrospective of Hofmann’s paintings at
Bennington College in Vermont.
1956 Designs mosaic murals for the lobby of the new William Kaufmann Building, 711 Third
Avenue, New York. Retrospective held at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia.
1957 Retrospective exhibition held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York,
traveling to Des Moines, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Utica
and Baltimore.
1958 Ceases teaching to devote himself full-time to painting. Moves his studios into his
former New York and Provincetown schools. Completes a mosaic mural for the
exterior of the New York School of Printing at 439 West 49th Street.
1960 Represents the United States with Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Theodore Roszac
at the XXX Venice Biennale.
1962 Retrospective exhibition opens at the Frankische Galerie am Marientor, Nuremburg
and travels to Cologne, Berlin and Munich. Exhibition Oils on Paper 1961-1962 opens
in Munich. Awarded Honorary Membership in the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in
Nuremberg and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Dartmouth College.
1963 Miz Hofmann dies. Retrospective exhibition Hans Hofmann and His Students
organized by William Seitz opens at The Museum of Modern Art and travels
throughout the United States, South America and Europe. Signs an agreement to
donate forty-five paintings to the University of California, Berkeley, and to fund the
construction of a gallery in his honor at the University’s new museum, then in the
planning stage.
1964 Receives an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of California,
Berkeley and the Solomon Guggenheim International Award. Becomes a member of
the National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York.
1965 Awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Pratt Institute, New York.
Completes The Renate Series inspired by Renate Schmitz, whom he marries.
1966 Hans Hofmann dies on February 17 in New York


University of California, 1931
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1931
Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, 1941
The Arts Club of Chicago, 1944
Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, 1944
Denver Art Museum, 1944
Seattle Art Museum, 1944
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1944
San Francisco Museum of Art, 1944
67 Gallery, New York, 1944
Art of This Century Gallery, New York, 1944
Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York, 1944
University of Illinois, 1944
Milwaukee Art Institute, Wisconsin, 1945
67 Gallery, New York, 1945
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1945
American Contemporary Gallery, Hollywood, CA, 1946
Addison Gallery of American Art, MA, 1947
The Art Institute of Chicago, 1947
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1947
University of Oklahoma, 1947
Memphis Academy of Arts, 1947
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1947
Kootz Gallery, New York, 1947
Whitney Museum of American Art, 1947
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1951
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1951
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951
Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1952
Baltimore Museum of Art, 1954
Bennington College, Vermont, 1955
Museo Nacional de Arte Moderna, Palacio de las Bellas Artes, Mexico City,
XXX Venice Biennale, Venice, 1960
American Federation of Arts traveling exhibition, 1961
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1961
Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, 1962
International House, Denver, 1963
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1963
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, 1963
Worth Ryder Art Gallery, University of California, Berkeley, 1964
American Art Gallery, Copenhagen Denmark, 1964
Tate Gallery, London, 1964
San Francisco Museum of Art, 1965
Stanford Art Museum, CA, 1966
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1966
Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1967
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, 1968
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, 1968
New York: Everson Museum, Syracuse, 1969
David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto, 1969
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1970
Waddington Galleries III, London, 1973
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1973
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1975
Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England, 1977
Kunstmuseum, Bern, 1979
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1979
Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1981
Vatican Museums and International Exhibitions Foundation, Rome, 1984
Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, 1984
The Fort Worth Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1985
C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, 1986
Lever/Meyerson Galleries, Ltd., New York, 1986
The Tate Gallery, London, 1988
Marianne Friedland Gallery, Toronto, 1988
Boston University Art Gallery, Boston, 1994
Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1996
Jason mcCoy, Inc., New York, 1998
Ameringer/Howard Fine Art, Boca Raton, FL, 1999
Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, 1999
Seattle Art Museum, 1999
Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown, MA, 2000
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA, 2000
The Newark Museum, NJ, 2001
Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 2001
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 2001

Hans Hofmann’s students: Lillian Orlowsky, William Freed, Haynes Ownby, Paul Resika, Myrna Harrison, Robert Henry, Selina Trieff, Lee Krasner, Israel Levitan, Helen Frankenthaler, I. Rice Pereira, Gerome Kamrowski, Michael Loew, Joseph Plaskett, Fritz Bultman, William Ronald, Joan Mitchell, Michael Goldberg, Ray Eames, Larry Rivers, Jane Frank, Mary Frank, Nell Blaine, Robert De Niro, Sr., Jane Freilicher, Allan Kaprow, Red Grooms, Wolf Kahn, Marisol Escobar, Sy Kattelson, Nicholas Krushenick, Burgoyne Diller, Mercedes Matter, James Gahagan, Erle Loran, Nancy Frankel, Paul Georges, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Judith Godwin, Lynne Mapp Drexler, Roland Petersen, Ken Jacobs, Anton Weiss, Donald Jarvis and many others.