Hans HOFMANN | Pre-dawn

Hans HOFMANN
Germany 1880 – United States of America 1966

Pre-dawn 1960 oil on canvas
signed and dated l.r., green oil "60/ hans hofmann"
183.9 (h) x 152.8 (w) cm Purchased 1976 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1976.67 © Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust/ARS. Licensed by Viscopy

  • the artist;
  • from whom bought by Prentice C. Hale, San Francisco, through Kootz Gallery, New York, in 1961;
  • with Andr√© Emmerich Gallery, New York, from 6 November 1973;
  • from whom bought by the Interim Council of the Australian National Gallery, February 1976
  • Hans Hofmann
    • Kootz Gallery 07 Mar 1961 – 25 Mar 1961
  • American Business and the Arts
    • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 14 Sep 1961 – 15 Oct 1961
  • Hans Hofmann
    • Santa Barbara Museum of Art 29 Jan 1963 – 24 Feb 1963
  • Hans Hofmann
    • The Museum of Modern Art 11 Sep 1963 – 28 Nov 1963
    • Rose Art Museum 06 Jan 1964 – 02 Feb 1964
    • Isaac Delgado Museum of Art 17 Feb 1964 – 15 Mar 1964
    • Albright-Knox Art Gallery 30 Mar 1964 – 26 Apr 1964
    • University of California, Berkeley 11 May 1964 – 07 Jun 1964
    • Washington Gallery of Modern Art 21 Jun 1964 – 21 Jul 1964
    • Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires 10 Sep 1964 – 26 Sep 1964
    • Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao 29 Nov 1964 – 13 Dec 1964
    • Stedelijk Museum 29 Jan 1965 – 15 Mar 1965
    • Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna 31 Mar 1965 – 30 Apr 1965
    • Werttembergischer Kunstverein 13 May 1965 – 13 Jun 1965
    • Kunstverein 02 Jul 1965 – 31 Jul 1965
    • Stadtisches Kunsthaus 12 Sep 1965 – 10 Oct 1965
  • Abstract Expressionism: the National Gallery of Australia celebrates the centenaries of Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis
    • 14 Jul 2012 – 24 Feb 2013
  • Rachel Jacobs, ‘L'Idéologie de la peinture américaine’, Aujourd'hui: Art et Architecture no. 37, June 1962, pp. 6–19, illus. b&w;
  • Sam Hunter, Hans Hofmann, New York: Harry N. Abrams 1963, pl. 132, illus. col.;
  • Art and Australia vol. 14 nos 3 & 4, January–April 1977, front cover illus. col.;
  • Patrick McCaughy, ‘The modern period and the Australian National Gallery’, Art and Australia vol. 14 nos 3 & 4, January–April 1977, p. 274;
  • Gwen Kinkead, ‘The spectacular fall and rise of Hans Hofmann’, Artnews vol. 79 no. 6, Summer 1980, pp. 88–96, col. illus.;
  • Jesse Murry, ‘Hans Hofmann’s use of nature as aesthetic norm’, Arts Magazine vol. 55 no. 6, February 1981, pp. 105–109, illus. col.;
  • Laura Murray (ed.), Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1982, p. 28. illus. col.;
  • James Mollison and Laura Murray (eds), Australian National Gallery: An introduction, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1982, pp. 60–61 illus. col.;
  • Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York: Abbeville Press 1986, p. 103;
  • Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art 1990, p. 121, illus. col.;
  • Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1992, pp. 306–307, illus. col.;
  • Anthony White, ‘Art metropolis: A new display of international art’, artonview no. 32, Summer 2002–2003, p. 20, illus. col.

The smooth blocks of vivid colour that appear in Pre‑dawn are characteristic of Hofmann’s paintings after 1958, the year in which he closed his art school in New York. Irving Sandler has suggested that ‘Hofmann may have derived the idea of using rectangles in his painting from one of his teaching techniques: attaching pieces of construction paper to the canvases of his students’.[1] The artist’s dealer, André Emmerich, has confirmed that ‘Hofmann used sheets of commercial Color‑Aid paper to plot out the “slabs” in his paintings and we have in fact examples of used Color‑Aid in the files and portfolios left by the artist’.[2] A circular-form cut‑out of Color‑Aid paper, of the same diameter as the orb which appears in Pre‑dawn and in related paintings such as Nirvana 1963[3] and Rising moon 1965,[4] was also found among Hofmann’s papers.[5]

In Pre‑dawn the contrast between the smooth, brightly-coloured rectangles and the surrounding darker, relief‑like congestion of paint sets up the sort of spatial tension or ‘push‑and‑pull’ effect by which Hofmann urged his students to synchronise their development of form and colour. This pictorial grammar, with its idea of the picture plane as something inviolable, was especially appealing to critics wishing to defend abstract painting. For Hofmann himself, however, the push‑and‑pull tension of his paintings was a way of translating into specifically pictorial terms the underlying force–counterforce dynamic that he perceived in nature. This is clearly reflected in Pre‑dawn, not only in its lyrical title, but in the way it is composed. Like a conventional landscape, the weight of the painting remains at the bottom, while the red disk, a specific reference to sun or moon, floats above.

Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1992, pp. 306–307

[1]Irving Sandler, The triumph of American painting: A history of Abstract Expressionism, New York: Harper and Row 1970, p. 147, note 5.

[2]André Emmerich, correspondence of 19 February 1985 with the National Gallery of Australia, NGA file 77/0279.

[3]Private collection.

[4] Private collection.

[5]Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York: Abbeville Press 1986, p. 103.

The National Gallery of Australia also holds five drawings by Hofmann: two female nudes of 1935, a self-portrait c. 1932–1935, all brush and ink; and two untitled drawings of 1943, brush and ink, one with watercolour and charcoal.