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Hans Hofmann
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Weissenburg, Germany
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New York City
An important educator who taught art for four decades, first in Munich and then in New York City, Hans Hofmann was a key member of the group of Abstract Expressionist artists working in New York following World War II. Hoffmann was born in 1880 in Weissenburg in central Bavaria, between Munich and Nuremburg. His father, a government official, moved the family to Munich in 1886, where Hofmann was educated in the public schools. His father helped him get a position at age 16 as an assistant to the director of public works for Bavaria. While working there he invented several scientific devices. After two years he enrolled in an art school, where he studied under Willi Schwartz, among others. In 1900 he met Maria (Miz) Wolfegg, whom he later married. Schwartz introduced Hofmann to the Berlin art collector Phillip Freudenberg, who sent Hofmann to Paris in 1904 to study, soon joined by Miz. Hofmann became part of the circle of avant-garde artists who gathered at the Café du Dome and was introduced to Cubism through his friendships with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963). Hofmann exhibited in the Berlin Succession shows in 1908 and 1909 and had his first solo exhibition at Berlin’s Paul Cassirer Gallery in 1910. Called to return home to Munich by his sister’s illness in 1914, the beginning of World War I kept him in Germany. A respiratory condition kept him out of the army, but the war ended Freudenberg’s patronage. Hofmann decided to teach art, and opened the Hofmann School of Fine Arts in the spring of 1915 in Munich. It became very successful after the war, attracting students from Europe and America, including Alfred Jensen (1903-1981) and Louise Nevelson (1899-1988). His former student Worth Ryder (1884-1960), a professor of art at the University of California, Berkeley, invited Hofmann to teach for the summer of 1930 in Berkeley, an engagement that was repeated in the summer of 1931. He exhibited drawings at the Legion of Honor Museum in 1931, his first solo exhibition in the U.S. He had also taught at the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles during the spring of 1931. He taught at Chouinard again during the summer of 1932. His wife Miz advised him not to return to Germany due to the growing hostility towards intellectuals. She had stayed in Munich and closed his art school while he settled in New York City. A former student helped him get a teaching position at the Art Students League. He also taught at a school in Gloucester, MA during the summers of 1933 and 1934, and then opened his own Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Manhattan in the fall of 1934. He opened a summer school on Cape Cod in Provincetown, MA, in 1935, where he would spend summers for the rest of his life. Around this time he became more active as a painter, with much of his work influenced by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Miz finally joined Hofmann in 1939. In 1941 he became an American citizen. His art school introduced students to European modernism at a time when travel to Europe was difficult or impossible. Many of his students went on to become important artists, such as Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). The art critic and historian Clement Greenberg (1909-1994) would later describe Hofmann as “the most important art teacher of our time.” Hofmann’s own works turned towards abstraction and he is now best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings. Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) mounted a solo show for Hofmann’s works in her New York Gallery in 1944, with many gallery and museum exhibitions following through the next decades. New York’s Koontz Gallery mounted solo shows in 1947 and 1949 and annually thereafter until Hoffman’s death (with the exception of 1956). The Whitney Museum of American Art organized a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1957, which traveled from New York to seven other cities. Hofmann closed his art schools in New York and Provincetown in 1958 to devote himself to painting, and produced a large body of works over the next eight years. He was one of four artists representing America at the 1960 Venice Biennale. In 1963 he donated 45 paintings to UC Berkeley; the University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1964. He also received honorary doctorates from Dartmouth College and the Pratt Institute. He died in New York City in 1966 at the age of 85. (TNB 7/2014) Selected bibliography: Wilkin, Karen. Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective. Exhibition catalog. New York: George Braziller, Inc. and Naples, FL: Naples Museum of Art, 2003.