In 1960 Hans Hofmann (18801966) described the just-completed painting Summer Bliss as one of his finest. At the suggestion of Erle Loran, then chair of the UC Berkeley Art Department, Hofmann offered Summer Bliss to the University in honor of professor Worth Ryder, who had passed away earlier that year. Ryder, who like Loran had studied with Hofmann years earlier in Germany, had invited Hofmann to teach at Berkeley in 1930, initiating what Hofmann later identified as his start in America as a teacher and artist.1
Three years later, Hofmann made another gift to the Universitynearly fifty paintings representing the highest artistic achievement of his career, plus a pledge of $250,000 in support of the burgeoning University Art Museum (now BAM/PFA
). At Hofmanns request, Erle Loran was closely involved in choosing the paintings for this profoundly generous gift, selecting from among significant older works as well the strongest examples of his later practice. Although Hofmann died before the entire group was finalized, the BAM/PFA Hofmann collection, recognized as the worlds most extensive museum collection of his work, embodies the artists desire for it to be both excellent and comprehensive.
As the museum prepares to move to their new building in downtown Berkeley, it seems fitting to revisit the enduring vitality and generosity of Hofmanns extraordinary gift. Hofmann by Hofmann focuses on the first paintings selected personally by Hofmann for BAM/PFA. Fantasia (1943), one of the earliest works, straddles a cusp between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism while also anticipating the compositional logic and push-pull spatial dynamics of his signature color plane works of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Summer Bliss. In Nocturnal Splendor (1963) and Gloriamundi (1963), two of the later canvases, Hofmann employs contrasting colors and the arrangement of shapes into expanding and contracting forces (push-pull) to create the experience of three-dimensional space. Space, he wrote, must be vital and activea force impelled pictorial space, presented as a spiritual and unified entity, with a life of its own.
Hofmann by Hofmann is organized by Lucinda Barnes, chief curator and director of programs and collections.
1. Hans Hofmann to Erle Loran, 11 January 1961, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.