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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Yellow Burst

Photo: Spike Mafford

Yellow Burst


Hans Hofmann

American, (born in Germany), 1880-1966

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) is a key figure in the pantheon of New York Abstract Expressionism. Yellow Burst of 1956 is one of the best examples of Hans Hofmann at his most iconic and mature style. The painting exemplifies his interest in contrasts of color, shape and surface, a style he gradually developed as he absorbed and reconsidered the spatial structures of Cubist painting and the intense palette of the Fauves. In this painting, textured, gestural brushstrokes alternate with flat geometric patterns that programmatically put the two leading arguments of abstraction at mid-century in a dialectic relationship. The painting displays not only the artist’s great dexterity when handling paint but is an exquisite example of his interest in color contrasts. This quintessentially Hans Hofmann work is a perfect complement to Circular Fantasy of 1949 (65.164), which is painted in a much darker palette and dominated by more organic forms. Yellow Burst shows important connections with a host of Abstract Expressionist painters, from Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, to Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner.

A native of Germany who had studied first in Munich and then in Paris, Hofmann had first-hand knowledge of the European avant-garde and experienced the work of Picasso, Braque, the Delaunays, Léger and Matisse. He operated his own art school in Munich from 1915 until 1930 when he came to the United States and eventually settled in New York. In addition to his achievements as a painter, Hofmann is best known for his impact as a teacher, first at the Art Students League in New York and later operating his own school. His familiarity with the European avant-garde was an invaluable asset to a younger generation of students, which included Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Alfred Jensen, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. Clement Greenberg noted that he was “in all probability the most important art teacher of our time.”

Oil on canvas
54 1/4 x 60 1/4 in. (137.8 x 153cm)
Partial and promised gift of Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum
Provenance: Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Kootz, New York, to 1968; Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Kolin, New York, acquired 1968; [Pace Wildenstein, New York]; Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Medina, WA
Photo: Spike Mafford
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Hans Hofmann solo exhibition, 1963

New York, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Hans Hofmann, June 20 - September 16, 1990, Traveled to Center for Fine Arts, Miami, November 1990 - January 1991; and the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, February - April 1991

Seattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Collects Paintings: Works from Private Collections, May 22-Sept. 7, 1997

Seattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, From Abstract Expressionism to Colored Planes, Feb. 10-Dec. 29, 2014
Published ReferencesHunter, Sam, Hans Hofmann, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 1963

Goodman, Cynthia, with introduction by Clement Greenberg and Irving Sandler, Hans Hofmann, Munich: Prestel-Verlog and New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1990

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