August 14, 2019

PEM Presents a Comprehensive Look at One of the 20th Century’s Most Influential American Artists

by cns2020

Choose How to Share

a blue and yellow swirl on a yellow background.

SALEM, MA – This Fall, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents a fresh perspective on the artist and teacher widely considered to be one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. PEM is the exclusive east coast venue for Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction, organized by the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). On view from September 21, 2019, through January 5, 2020, the exhibition presents the most comprehensive examination of Hans Hofmann’s innovative and prolific career to date. 

In 1963 Hofmann donated his most significant paintings to BAMPFA to form the world’s largest museum holdings of the artist’s work. Featuring more than 45 paintings—including works from private collections that have never been exhibited in a museum setting—Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction presents an unprecedented look at Hofmann’s studio practice, focusing on his continually experimental approach to painting and its expressive potential.

Hans Hofmann: Goliath, 1960; oil on canvas; 84 1/8 x 60 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; gift of the artist. © The Regents of the University of California, photography by Ben Blackwell.

“This exhibition reveals the full force and voluminous output of Hofmann’s creativity. Powerfully influenced by Matisse’s use of color and Cubism’s displacement of form, he was continually evolving his practice and searching for new forms of expression,” said Lydia Gordon, PEM’s Associate Curator for Exhibitions and Research and the exhibition’s coordinating curator. “Both as a teacher and a practitioner, Hofmann famously wrestled with the ‘push and pull’ of a painting, which he described as the interdependent relationships among form, color, texture, and space that create the effect of movement.”

Hans Hofmann (1880–1966) played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism and is celebrated for his exuberant canvases. Renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists—first in his native Germany, then in New York and Provincetown—Hofmann left an indelible legacy on painting. As a teacher and as a modern artist, Hofmann associated with many of the most notable artists, critics, and dealers of the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, Peggy Guggenheim, Clement Greenberg, Jackson Pollock, and many others.

In the summer of 1935, Hofmann established an art school in Provincetown, a spot he would return to for the next 20 years. Countless students—including Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, and Ray Eames— were inspired by Hofmann’s bold, color-filled canvases and his exacting methods of instruction. He advocated the use of nature as a starting point and he prolifically painted scenes in and around Provincetown in varied stylistic approaches—Cubist, Fauvist, Expressionist. Soon Hofmann’s colorful explorations of pictorial space evolved into artistic expressions of mood, states of mind, and the counterforces of nature. 

Hans Hofmann: The Wind, 1942; oil, Duco, gouache, and India ink on board; 43 7/8 x 27 3/4 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; gift of the artist. © The Regents of the University of California, photography by Ben Blackwell.
Hans Hofmann: The Wind, 1942; oil, Duco, gouache, and India ink on board; 43 7/8 x 27 3/4 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; gift of the artist. © The Regents of the University of California, photography by Ben Blackwell.

Hofmann’s iterative, explorative approach continued in earnest through the 1940s, notes Lucinda Barnes, exhibition curator and curator emerita at BAMPFA. “The Wind from 1942 presents a compelling interplay between a deep blue ground and swirling white and blank overlays. Hofmann set interlacing webs of brushed and dripped pigment against this broad color zone to create a pulsating rhythm of expansion and contraction, in and out and across the picture plane.” 

Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog, this exhibition marks the most significant opportunity to reexamine Hofmann’s artistic legacy since his death in 1966. In recent decades, discourse around Hofmann has focused primarily on the remarkable color plane abstractions he created the 1950s and ’60s, which were the focus of major exhibitions during his lifetime. Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstractionbroadens the perspective, reconnecting many of the artist’s most iconic late-career paintings with dozens of remarkably robust, prescient and understudied works from the 1930s and ’40s in order to chart a trajectory of his singular, iconic style. 

High-resolution images and captions are available at the following link:

Share your impressions of this experience using #PEMhofmann

Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction is organized by University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The exhibition is made possible with lead support from the Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust. Major support is provided by Bob and Dana Emery and Elissa Edelstein Warner. Additional support is provided by Charles and Naomie Kremer, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Nancy and Joachim Bechtle Foundation, and an anonymous donor. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard and Kate and Ford O’Neil provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Corporate Partner: MarketStreet Lynnfield

Media Partner: Boston Spirit

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum’s collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time — including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic, and African art, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM’s campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $6 (plus museum admission). Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Whitney Van Dyke | Director of Communications |  | 978-542-1828 
Kristen Levesque| Exhibition Publicist | | 207-329-3090