Hans Hartung

What I love is to act on the canvas. Acting means scratching, tearing, staining, invading the canvas with colour, in short, everything that is not ‘painting’.

Hans Hartung was born in 1904 in Leipzig, Germany. He studied philosophy and history of art at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig and then Dresden, before moving to Munich to study with the painter Max Doerner. His youthful enthusiasms were focused on the great masters: Rembrant, el Greco, Goya, Matisse and Picasso, and, in the 1920s (1926 – 27), the discovery of Cubism.
By 1930, he had already exhibited his works on paper (watercolours, charcoal, sanguine) in numerous galleries in Europe, and also in the prestigious collection of Albert Eugene Gallatin in Philadelphia. In these works, every sign, every stain already has a meaning, the signs already appear independent of the figuration: they constitute expressive nuclei that would progressively develop in the years to come.
The death of his father in 1932 had a profound effect on the painter, who moved with his wife, the painter Anna-Eva Bergman, first to Paris and then, as the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship advanced, to Menorca.
These were important years for the growth of Hartung’s artistic research: having definitively abandoned Cubism, he re-embraced a more instinctive style of painting.
He returned to Berlin in 1935, but the Nazi regime made life impossible; his possessions were blocked and he was forced to flee; he settled permanently in Paris, where he frequented the salon of Jean Hélion and Henry Goetz: he met Kandinsky, Mondrian, Manganelli and Mirò, with whom he exhibited at the Pierre Gallery.

The artist’s financial situation became increasingly precarious as the war progressed. In 1939, he enrolled in the volunteer lists of the Foreign Legion, with which he fought in North Africa, Spain and finally France, where he was seriously wounded, losing a leg.
It was only in 1945 – 46 that Hartung returned to Paris, where he began painting again. In 1947, he presented his first solo exhibition at the Lydia Conti Gallery, with works characterised by expressionist dynamics in an unpredictable development of dramatically dynamic forms.
In the 1950s, Hartung’s works were exhibited all over the world: Advancing French Art in New York, Baltimore and San Francisco in 1951; Kunsthalle Basel and the Venice Biennial in 1952; participation in the first Documenta in Kassel in 1955, to name but a few. He received the Guggenheim International Prize in 1956 and the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennial in 1960.
An accomplished artist, Hartung was a leading exponent of Art Informel, first codified in 1962 in Jean Paulhan’s essay of the same name. The firm belief in the importance of gestural expression was fundamental to the formulation of Hartung’s unique style. The absolute physicality of the works of the 1960s and 1970s, while governed by preparatory sketches, preliminary drawings, shows the evolution of the artist’s visual language.
In 1976, he published his memoirs (Autoportrait) and became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris the following year. In 1977, he held his first exhibition of photographs at the Cercle Noroit, Arras, while the Centre Georges Pompidou organised one dedicated to his etchings and lithographs, which was then exhibited in other venues in France over the next four years.
The intensity of the creative process and the search for innovative techniques was renewed in the final phase of his career: airbrushing and olive branches from the house on the Côte d’Azur contributed to the creation of vigorous works made up of scuffing and brilliant splashes of colour.
In 1981, the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, the Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst in Munich and the Henie-Onstad Foundation in Oslo presented an extensive retrospective of his work after he was awarded the first prize dedicated to Oskar Kokoschka by the Austrian government. Another retrospective was presented at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1985.
Hans Hartung’s works are now kept in the world’s most important museums: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Wallraff-Richartz -Museum, Cologne; Tate Gallery; London; Musée Royaux des Beux Arts, Bruxelles; Guggenheim, New York, MOMA, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; GNAm, Rome; Kenya Art Museum, Nairobi; Stedeklik Museum, Amsterdam; Kunstmuseum, Basel, to name but a few.
Hartung died in 1989 in Antibes, France.

HARTUNG and Art Informel, London, published catalogue of the exhibition held at Mazzoleni London, 25 October 2019 – 18 January 2020, with texts by Alan Montgomery


Hans Hartung, 1904 - 1989
T1955-16, 1955
Oil on canvas
81 x 65 cm - - 31 7/8 x 25 5/8 in
Hans Hartung, 1904 - 1989
Untitled, 1956
India ink on paper
34 x 26 cm - - 13 3/8 x 10 1/4 in
Hans Hartung, 1904 - 1989
Untitled, 1956
India ink on paper
34 x 26 cm - - 13 3/8 x 10 1/4 in
Hans Hartung, 1904 - 1989
T1963-E10, 1963
Vinylic and pastel on canvas
100 x 73 cm - - 39 3/8 x 28 3/4 in





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