Hans Hartung

Hans Hartung (1904-1989) was born in Leipzig, Germany as the son and grandson of physicians. Hartung was one of the few painters of his day who thought almost from the outset in purely abstract terms. At an early stage, Hartung was captivated by the unpredictable energy of light, space and shadow, which he sought to translate onto the canvas. In 1927, He started working on gestural paintings 20 years before Jackson Pollock who was 15 at that time and was thereafter often associated with the involvement with the French Art Informel or the Tachist movements.

Initially self-taught as an artist, and reportedly unaware of the existence of earlier abstract painters, Hans Hartung studied philosophy and art history at Leipzig University in 1924 and later attended art schools in Leipzig, Dresden, and Munich. The basic elements of his pictorial language were apparently formed by the time he was 18. The first exhibition of Hartung’s works took place in November 1931 at the Kühl Gallery in Dresden. An adherent throughout his life of a subjective, spontaneous, gestural form of abstraction, he worked mainly in Paris during the 1930's. After a brush with the Nazi regime in Berlin in 1935, he returned to Paris and volunteered at the outbreak of World War II for the French Foreign Legion. He lost his right leg during action in 1944. Granted French nationality in 1946, he became a leading member of the abstract wing of the School of Paris after 1945.

Driven by his endeavor to analyze the tension between areas of colours and line compositions, Hartung’s paintings are characterized as calligraphic, thin frenetic strokes against a dark backdrop that completely eliminates any figurative elements. He came to be regarded in Europe as the counterpart of the American abstract expressionists. He was invited to the first Documenta at Kassel, in 1955 and was awarded the International Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1960 and had a major exhibition of his paintings in 1975 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 1972 he built a studio in Antibes at the South of France where he stayed until his passing in 1989.

Hartung’s works are in the collections of major museums worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Tate Gallery, London, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. His prominent solo exhibitions in the last decade are: Hartung in China, Palace of Fine Arts, Beijing; National Museum, Nanjing, China (2005); Hans Hartung: Spontaneous Calculus, Pictures, Photographs, Film 1922-1989, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Germany; Kunsthalle Kiel, Kiel, Germany (2007-08); Hans Hartung: Essential, Circula de Bellas Artes, Madrid, Spain (2008); Hans Hartung: The Gesture and the Method, Fondation Marguerite and Aimé Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France (2008); Hans Hartung Prints, Museum of Prints and Drawings, National Museum of Berlin, Germany; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, France; Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Genève, Geneva Switzerland (2010-2011); Hartung: Prints, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland (2011); Hans Hartung: Fait le 29.7.89 – Bilder eines Tages, Galerie Fahnemann, Berlin, Germany (2012); Hans Hartung: L’Atelier du Geste, CCBB, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2014-15); Hans Hartung and Photography, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, Germany (2016).


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