Lot 13
  • 13

Josef Albers

280,000 - 350,000 GBP
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  • Josef Albers
  • Study for Homage to the Square: Coniferous
  • signed with artist's monogram and dated 58; signed, titled, dated 1958 and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • oil on masonite
  • 45.7 by 45.7 cm. 18 by 18 in.


Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
The Museum Shop, New York
Jay R. Braus, New York
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (gifted by the above in 1977)
Christie's, New York, 9 May 2012, Lot 161 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Albers: Homage to the Square, November - December 1959
Chicago, Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Albers, 1962
Los Angeles, Ferus Gallery, Paintings by Josef Albers, September - October 1962
New York, Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Josef Albers: Homage to the Square, March 1964 - January 1967, no. 5
Yonkers, The Hudson River Museum, Art in Westchester, September - November 1969
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Recent Acquisitions, November 1978 - February 1979


Ann Temkin, Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, New York 2008, p. 18, no. 3, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the two inner green squares are slightly deeper and richer and the outer two squares are slightly lighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.... Practical exercises demonstrate through color deception (illusion) the relativity and instability of color. And experience teaches that in visual perception there is a discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect.”

Josef Albers

Interaction of Color, London 2006, pp. 1-2

A captivating example of Josef Albers’ methodological yet highly intuitive approach to painting, Study for Homage to the Square: Coniferous forms part of the artist’s most iconic series created between 1950 until his death in 1976. Out of the Homage to the Square paintings, the present work in particular stands out with its impressive provenance and exhibition history:  previously owned by Jay R. Braus, an astute art collector whose esteemed collection was displayed in an exhibition at the Berkshire Museum in 2011, Study for Homage to the Square: Coniferous was subsequently gifted to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1977 and remained in its collection for over 35 years. Prior to entering one of the world's most prestigious museum collections, the work was included in an extensive travelling exhibition over a three-year period throughout the US and South America. This now-legendary exhibition is closely linked to Albers’ own biography: the artist first traveled to Mexico in 1935, and the encounter with Latin American indigenous art would have a decisive influence on his understanding of colour and form. As masterfully exemplified in the present work, the light of the South powerfully emanates through the juxtaposition of luminous emerald green nested in a sea of vibrant terracotta and muted mahogany. As much as the painting is an homage to the square, it is also an homage to the colour and light that Albers discovered in the landscape of the South.

Indeed, Albers’ deep-rooted interest in Latin America and his interest for the region’s indigenous art fostered the artist's understanding for the subtle relationship between colour and form that would stand as a basis for his Homage to the Square paintings. Between 1935 and 1967, Albers and his wife Anni journeyed to Mexico some fourteen times, travelling in a Ford Model A across the boarder. It was then in the South that Albers encountered the magnificent architecture of ancient Mesoamerica and the abundance of pre-Columbian artefacts. Over the years, the couple amassed a collection of around 1,400 objects; antiquities that were to profoundly influence their creative output in the years to come. Albers’ experiences in Latin America therefore offer an essential context for understanding his unprecedented opus. His arrangements of squares and rectangles share the same aesthetic DNA to the abstract forms of Latin American pottery and textiles, and even extend to the history of architecture. This becomes the more apparent when looking at the artist’s fascinating collection of black-and-white photographs that document the pyramids, shrines and sanctuaries he discovered at various archaeological sites during his travels, especially in Mexico and Peru. The importance of these influences on Albers' artistic practice and their interrelation to his painterly practice will be the subject of an upcoming exhibition, Josef Albers in Mexico, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York opening in November 2017.

Study for Homage to the Square: Coniferous is not only a primal display of Albers’ revolutionary approach to the subjectivity of colour, but quintessentially testifies to the radical impact Albers made on the canon of Twentieth Century art. In 1962, the present work was exhibited at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles; the same year the gallery exhibited Andy Warhol’s legendary installation of 32 Soup Cans. While Albers’ pursuit of colour experimentations bears little relation to Warhol’s pop idiom, these two artists share their revolutionary approach in redefining the idea of what art is considered to be. Just as Study for Homage to the Square: Coniferous later entered the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, so did the 32 Soup Cans exhibited at the Ferus Gallery.

The link between Albers and the Museum of Modern Art can be traced back to the Bauhaus years. Intriguingly, the founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. had visited the Bauhaus in 1927 in order to formulate a structural notion of modernism, which, at the appropriate time, would serve as the model for the museum and its formalist aesthetic. As Barr envisioned it, the unity of style in all the arts, including industrial design, was the single most important idea governing the founding of the new museum. As a student and later professor at the Bauhaus, Albers’ later series of the Homage to the Square is inextricably linked to the principles and philosophy of the Bauhaus, of which the present work is an exquisite example. A delicate orchestration of line, colour and shape, Study for Homage to the Square: Coniferous exemplifies the fruits of Albers’ lifelong experimentation, his radical mode of abstraction that sharply delineates states of mind in form and colour. The present work thus epitomises the artist’s extensive and celebrated oeuvre, evidencing why Albers artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of our era.