Lot 8
  • 8

Josef Albers

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Josef Albers
  • Study to Homage to the Square: Green Opening
  • signed with the artist's monogram and dated 58; signed, titled, dated 1958 and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • oil on masonite
  • 50.8 by 50.8 cm. 20 by 20 in.


Private Collection, Paris

Private Collection, London

Catalogue Note

Study to Homage to the Square: Green Opening is a superlative example of one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable series of the Twentieth Century. Crisply executed in a suite of cool greens and dark greys, this work serves as superb proof for Albers’ theory that colour does not exist by itself but only in dialogue with other colours. In his own words: “We are able to hear a single tone. But we almost never (that is without special devices) able to see a single colour unconnected and unrelated to other colours. Colours present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions” (Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, New Haven 1971, p. 5).

As a theorist, professor, and artist, Josef Albers’ contribution to the avant-garde in America and Europe, cannot be overstated. Having previously played a decisive role in the development of the Bauhaus, in 1933 he became head of the painting program at Black Mountain College. Here he taught artists like Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg, each of whom would come to play a decisive role in the development of Italy’s school of post-war and contemporary art; Twombly through his years spent in Rome, and Rauschenberg through his close relationships of mutual influence with artists like Alberto Burri and Piero Manzoni. Perhaps even more pertinently, from 1949 onwards, Albers was engaged in the Homage to the Square series, of which the present work is a worthy exemplar. These works were some of the earliest and most sincere attempts to explore artistic notions of colour through monochrome passages deployed in flat juxtaposition. They are amongst the most influential paintings of the post-war period, inspiring a cohort of the most important artists of the 1960s and 1970s and, in 1971, serving to make Albers the first living artist to be afforded a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Italian terms, Albers’ essays on colour provided the fertile ground from which such artists like Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Enrico Castellani, and Ettore Spaletti could grow. Each of these artists’ oeuvre was fundamentally engaged with the optical effects of chromatic contrast; each of them built upon the theorems and proofs expounded through Albers’ paradigm-shifting praxis.

As part of the Homage to the Square series, the present work is the product of a meticulous painterly and geometric process. Ranging in size from 16 by 16 inches to 48 by 48 inches, the paintings employ four possible variations on a rigid concentric schema; the first formal configuration contains four squares while the remaining three compositional types contain three squares in different arrangements. In executing his works according to these arrangements, Albers was at pains to completely deny the physical characteristics of oil-paint. He applied his pigment in smooth homogenous layers using a palette knife, and used Masonite as his ground, so as to create a completely smooth surface. All of these measures were undertaken so as to give his viewer a totally unmediated and undistracted appreciation of the colour palette that Albers had chosen. Works from Albers’ Homage to the Square series are sensuous and mesmeric, but above all they are purposive. In each example of the series, Albers set out to prove that our perception of colour is subjective, transient, and malleable, by manipulating our interpretations using a virtuosic array of chromatic contrasts and combinations. The legacy of his work as artist, teacher, and theorist resounded through the Twentieth Century, resonating in particular with Italian artists, who built on his revolutionary colour theory to produce their own extraordinary avant-garde.