Lot 35
  • 35

HANS HOFMANN | Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind)

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
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  • Hans Hofmann
  • Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind)
  • signed and dated '61; signed, titled, dated 1960, and inscribed Cat #1083 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 74 by 48 3/8 in. 188 by 122.9 cm.


Estate of the artist (no. M-0035)
André Emmerich Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1969)
Sidney Kahn, New York (acquired from the above in 1969) 
André Emmerich Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1972-73)
Stephen Mazoh & Co., New York (acquired from the above in 1973)
Mr. and Mrs. Gardner Cowles, New York (acquired from the above in 1973)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Nuremberg, Fränkische Galerie am Marientor Nuremberg; Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein; and Berlin, Kongreßhalle, Hans Hofmann, April 1962 - January 1963, n.p., no. 92 (text)
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; and Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Hans Hofmann, January - October 1965, n.p., no. 19, illustrated (Amsterdam and Bonn), n.p., no. 20, illustrated (Turin)
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Hans Hofmann: Ten Major Works, January 1969, n.p., no. 8, illustrated in color
Syracuse, Everson Museum of Art, Hans Hofmann, February - April 1969
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; and Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Hans Hofmann: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 1976 - April 1977, p. 34, no. 54, illustrated in color, p. 91, illustrated, and illustrated in color on the front cover
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Hans Hofmann, June - September 1990, p. 142, no. 101, illustrated in color


"Home: Scene-Changing," New York Times Magazine, October 18, 1970, p. 87, illustrated in color 
Douglas Davis, "Tale of Hofmann", Newsweek 18 November 1, 1976, p. 78 (text), p. 79, illustrated 
Paul Richard, "Hans Hofmann: a Master in His Own Time," Washington Post, October 14, 1976, p. C3, illustrated in color 
Mimi Crossley, "50 Pounds of Pigment," Houston Post, February 26, 1977, illustrated 
Gwen Kinkead, "The Spectacular Fall and Rise of Hans Hofmann," ARTnews, Summer 1980, p. 95 (text)
Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, Berkeley, 1986, p. 95 (text)
Peter Schjeldahl, "All Middle," Village Voice, July 24, 1990, p. 98, illustrated
James Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 246, illustrated in color
Suzi Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume III: Catalogue Entries P847-PW89 (1952-1965), Surrey, 2014, p. 323, no. P1350, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

An eloquent symphony of exquisite form and explosive hue, Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) is an evocative ode to the painterly brilliance of Hans Hofmann at the absolute apex of his creative energies. Executed in 1961, when the artist was eighty-one years old, the present work presents a vista of dazzling chromatic vibrancy and flawless formal precision, perfectly capturing the essential genius of Hofmann’s enduringly influential oeuvre. Within the vertical compositional structure of the present work, purely saturated hues of canary yellow and deepest azure are juxtaposed against each other as rectangles of varying sizes and shapes, each placed with utmost precision against a dominant field of blazing orange. Standing before the present work, we are invited to lose ourselves in the enveloping depths of brilliant pigment as each form hovers, suspended, within the muscular surface of Hofmann’s masterpiece. Bespeaking its central importance, Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) bears an illustrious exhibition history that includes both the artist’s first retrospective exhibition in 1976-1977, organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the second major survey of his work in 1990, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Indeed as the masterpiece chosen to represent the artist on the cover of the 1976 retrospective catalogue, the present work is indisputably amongst the most historical and significant exemplars of Hofmann’s mastery of lyrical and exquisite beauty within the medium of paint. Combining a devoted study of color and a dedication to compositions with a reverberating vitality, Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) emphatically testifies to Hofmann’s distinctive status as both a pioneering colorist and preeminent abstractionist. Despite being a generation older than many of his peers of the post war era, Hofmann bridged the School of Paris and the New York Abstract Expressionists with enlightened innovation, especially during the last decade of his life. Exemplifying the artist’s iconic “push-pull” synthesis, the composition of Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) is built up of geometric blocks of richly saturated color, intricately organized within an exacting formal structure; against the apparent underlayer of brilliant orange, the carefully layered strata of bright yellow, verdant green, and varied blues appear to float outward and recede inward with a rhythmic weightlessness. Describing the unique dynamism of his paintings, Hofmann explained, “push and pull is a colloquial expression applied for movement experienced in nature or created on the picture surface to detect the counterplay of movement in and out of depth. Depth perception in nature and depth creation on the picture-surface is the crucial problem in pictorial creation.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Hans Hofmann, 1990, p. 177) Constructing a complex spatial illusion while simultaneously asserting the primacy of the flat picture plane, Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) serves as a masterful demonstration of Hofmann’s artistic legacy as a critical link between tradition and the avant-garde.

With Hofmann’s retirement from teaching in 1958, he was able to devote himself to his own painting exclusively for the last eight years of his life. Broadcasting the passion of the artist at the apex of this richly fertile period, the geometric “slabs” of Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) intersect against a backdrop of highly tactile impasto, the rigid architecture of his rectangular forms vying spectacularly with the irrepressible energy of the emphatic brushstrokes. Remarking upon the artist’s characteristic use of varied rectangular forms, Irving Sandler has suggested that “Hofmann may have derived the idea of using rectangles in his painting from one of his teaching techniques: attaching pieces of construction paper to the canvases of his students.” (Irving Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, New York, 1970, p. 147, note 5) Within the present work, Hofmann’s use of both heavy impasto and thin brushstrokes creates an ethereal richness that leaves his working methods visible, imbuing his canvas with the intimate expressions of his creative process. Meanwhile, the inclusion of spontaneous, bursting strokes of paint and textured surface reveals the influence of the Abstract Expressionists. Of this apparent juxtaposition, Sandler contends, “Each canvas was to be an arena in which opposites vied: nature and abstraction; the material and the transmaterial or spiritual; the preconceived and the impulsive; and the romantically free and the classically ordered and disciplined." (Irving Sandler, “Hans Hofmann: The Dialectical Master” in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Hans Hofmann, 1990, p. 77)

Beyond their sheer geometry, Hofmann's signature rectangles were a point of departure into a galaxy of formal and aesthetic concerns just as much as Barnett Newman's ‘zips’ and Jackson Pollock's ‘drips.’ As Cynthia Goodman has noted, “Hofmann considered form and color synonymous, and he was fond of repeating Cézanne's maxim that 'when color is fullest, form is richest.’” (Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1986, pp. 75-76)  With the ‘push and pull’ of his rectangles established as the primary spatial concept of his picture plane and his painterly application of thick layers of oil declaring a sense of volume to the color forms, Hofmann could boldly acknowledge the sheer visual properties of color as diaphanous or blazing light. In his 1955 statement for his exhibition at Kootz Gallery,  Hofmann wrote, "In nature, light creates the color: in the picture, color creates the light." (Ibid., p. 81) Ultimately, the title of the present work speaks most eloquently of Hofmann's unity of balance, form, light and color which he compared to the composition of musical harmonies. "For Hofmann, who claimed that 'My ideal is to form and to paint as Schubert sings his songs and Beethoven creates a world in sounds,' the worlds of art and music were also interrelated...He went so far in his analogy as to liken a picture with 'its sequence of planes' to an 'instrument' that he could play, and the realization of a work of art to the swelling of an orchestra." (Irving Sandler, Ibid., pp. 68-72) Echoing the literal lyricism and poetic title, the horizontal slivers of yellow and deep blue of the present painting chime and "ring" against the vivid orange ground. Amongst the very finest articulations of the pioneering spirit which both defined and drove Hofmann’s celebrated painterly corpus, Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute (Mellow Sound of Bells Rings Gently through My Mind) stages a symphonic union of color and form to deliver the ultimate, harmonious summation of the artist’s influential and enduring painterly vision.