Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Josef Albers
1888 - 1976
signed with the artist’s initials and dated 62; variously inscribed on the reverse
oil on masonite
45.7 by 45.7 cm. 18 by 18 in.
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This work will be included in the Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings by Josef Albers currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and is registered under JAAF 1976.1.304.


Estate of Josef Albers, New York
Josef Albers Foundation, New York
Galerie Denise René, Paris
Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in 1984)
Christie’s, Paris, 7 June 2017, Lot 6
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square is one of the most recognisable and iconic bodies of work of the Twentieth Century. The present work features a vibrant yellow square nestled in a rich ochre and wonderfully encased by a verdant green. This formative series, despite its title, is primarily concerned with colour, rather than shape. Although Albers was convinced of the fundamental status of any elemental form, he considered the carefully considered composition of squares, the placement of which on the canvas is consistent throughout all the works in the series, to primarily operate as “platters to serve colour” (Josef Albers cited in: Nicholas Fox Weber, ‘Josef Albers’, in: Getulio Alviani, Ed., Josef Albers, Milan 1988, p. 10). What follows is a hymn to hue and pigment, a testament to the power of colour to alter and dictate our vision. As Weber observed, Albers' paintings prove that “the colour of something affects where we see it in space” (Ibid., p. 10).

Tired of the tedious dogma of traditional German painting, which Albers had studied as a student in Munich, Albers responded enthusiastically to the radical Bauhaus manifesto of 1919. He described his abrupt decision to leave Munich in unequivocal terms: “I was 32 but I went to Bauhaus. Threw all my old things out the window, started once more from the bottom. That was the best step I made in my life” (Josef Albers cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, 2006, p. 66). One of of the principal tenets of the Bauhaus was colour: Johannes Itten, Albers’ first teacher in Weimar, redesigned Goethe’s colour wheel and taught extensively on colour theory and most significantly, his fellow pupil Paul Klee, was concerned with the relationships between colours, and the balance that they can create on a canvas. Albers later developed these ideas further at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his colleagues included Robert Motherwell and his students were Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. As part of the faculties of the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College – the two academic pillars of Modernism and the twentieth-century avant-garde art – Albers was one of the earliest pioneers to embrace these institutions and use them as vehicles to spread artistic beliefs.

Deeply rooted in his education and subsequent professorship, the peerless precision of the present work’s execution confirms Albers’ status as a titan of twentieth-century art. In its juxtaposition of rich powerful hues, Homage to the Square is a sumptuous and deeply evocative display of Albers’ longstanding and unsurpassed critical exploration into the aesthetic power of colour. It is the perfect summation of his aim to create an oeuvre that postulates the primacy of colour through visual experience.

Contemporary Art Day Auction