Leipzig, 1904 – Antibes, 1989
Hans Hartung was born into a family of artists. He developed an early appreciation for Rembrandt’s work, for German painters such as Lovis Corinth, and Expressionists such as Oskar Kokoschka and Emil Nolde. In 1924 he enrolled at the Leipzig University, where he studied philosophy and art history, and subsequently studied at the Fine Arts academy of Dresden. The modern French and Spanish works he saw in 1926 at the Internationale Kunstausstellung in Dresden were a revelation to him, and let him to move to Paris.
In Paris, Hartung had little contact with other artists, and copied the works of old and modern masters. He visited the south of France, where the landscape inspired him to make a close study of the works of Cézanne. In 1928 he visited Munich and studied painting technique with Max Doerner. In 1929 he married the artist Anna-Eva Bergman and the couple settled in Minorca.
He exhibited for the first time in 1931 in Dresden, but was rejected by Nazi Germany on account of being a ‘degenerate’, because his painting style was associated with Cubism. In 1935, when he attempted to sell paintings while visiting Berlin, the police tried to arrest him. He was able to flee the country with the help of his friend Christian Zervos. Returning to Paris as a refugee, Hartung and his wife divorced. His paintings were becoming more abstract and did not sell well. His friends offered help and the sculptor Julio González let him use his studio. In 1939 Hartung married González’s daughter Roberta.
In December 1939, he joined the French Foreign Legion and was arrested and detained for seven months by the French police. On his release, he rejoined the Legion to fight in North Africa, losing a leg in a battle near Belfort. He earned French citizenship in 1945, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In 1947 he had his first solo exhibition in Paris. By the late 1950s he had achieved recognition for his gestural paintings, which were almost monochromatic and characterised by long rhythmic brushstrokes and scratches. In 1960 he was awarded the International Grand Prix for painting at the Venice Biennale. Hartung’s abstract paintings influenced many younger American painters of the sixties, making him an important forerunner of American Lyrical Abstraction of the 1960s and 1970s.
He was featured in the 1963 film documentary “School of Paris: (5 Artists at Work)” by American filmmaker Warren Forma.
© HANS HARTUNG, by SIAE 2023