The life of twentieth-century painting giant Hans Hartung spans seven decades of creation driven by a pioneering spirit in a perpetual search for innovation. The author of an immense body of work, developed across a wide variety of media, Hartung was celebrated after the war as the leader of lyrical abstraction.
Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hartung began his career in 1922 by creating a series of already abstract watercolours, whose expressive power produced an aesthetic revolution that characterised the rest of his career. Throughout his life, Hartung placed this formal research at the heart of his work, constantly reinventing his own practice: he created his own tools, developed new techniques, diligently explored the possibilities offered by each medium and engaged his body in the creative process.
Driven from a very young age by an aesthetic quest, Hartung was interested in the mysterious feeling of beauty and “the inexplicable reasons that make us find something beautiful.” Addressing this question in a quasi-scientific way, Hartung was passionate about the Section d’or in the 1930s and adopted the technique of casting, transposing his spontaneous drawings onto canvas. The extremely thought-out dimension of his approach partly contradicts the image of a gestural and spontaneous painter that is often associated with Hartung.
During this period, Hartung discovered Paris, attracted by avant-garde movements, finally settling there in 1935. He took part in numerous group exhibitions, before the Second World War interrupted his career. He then enlisted in the foreign legion against his native country, lost a leg in battle, and only gained recognition for his work after the war, during his first solo exhibition at the Lydia Conti gallery in 1947. Celebrated for his pioneering role in the emerging movement of lyrical abstraction, he subsequently benefited from several exhibitions in the United States that allowed his work to be included in the major American collections.
The 1960s marked a new turning point. Hartung further engaged his body in the creative process and freed his gesture, which allowed him to achieve great virtuosity in the context of increasingly large formats. Abandoning oil painting for acrylic and vinyl, whose shorter drying time offered him new technical possibilities and transformed his relationship to speed and gesture, he acted directly on the canvas, using a wide variety of gestures: scratching, incising, abrasion and spraying. This period coincided with the Grand Prix de Peinture, which he won at the Venice Biennale in 1960, at the pinnacle of his international recognition.
Hans Hartung’s career is inseparable from that of his partner Anna-Eva Bergman, who was also an artist. Together, they bought an olive grove in Antibes in 1960 and built a complex according to Hartung’s plans, comprising three buildings, one devoted to their shared life and the other two to their respective studios. In 1973, the couple settled in this wonderful refuge of life and creation. Hartung worked there until the end of his days, with an unquenchable thirst for creation and innovation.
Hans Hartung’s works have been integrated into the collections of numerous institutions around the world, including those of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, where a permanent hall has been devoted to Hartung since 1982, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York or the Tate Modern in London.