The Controlled Gesture Of Hans Hartung

The Controlled Gesture Of Hans Hartung

Author: Rachele Paradiso

An Introduction

A mark on the canvas, controlled by precise dexterity, a mindful gesture that defines the surfaces. This is the main characteristic of one of the most important exponents of Abstract Expressionism in Europe. Hans Hartung was born in Lipsia in the early 20th century and, from the beginning, he professionally bonded with the father of Abstractionism Vassily Kandinsky, with whom he established also a relationship of mutual esteem. If in the USA the Expressionist cultural ferment gave life to huge canvases realized with the dripping technique and to compositions characterized by violent and explosive gestures, in Europe war brought artists to reflection more than to rebellion. This is how the shapeless chromatic masses by Jean Dubuffet or the figures taken hostage by Jean Fautrier emerged from canvases.


Entartete Kunst

In 1935, after the outburst of WWII and during the years of Nazism, Hartung was forced to leave Germany; his art and that of many other artists was considered “degenerated art”, or entartete Kunst, which indicated all those art forms that did not comply with the Nazi regime, fostering revolutionary, innovative, and unconventional aesthetics. Informal art, promoted by Hartung, was in contrast with the Nazi ideals, which, on the contrary, went after the recovery of a national and Aryan cultural tradition. In 1937, the regime purified museums and collections of “degenerated art”; the identified works, 650 ca., were displayed at an itinerant show of “degenerated art”, inaugurated in Munich by Joseph Goebbels, reaching 11 German and Austrian cities. The entrance to the exhibitions was totally free, so that as many visitors as possible could have observed the artworks. The featured artists were obliged to flee to France, Holland, or the USA; among them, those of Jewish origins that were unable to cross the German borders died in the concentration camps during the Shoah. Among the exhibited works, those by Hartung did not appear, because by then he had already reached France, where he lived in tight circumstances before enlisting in the French army. Instead, it showcased works by Marc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka, Max Pechstein, Paul Klee, Ernst Kirchner, and Wassily Kandinsky obviously.


A German in Paris

In Paris, before enlisting, Hartung met Piet Mondrian and Alexander Calder and exhibited his earliest works at the Salon des Indépendants. During war, he left for the foreign legion of Algeria. Back in Paris, he obtained the French citizenship. He has never gone back to Germany. The exhibition that made him famous in the Parisian environment took place in 1947 at the Galerie Lydia Conti. After his first solo show, he has often taken part in Documenta, Kassel, and has received the Gran Premio for painting at the Venice Biennial. He has always felt a close bond with gesture: his pictorial gesture is expansive yet controlled, often using instruments to define the homogeneous and linear chromatic masses. The elegance of the mindful and wise gesture connects with a rediscovered balance. In the Expressionist matter, made up of violent gestures and aggressive colors, Hartung finds the key to re-establish equilibrium. The beholder stands still in meditation in front of these continuous and regular pictorial forms, which are aloft yet permanent. Since 1960, the artist has begun painting directly on the canvas, producing no drafts on paper, until he eventually realized works with the airbrush.

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