What I quickly perceived in Hans Hartung’s painting was his force and strong will that appear throughout his work. The paintings become animated when one looks at them, and I personally feel that the life-loving artist’s movements are actually a dialogue between himself and the viewer.
When Hartung was small, an artistic ambiance was prevalent in his family; his life in Leipzig followed the rhythm set by painting and music. The young artist, fascinated with éclairs, would try to capture them with pencil strokes.
Hans Hartung was interested in a certain form of abstraction early on, giving one the impression that he knew where he was going. He was so sure of himself that he did not hesitate to reject Kandinsky’s own conception of abstraction by exchanging geometric shapes for freer movements.
His manner of capturing the motion, speed, and cadence of a free movement along with its emotion and vivacity, which Hartung never stopped trying to achieve, evokes a sense of dynamism which is present in all of his paintings.
I feel that, in looking at the immense 3×5 m painting finished seven months before his death, the artist did in fact achieve what he had hoped to. I was transfixed by the melody that emerges from this work, like a paramount explosion, or a geyser of paint. I was caught by this painting, as it is a wonderful revelation of Hartung’s creativity and of his vision of life that explodes right in our faces. The éclairs from the artist’s childhood reappear here, and this painting becomes, for me, the revelation of his “eternity.”
Despite being German, Hans Hartung chose to live in France where he endured two wars and had a leg amputated following the Belfort siege in 1944. He was at one point involved in the Foreign Legion to fight on France’s side, against his country of origin.
In 1926 in Dresden, he encountered modern paintings by Braque, Picasso, Matisse, and Rouault which made him want to travel across France and Italy to explore museums and exhibits. “This research in plasticity, order, rigor, and the simplification of colors gave me an extraordinary desire to create for all eternity.” Hans Hartung
Hartung met his wife Anna Eva Bergman in France, herself a painter, and they married in 1929. They actually married twice and created a workshop/house in Antibes—today it’s the Hartung Bergman Foundation and welcomes visitors through appointments only. The carefree life of two youthful people unfortunately ended when Hartung’s father died in 1932.
Hartung was mainly inspired by a soundtrack of classical music that he loved to listen to while working. The sketches, placed next to the final paintings, show the artist’s process: the enlargement of the drawing as it is gradually transferred onto the canvas, often years later and after various additions. Hans Hartung continued creating in this manner until the late 1950s after which he produced only prompt works—he did this until his death.
In 1960, Hartung received the Biennale di Venezia Prize.
In his studio, there were not only paintbrushes but among the more traditional tools were gardening tools, brushes of every kind, and even twigs…
The exhibit’s curator, Xavier Douroux, made the decision to display artists of lyrical abstraction in the beginning of the exposition as their works are similar to those of Hartung. These other artists include Georges Mathieu and his frontrunner Scheider, Hantaï…In another, slightly more distant room, I found the work of Cy Twombly and Christopher Wool (who was very passionate about Hartung).
Hartung 10 perspectives Christopher Wool – Selected Works, Les presses du reel Editions.
(The Metropolitan Museum of New York, in 1975, displayed 27 of Hans Hartung’s monumental works throughout three rooms)
The last room shows a painting done by Gérard Traquandi, whose “carte blanche” exhibit at the Montmajour Abbey I fondly remember.