by Olga Kitt
An Introduction To The Hans Hofmann School Of Art In New York City And Provincetown, Massachusetts During The Nineteen-Fifties
Eighth Street between MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue in New York City in the middle of the twentieth century was one of the most exciting locations for a young artist. On the second floor of 52 West Eighth Street, a plain almost white building, one could sometimes see art students leaning out of open windows. The windows were covered with an opaque white film so that the people who lived across the street could not see the nude models posing in the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art.
The Waldorf Cafeteria on Sixth Avenue near Eighth Street had drawn local artists like De Kooning, Kline, Kaldis, Lewitin and Tworkov to its tables where they discussed the eternal verities, Greek columns, Futurism and the future of European emigre artists among many other things. The marquee lights of a movie theater, the Eighth Street Playhouse, would draw attention to its current features. So many glitzy boutiques would compete for tourist attention. Handmade leather goods shops, bookstores and fortune tellers added to the local color. But the search for the real*, color and magic, was within the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art.
Once you passed through the Hofmann Schools simple doorway and ascended its narrow stairway to the huge loft you felt you were in a very special place. Its white walls were largely empty. At that time white was considered neutral and the best background to show off the natural properties of all colors. Most student work was in charcoal on roughly 25" x 19" white drawing paper sold individually from large packages stored in the school.
Someone tacked a small postcard of a Piero della Francesca mural on one of the walls. It was said that Hofmann admired della Francesca's murals. Otherwise, the loft was cluttered with easels, storage racks, drawing benches, chairs and a model stand or two, much like his studio school on Cape Cod, except perhaps there was less floor space per student in Provincetown. A north light
streamed through the casement windows that opened to a panoramic view of Eighth Street. Inside, the atmosphere crackled with the excitement of new expectations.
These rooms were always clean, carefully attended to by especially talented young men in exchange for tuition. Most students felt the tuition was high but since one paid on a monthly basis, a student could interrupt or resume his studies according to his financial situation or personal needs. The G. I. Bill covered the tuition for many of the men and Hofmann would sometimes grant scholarships. In 1954-55 I was one of the lucky recipients of his generosity. He too had received financial aid. From 1904-1914 Philip Freudenberg, Berlin businessman and art collector, supported Hofmann's studies in Paris.
Students varied in age, background and wealth. Middle age matrons would sit beside scruffy twenty somethings. Some had started their lives in Texas and others were born in Europe. Hofmann's reputation attracted serious students from all over the world.
Eventually, hundreds, if not thousands of his students, Apollonian Hofmannites, would carry the great ideas of the School of Paris, analytic and synthetic cubism, as interpreted by this passionate German-American, back to art classes and colleges across America where the admirers of Jackson Pollack, Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol would quarrel with them. At one time it seemed that huge numbers of artists would identify themselves as Hofmann students. Eventually, there would be even more who
identified themselves as students of a teacher who had studied with Hofmann.
During the years that the Hofmann School functioned, Greenwich Village was considered the hub of the art world. "The Club" settled at 39 East Eighth Street** in 1948. Nearby, at 8 West Eighth Street was the Whitney Museum. When the Whitney moved to mid-Manhattan its building in the village was taken over by the New York Studio School, founded by Mercedes Matter, who had studied with Hofmann, and her former students.
Hofmann closed his school in 1958.
*See Hofmann, Hans, Search For The Real and Other Essays, ed. Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H, Hayes, Jr. (Cambridge, M.I.T. Press, 1967.) An original earlier edition was published on the occasion of his first large American show in 1948 at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Mass.
**See Club Without Walls, Selections from the Journals of Philip Pavia, ed. Natalie Edgar (New York, Midmarch Arts Press. 2007)