Hans Hartung

Hans Hartung was a vivid representative of Tachisme, one of the movements of abstract art of the XX century. He created about 360 paintings, but, unfortunately, did not receive the same recognition as other artists of his generation.

Disclaimer: The quotes were translated by me from the Russian source.


Abstract art is the main art direction of the XX century, which originated around the first decade of the last century. It has a deep duality, possessing a hint of both art and an alternative. Any work assumes any interpretation, which depends on the “vision” of the viewer, or even his mood.

Almost immediately after its appearance, it divided into two main directions: “geometric abstraction”, in which combinations of geometric forms, color planes, straight and broken lines prevail, and “lyric-emotional abstraction” with its freely flowing forms and rhythms.

In the 1950-60’s a new trend in abstractionism appeared. In the US it is called abstract expressionism, and in Europe —Tachisme (from the French tache — a spot). For the Tashists, unlike their American counterparts, the less aggressive form of writing, large strokes, special attention to the color and lightness of the forms are characteristic; they worked on the method of “mental improvisation”: strokes are applied to the canvas with fast movements without a preliminary plan. Some works of the Tashists literally beat up the psyche with sharp forms and dark colors, reflecting deep processes in the soul and thoughts of the artist, while others cause associations with natural phenomena — water elements, mountain landscapes, atmospheric movements.


Hans Hartung was born in 1904 in Leipzig. It can be said that Hans Hartung began his journey as a six-year-old boy. In his notes and numerous interviews, he talked about one case from childhood, which had a strong influence on him. His grandmother was afraid of thunderstorms, so at the first blows of thunder closed herself with the children in the dark corridor. Ashamed of his fear, little Hartung decided to overcome it and ran into the room during another thunderstorm and opened the window:

From now on, I no longer allowed myself to lock myself in the corridor for a thunderstorm. I wanted to see. Moreover — I began to draw. Lightnings, as soon as they appeared, I carried on the fly in my school notebook. I needed to have time to draw their zigzags before the thunder struck. So I swallowed a thunderstorm. As long as my pencil moved with lightning speed, nothing could happen to me. […] These children’s sketches of lightning — I’m sure of it — influenced my artistic development, in a picturesque manner. They endowed me with a sense of the speed of lightning, the desire to catch a moment on the tip of a pencil or a brush, taught not to hesitate in spontaneous work

In Dresden he studied literature, and in Leipzig — the history of art and philosophy. In the summer time he traveled by bicycle to France and Italy, where he visited museums, exhibitions and academies. Hartung independently came to abstraction in his student years. Then he studied classical painting, copying the paintings of Francisco Goya, Frans Hals, El Greco, Paul Cézanne and Van Gogh. It was classical art that served as a support for him in the search for abstract figures and convinced him of the correctness of his chosen path. In works written before 1932, one can find the influence of Cézanne, Van Gogh and the Cubists. He especially admired Rembrandt for his speed of applying strokes, expressiveness and, of course, his contrasts between light and dark, his ability to cause a strong drama.

The discretion, which I had already discovered by myself, I began to follow from Rembrandt. He justified my own spots and everything that prompted me to abandon figurativeness

Meanwhile, the artist seeks clarity of plastic constructions, which forces him to turn to mathematics and study the golden section. In 1928, he attended the courses of Max Dörner in Munich, dedicated to materials and techniques used in painting. In the fall of 1929, he married a young Norwegian artist, Anna-Eva Bergman, whom he had met on a summer trip in Paris.

In 1931, for the first time his works were exhibited in Dresden. At that time art critic Will Grohmann became interested in Hartung. Khartung enters into an open conflict with fascism. On his return to Berlin in 1935, he was subjected to surveillance and interrogation by the fascist government, because of which he had to flee to Paris, which was possible thanks to Will Grohman and Christian Zervos. 1938 year complicates the life of the artist: divorce with his wife, poor financial situation, deprivation of the German passport.

Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman

In 1939, he entered the Foreign Legion and went to fight in Africa. Demobilized, he hides in Spain, where he is arrested and spends 7 months in a concentration camp. He is offered an American visa, but in return he joins the French troops in the fight against fascism. In one of the battles of 1944 he loses his right leg. Only two years later he returns to Paris, receives French citizenship, followed by the first solo exhibition in Paris and a collective exhibition in the United States.

A large series of the second half of the 1950s brought Hartung wide fame as a master of “gesture painting”, he becomes a leading figure in Tashisme. Representations about the spontaneity of this painting, the unconscious splashes of psychic energy associated with the artist for many decades.


In 1957, he was the first to receive the Rubens award, and in 1960 he won the Great Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale.

In the 1960s, Hartung discovers for himself scratchboard — a figure scratched with a sharp object in damp paint — it was actively used by the surrealists in the pre-war years. The artist carefully selected the instruments, varying the force of pressure and the rate of their movement, thereby creating a variety of effects: flicker, meteor trails, animal hair, fishnet structures.

In the 1960’s and 70’s a lot of exhibitions and publications in France, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, the USA and other countries are devoted to Hans Hartung’s art. In 1977 he was elected to The Académie des Beaux-Arts. The first to receive the Oscar Kokoschka Award in 1981. In 1989, Hans Hartung passed away.

Hartung’s philosophy

Abstract art for him is a natural way of self-expression, not requiring any special justification. Abstraction is an idealization and generalization of nature. Abstract forms are models that, like mathematical models, adequately describe the structures of different phenomena of reality.

From what expectation the viewer approaches to the abstract picture, what he sees in it depends — senseless spots and stripes, or a work of art. Hans Hartung frees the imagination of the viewer, makes him feel the work. Therefore, to name his paintings, he simply uses the year of writing and its “serial number.” So, “T” — tableau, “P” — peinture, which in French means “picture”; 1963 — the year of writing the work; “R6” — its serial number.

Hartung’s manner was always closer to drawing than writing, his strokes resembled nervous shivers, and compositions — Eastern calligraphy. The artist reinterprets Chinese pictorial aesthetics, which is characterized by dynamic composition and bright color, based on the contrast of light and shadow, warm and cold colors, and performed in a generalized manner. Similar experiments for Hartung, as equally for Pierre Soulage and Georges Mathieu, are, first and foremost, the search for an aesthetic ideal in stroke, brush movement and calligraphic painting.

A fragment of the documentary “Hans Hartung”, 1971 convinces us of the improvisation of the artist’s methods, according to the “gesture painting”. However, this is completely wrong. In fact, each of his actions was preceded by a kind of rehearsal, that is, sketches, in which not only the form is set, but also the character of the hand movement-rotation, sweeps, slides, throws. Later it was revealed that “spontaneous” pictures were preceded not only by sketches, but also by depictions of the composition on canvas. Actually, Hartung himself never concealed that he was doing composition sketches.

The contradiction between the two principles — the prescriptions of a clear plan and the uncontrolled unfolding of the psychomotorics of the hand — did not seem to embarrass Hartung. On the contrary, it inspired him, stimulated creative activity. If he was wrong, he kept “unsuccessful moves, misfires, distortions, if they influenced the appearance of the picture and strengthened its vital energy”.

Hartung never believed that the meaning of the lyrical abstraction is the outpouring of emotions on the canvas. Insisting on the deep connection of his art with the outside world, Hartung seemed not to allow thought about reality, independent of human sensuality. The world for him is the inseparability of both principles.

The inner sensations of pleasure or displeasure, all feelings, anger towards the world or agreement with it — all this can not in itself give a plot of painting. […] To think so is an absolute mistake. […] Internal experiences can become a starting point, an incentive. And only an incentive. […] A scream, for example, is not art at all. Screaming is nothing. In order for art to become a scream, it must be subordinated to certain laws that are very difficult to define

The root relationship of the physical and mental, their structural similarity and close interaction become the main theme of Hartung’s painting. He did not intend to depict a particular state of the natural environment — similarities and analogies arose by themselves, encompassing phenomena of different types and different spheres, and thereby opening a new principle for the classification of full-scale forms. In painting, he invariably found analogs to various states of nature, and in the same composition one can see the accumulations of celestial bodies, rain drops, snowflakes whirlwinds, a swarm of flying insects, and a scattering of seed discarded by the plant.

sources in the russian language:
  1. “All about styles and movements in contemporary art”, 2012. — 112 p.
  2. ARTuzel “Ташизм / Tachisme”
  3. ARTuzel “Абстрактный экспрессионизм / abstract expressionism”
  4. Julio Karlo Argan “Contemporary art 1770-1970”, 1999. — 755 p.
  5. E.P. Kabkova, E.P. Lvova “World artistic culture. XX century. Fine art and design”, 2008. — 464 p.
  6. V.A. Kruchkova “Abstraction and mimesis in Hans Hartung’s art [1904-1989]” // Art studies №2, 2006. — p. 387-401.
  7. V.A. Kruchkova “Mimesis in the era of abstractionism: images of reality in the art of the second Paris school”, 2010. — 471 p.
  8. V.S. Turchin “Through the maze of the avant-garde”, 1993. — 248 p.
  9. M.D. Fomina “Eastern motifs in the works of European artists of the late XIX – first half of the XX century.”, 2016. — 19 p.
  10. Ditmar Elger “Abstraction art”, 2009. — 96 p.
sources in the english language:
  1. VIDEO: Fragment from the documentary on Hans Hartung
Sources in the french language:
  1. VIDÉO: Hans Hartung Spray – Musée d’art contemporain Serignan, 2011
  2. VIDÉO: TV5Monde “Hans Hartung et les peintres lyriques”, 2016
  3. VIDÉO: Hans Hartung “A constant form”, 2018
  4. Fondation Hartung-Bergman

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