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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec
Provincetown History: Hans Hofmann School

Hans Hofmann is considered by many critics to have been the greatest and most influential teacher of art in America in this century.

Hofmann already had received international recognition as an artist and teacher when he first came to Provincetown in the '30s. He had studied in Paris, operated his own school in Munich, taught at the Art Students League and other American schools of art. He established the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in New York in 1933 and in 1934 opened his summer school in Provincetown.

He initially leased the former Hawthorne home and barn studio on Miller Hill, then taught in Fritz Bultman's studio in Days Lumberyard, the first time classes were held there. In 1945 Hofmann bought property on Commercial Street from seascape painter Frederick Waugh, which gave him studio space for teaching. This building at 76 Commercial Street is now a private home, not open for viewing.

After the war Hofmann's classes were filled with established artists as well as neophytes, and his Friday afternoon critiques drew crowds of artists, critics and vacationers. It was said that nearly everyone of importance in the world of modern art came to these sessions at least once and many major artists were drawn by his presence to spend summers in Provincetown. Among those who came were Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Larry Rivers, Fritz Bultman, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko.

Perhaps because of his accented mixture of English, French and German, or his partial deafness, Hofmann developed his unique way of teaching. He would make alterations directly on students' work or attach scraps to show alternative compositions. He never, however, let students view his own work, fearing that they would become imitative rather than develop their own styles.

After 43 years of teaching -- 23 of them in Provincetown -- Hofmann closed both of his schools in 1958 in order to paint full-time. Long renowned as a teacher, he now is given due recognition as a painter, including a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1963. Hans Hofmann died in 1966 shortly after hanging a show of his work at the Kootz Gallery in New York.

 

from PROVINCETOWN: THE ART COLONY A Brief History and Guide by Nyla Ahrens, published by Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 1997. Revised edition published 2000. Available in print at Provincetown Art Association and Museum Store.


© Nyla Ahrens

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Hans Hofmann class, c. 1938.
Photographer: Tom Milius. PAAM Archives

 

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Fishing Boat line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

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