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Homage to the Square: Early Rising I

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© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Homage to the Square: Early Rising I

1961
oil and acrylic on canvas
48 in. x 48 in. (121.92 cm x 121.92 cm)
Gift of the Friends of the Currier Museum of Art, 1961.7

Josef Albers
American
1888–1976

ON VIEW

Josef Albers's experiments with color and form have left their mark on a number of twentieth-century art movements, including Geometric Abstraction, Op Art, and Minimalism. Born in the Ruhr district of Germany in 1888, Albers had decided on a career as an elementary schoolteacher when he first encountered the work of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Visits to museums and art galleries confirmed his growing interest, and by the mid-1910s he was studying as well as teaching art. In 1920 Albers entered the Bauhaus in Weimar, a progressive school dedicated to modernist principles and the integration of art and craft. He became a Bauhaus instructor three years later and remained with the school until it was finally closed by the Nazis in 1933.

Following the closure of the Bauhaus, Albers was invited to teach at the new Black Mountain College in North Carolina. During the 1930s and 1940s Albers exhibited his work widely in the United States while teaching in North Carolina and at Harvard University. In 1950 the artist took a position at Yale University, inaugurating a period of productivity that saw the development of the Homage to the Square paintings as well as several murals and public projects. Albers won a number of awards and honorary degrees later in life, and during the 1960s, his Square paintings were the focus of two traveling shows that toured some twenty museums in South America, Mexico, and the United States. In 1971 he became the first living artist to be given a retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albers died in 1976.

The Currier's Homage to the Square: Early Rising I is a fine example of Albers's signature mode. The painting consists of three graduated squares that appear to be superimposed over one another; the two smaller squares are different shades of yellow, while the larger square, extending almost to the edge of the canvas itself, is painted gray. Color intensity proceeds from the smallest square outward to the largest.

Choosing the square because it was stable, simple, and an obviously human construct, Albers deliberately limited all other visual associations other than those produced by color. While the artist could not deny the emotional response elicited by color itself, he was careful to use only pure colors, straight from the tube. These he spread on canvas with a palette knife, as thinly and smoothly as possible so as to avoid leaving any traces of personal interaction, nuance, or emotion. Not surprisingly, Albers had little patience for Abstract Expressionism and its romantic, artist-centered iconology.

Through the extended series of Square paintings, all of which employ similar compositions, Albers explored color relationships and the optical effects that resulted when certain colors were applied side by side. Juxtapositions might be subtle or more pronounced, depending on Albers's goal. In the Currier painting, the small yellow square appears bright against the larger mustard-colored square, which itself seems rather dull in contrast to the gray square that appears to surround it. Conversely, Albers's gray square appears as a warm color alongside the yellows, although in reality it is neutral in character. Such effects fascinated Albers for much of his mature career, and in paintings such as the Currier's, he strove to make viewers aware of the intrinsic power of light and color, independent of any other mediating factors.

Homage to the Square: Early Rising I was presented to the Currier Museum of Art by the Friends of the Museum in 1961, the year it was completed by the artist.

VSD

REFERENCES

Eugen Gromringer et al. Josef Albers: His Work as Contribution to Visual Articulation in the Twentieth Century. New York: George Wittenborn, n.d.

"A Painting by Josef Albers." Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin, December 1961, n.p.


Exhibition
1966 University of New Hampshire, Paul Creative Arts Center, Durham, NH, "A Century of American Art, 1866-1966." Jan. 15 - Feb. 15.

1979 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Friends of the Currier Gallery of Art: 20 Years of Acquisition." Jan. 12 - Feb. 25.

1980 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, 'More Than Meets the Eye; Hidden Collections of the Currier Gallery of Art." Jan. 12 - Mar. 2.

1984 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Friends of The Currier Gallery of Art: 25 Years of Acquisitions." Jan. 8 - Feb. 12.

1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.

Provenance
Artist
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1961

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