10 Things to know about Hans Hartung

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Hans Hartung – Sans titre 1940 – summer 1940
Gouache, oil and pencil on cardboard

Born in Germany in 1904 (he later acquired the French nationality) Hans Hartung is considered one of the fathers of abstract art, but also of tachisme. Full of dynamism and freedom, Hans Hartung’s artworks are driven by the desire to develop a new pictorial language.

Today, Artsper invites you to learn more about him and his works. Come and discover the man behind these wild and free paintings. You might be surprised…

1. He lost his leg during the War.

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Hans Hartung – L 1, 1952 – 1952/1953
Lithograph (pencil, scraper and brush) on Arches vellum

During the Second World War, Hartung was eager to fight against Germany, so he joined the French regular army. Due to his German nationality, he was be transferred to the Foreign Legion. In November 1944, an attack occurred in the city of Belfort which left him seriously injured. Due to this injury, his right leg had to be amputated. Hartung returned from the war traumatized, but also impatient to continue his pictorial work after 5 years of interruption. Upon his return, he was very concerned about his injuries, but also about other artists. Artists who, unlike him, did not go to fight, and were therefore able to develop their careers and perfect their art.

2. He made meticulous preliminary drawings for his paintings.

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Hans Hartung – T1936 8 – 1936 – Oil on canva
Hans Hartung – Sans titre – 1934 – Pencil on paper

When Hans Hartung arrived in Paris in the 1930s, he lived in precarious conditions and had great difficulty in obtaining art supplies. One day his friend Jean Hélion, who was also a painter, gave him an advice that Hans would never forget. He advised him to always remain faithful to his sketches, and to accept his mistakes. Thus, from this period on, and until the 1960s, Hartung faithfully reproduced all of his sketches on canvas, through the use of a grid. This process allowed him to save on canvases, paint and brushes. As wild and dynamic as his paintings may appear, they were in fact meticulously and consciously prepared.

3. His wife was also an abstract painter.

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Anna Eva Bergman – N°87-1960 Double Mur – 1960
Tempera and metal sheet on cardboard mounted on canvas

Too often left in the shadow of her husband, Anna Eva Bergman was also an artist. Initially an illustrator and caricaturist, she made many visuals for magazines or even cooking books. It was during the 1950s, when she reconnected with Hans after their separation, that she started questioning her work. After a break, she, just like Hans, began to work on abstract painting. But unlike Hartung, she produced much quieter, serene works, large dark blue canvases, with gold and silver stars.

4. In Paris, he met Mondrian, Miró and Calder.

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Hans Hartung – Drawings 1921/1938 – Galerie Craven – 1956

After encountering many financial problems in Germany, Hans and his wife moved to Paris in 1935. They then lived in a studio at 19 rue Daguerre in Paris. During this period he worked with artists such as Mondrian, Miró and Calder. It is also during this period that he began to exhibit at the Pierre Loeb Gallery, and to participate each year in the Salon des Surindépendants.

5. He was also a sculptor.

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Hans Hartung’s studio at 8 rue François Mouthon -1938

By the late 1930s, Hartung’s financial situation was deteriorating very quickly and the artist had to move to a smaller apartment in Paris. Later on, his friend Henri Goetz who took him under his roof. Then the sculptor Julio González welcomed him to his studio. Hans thus became friends with the sculptor and learned about three-dimensional art. Two abstract sculptures were created from this experiment, one of which was exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants.

6. Alain Resnais made a film about him.

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Alain Resnais making his films about Hans Hartung – 1947

Despite the fact that he had not finished his film studies, the young Alain Resnais remained close to some of his professors at IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques), notably the art critic Madeleine Rousseau, who introduced him to Hans Hartung in 1947. Resnais thus shot a film on Hartung, 7 minutes long, in 16mm, black and white and for budget reasons, silent. The film screened in 1950 as part of the first monograph on Hartung’s work at Galerie La Hune, and presented the artist in his Parisian studio, in the middle of creative process.

7. He was passionate about photography.

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Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman in 1932. 
© Fondation Hartung Bergman

Passionate about photography since his childhood, the painter said that he had the habit of taking pictures of everything, and that for him pictures were like a second memory. During a trip to Norway with Anna Eva Bergman, he took more than 1000 pictures of their journey beyond the North Cape. Finally, in 1977, the Cercle Noroit in Arras dedicated an exhibition to Hartung’s photographic production, as he celebrated his 73rd birthday.

8. He illustrated a collection of poems.

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Hans Hartung – Farandole 8 – 1971

In the early 1960s, the poet and writer Jean Proal wrote a series of poems called Prière sur l’agonie or Farandole. One of Hans Hartung’s close friends, Proal sent him a few extracts, which the painter found deeply moving. This series of poems dealt with the absurdity of war and human violence, and more particularly of the Algerian war that had been raging for several years. It was only in 1971, two years after Proal’s death, that Hartung made about fifteen lithographs to illustrate the book of poetry.

9. He was obsessed with the golden ratio.

Hans Hartung – Sans titre – 1927
Oil an canva

Towards the end of the 1920s, Hans Hartung became increasingly interested in French art, which he considered pure, healthy and refined. He said he couldn’t find these features in German art. He then became passionate about Braque and Picasso’s analytical cubism, and began to look for order in his work. Hartung saw the golden ratio as a way of organizing his composition, but also as a completely new mathematical, universal and timeless aesthetic. However in the mid-1930s, he violently rejected his mathematical research, calling it a shameful waste of time, and from then on he considered the golden ratio a sterile and limiting tool.

10. He rejected the teachings of the Bauhaus and Kandinsky.

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Hans Hartung – Sans titre – 1927
Oil on canva

In 1925, Hans Hartung attended a conference on abstract art by Kandinsky. During this event, the Russian painter presented his method and his new pictorial language. This conference comforted Hartung in his refusal to align himself with a predetermined school. He saw Kandinsky’s speech as nothing more than one more doctrine, and believed that he was on the right path regarding his art and his pictorial research. In the same way, he categorically refused to enter the Bauhaus, seeing its teaching as too oriented towards the applied arts and architecture.

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