Hans Hartung's practice exemplified a rigorous dedication to an autonomous abstract art. He accordingly titled his painting in an unambiguous and practical fashion, scrupulously bare of extraneous references. T-1954-20 for example, is titled to announce the medium ('T' standing for Toile, implying oil on canvas), the year it was made, 1954, and the order in which it was painted that year.
Hartung's work changed markedly in 1954, precipitated perhaps by the example of American artists whose work he saw in Paris in the years 1951-53. In an interview with Henry Geldzahler in 1975, Hartung recalled being particularly impressed with the work of Franz Kline (1910-62) whose paintings 'progressed toward an abstraction pushed further and further along until, finally, the resulting paintings were tremendously enlarged details whose feelings and meaning were something totally different from their point of departure; they were extremely strong paintings.'1
Certainly the shift in Hartung's painting style is anticipated in the etchings that he produced at Roger Lacourière's print workshop in Paris in 1953. Made by dragging a steel comb along the surface of the printing plate, these prints demonstrate the reliance on line and simplifications in composition that were to become the stylistic hallmark of his later paintings.
In 1954 Hartung stripped back the repertoire of calligraphic marks deployed across the canvas that had characterised his previous work. He reduced the variety and number of marks to favour the near-straight lines of a slashing brushstroke, effecting a simpler, almost formal, composition made with a central flourish of brushstrokes. The painting T-1954-20 is one of the earliest examples of this new style, typically floating a sheaf of flexible black lines against a light background.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.268.
- From an interview with Henry Geldzahler held in July 1975 and quoted in 'Biographical Notes', in Hans Hartung Paintings:1971-1975, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976, n.p. (exhibition catalogue).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010