Hans Hartung can be considered, in terms of age – being almost a generation older than Mathieu and Soulages – as well as stylish precocity, the European precursor of that research conventionally grouped under the label “Signic Informalism”. His initial love for charcoal drawing and watercolours, soon indifferent to depiction, reveals in his choice of technique an urgent need to communicate with expressive immediacy. He moved to France after the rise of Hitler, where he had the opportunity to extend his knowledge of Cubism and Abstract art. However, despite his stated admiration for these avant-garde movements, it was not so much the closed and prismatic square forms of Cubism, or the abstractly calibrated and lyrical works of Kandinskji, that deeply influenced him, as his research on the psychic automatism of the Surrealists. After the horrors of the war, spent initially in the ranks of the Foreign Legion, then in internment and prison, concluding with the amputation of one leg, he returned to painting, pouring onto the canvases the sufferings accumulated throughout those painful times. His first personal exhibition was not until 1947, arranged in Lydia Conti’s gallery in Paris. It should be borne in mind, however, that the series of abstract works systematically named with capital letters, the year of production and sequential numbers, to evade any attempt at description, had already appeared in around the mid-1930s. These are works created as an irrepressible cathartic externalisation in which creative energy bursts onto the canvas in lightening fast forms. Composition T, 50-5, emblematic of Hartung’s style in this period, has the epicentre of its tension in the white strip, from which centrifugal lines branch out, originating from the collision of two portions of colour, blue and brown, spirit and matter, the true emotional big-bang of the composition. His subsequent research is expressed through strips of scratched and obstinately flayed lines, obtained with the use of spatulas and sorghum brooms made by the artist himself, adding shapes by removing the colour from the underlying backgrounds. From his earliest memories, Hartung relates that, as a child, he was forced to share his grandmother’s phobias, particularly that of lightning – with which he would fill entire notebooks drawing rapid zigzag lines – and cats. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that the artist discovered his stylistic identity through the realisation that, to ward off the spectres of the past, he had to be faster than lightning and scratch like a cat.


  • Title: Composition T, 50-5
  • Creator: Hans Hartung
  • Date: 1950
  • Physical Dimensions: w146 x h96.5 cm
  • Date of acquisition: 1951
  • Acquisition: Purchased at the 1st France-Italy Painters of Today Exhibition
  • Provenance: GAM - Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: All rights reserved, GAM - Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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