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Josef Albers Oil Painting "Study for a Homage to the Square"

Item Details

Josef Albers (German/American, 1888 – 1976)
Study for a Homage to the Square, circa 1950
Oil painting on blotting paper
Signed “A” to lower right corner
Inscribed “To Alberta / January ’51 A” to the verso
JAAF 1950.2.1

An oil painting on blotting paper titled Study for a Homage to the Square by Josef Albers, circa 1950-1951. This painting is an early example from Albers’ most well-known series Homage to the Square, begun in 1950 and pursued for the next twenty-five years. As noted by Jeannette Redensek of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, “It’s not a study in the sense of a preparatory sketch for any other more fully realized, final work. It’s a work unto itself. I think Albers used the word ‘Study’ to signify his humility in the face of the great, unending task that was the Homage to the Square.”

Consisting of four nested squares, it is a deceptively simple composition that Albers painted hundreds of times. Writing about the series in 1965, Albers stated, ‘They all are of different palettes, and, therefore, so to speak, of different climates. Choice of the colours used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction – influencing and changing each other forth and back.’ This work is signed ‘A’ to the lower right, a typical manner of signature for Albers.

The painting is accompanied by authentication documents from the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, as well as the original frame. A handwritten inscription on the original backing paper reads: ‘30. Sept. 89 Madge, This Albers appears to have been done in beeswax & oil mix. Some of the wax had coated the inside of the glass and dulled the painting. When I cleaned it today and removed the wax from the glass the pntg. appeared much more colorful. Roland. (Huston)’ A handwritten inscription to the verso of the painting reads ‘To Alberta, Jan ’51, A’, possibly alluding to Mrs. Lucien G. (Alberta) Strauss. The foundation is in possession of a familiar letter from Strauss to Josef and Anni Albers, dated 1971, that recalls Albers’ visit to Cincinnati and the acquisition of his painting Tenayuca by the Cincinnati Art Museum, and specifically mentions the Chidlaws. Special thanks given to Morgan Rigaud for her research assistance on the work, as well.

The collection of Paul Chidlaw (American; 1900 – 1989)
Passed to Madge Chidlaw, wife of Paul Chidlaw
Gifted along with Chidlaw collection to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Everything But the House is grateful to the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation for its review and inclusion of the work in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist, registration number JAAF 1950.2.1

  • A portion of the proceeds will benefit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Josef Albers was an influential 20th century artist who is highly regarded for his Modernist work, color theory and innovative teaching. He gained wide public recognition through his series Homage to the Square, produced in 1950 until his death in 1976, leading to the first retrospective of a living artist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1971. Through the repetitive use of this single geometric composition, Albers systematically explored the interactions of color and its effect on the viewer. He typically painted his finished works in this series with a palette knife, spreading thin layers of paint straight from the tube, starting from the center square and working towards the outer edge, never layering his color. He developed extensive theories on the matter which were published in his 1963 book Interaction of Color where he proposed that “…color rather than form is the primary medium of the pictorial language”.

Throughout his career Albers traveled extensively across the United States as a visiting professor and lecturer, and in 1949, during his tenure at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, he was a colleague of modernist landscape painter Paul Chidlaw (Ohio; 1900 – 1989). According Owen Findsen, retired art critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer and Chidlaw student, Albers’ visit to Cincinnati ‘…marked a turning point for art and artists in the city. Both the museum and the academy were conservative institutions, and Art Academy artist and teacher Paul Chidlaw…was eager to introduce ideas of modern art to his students. [He] and Julian Stanczak, the other modernist on the faculty, were excited to be able spend time with the famed Bauhaus master and looked to Albers to share his ideas about the perception and interaction of color.’ These ideas became the foundation of their teaching, influencing their art and that of their students, including notable artists Jim Dine and Tom Wesselman, in the ensuing years.


- toning to sheet and curling to corners; scattered areas of craquelure; several small paint smudges to margins; small stain to lower left corner.


16.0" W x 16.0" H x 2.25" D

- measures frame; sheet measures 9" W x 8 7/8" H.

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