Important Fine Art + Aboriginal Art
2 December 2015


(1888 – 1976, American)

oil on composition board

40.5 x 40.5 cm

signed with monogram and dated lower right: A 61
inscribed with title verso: Study for: / Homage to the Square / “Allegro”
extensively inscribed verso with description of paint colours used by the artist
signed and dated verso: Albers 1961

$150,000 – 200,000
Sold for $341,600 (inc. BP) in Auction 41 - 2 December 2015, Sydney

Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne (label attached verso)
Galleria Internazionale Milano, Milan (signed gallery stamp verso)
Galerie Schlégl, Zurich (label attached verso)
Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney (gallery stamp verso)
Private collection, Sydney, acquired by Sarah Cottier as agent from Galerie Schlégl, Art Basel, 2002


Galerie Schlégl, Zurich at Art 33 Basel 2002, Basel, Switzerland, 12 June – 17 June 2002

Catalogue text

‘In visual perception a colour is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes colour the most relative medium in art.’1

Among the most iconic and universally celebrated series of the twentieth century, Albers’ signature Homage to the Square revolutionised the very art of seeing. Commenced in 1950 and encompassing more than a thousand paintings, drawings, prints and tapestries executed over the subsequent twenty-six years until his death, the entire series is defined by an unmitigating adherence to the pictorial formula of three or four squares which appear to be overlapping or nested inside one another, with the composition slightly gravitating towards the bottom edge. As powerfully attested by the present Study for: Homage to the Square: Allegro, 1961 what at first may seem a disarmingly simple concept however, soon reveals itself as one of extraordinary perceptual complexity, with the various optical effects, shimmering colour contrasts and illusions of advancing and receding planes highlighting the inherent mutability of human perception.

Indeed, illuminating the myriad of optical and psychological effects elicited by his so-called ‘platters of colour’2, Albers himself mused at the time: ‘They are all 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. Thus, character and feeling alter from painting to painting without any additional ‘hand writing’ or, so-called, texture. Though the underlying symmetrical and quasi-concentric order of squares remains the same in all paintings – in proportion and placement – these same squares group or single themselves, connect and separate in many different ways.’3 Reflecting his conviction that insight is only attained through ‘constant trying’, Homage to the Square is therefore purposefully repetitive, a study on theme and variation reminiscent of classical music – an affinity to which ‘Allegro’ in the title of the present work undoubtedly alludes.

Although the technique of creating space through colour had previously been explored in landscapes of the Dutch Golden Age and Italian Renaissance, Albers was revolutionary in applying such ‘atmospheric perspective’ to abstract art, with his experiments pioneering the way for Op artists such as Bridget Riley in their manipulation of two-dimensional media to invoke the illusion of three-dimensional space. Moreover, that each work in the series bears carefully recorded inscriptions on the reverse codifying its technical production prefigures much of the art of the mid-1960s when painting was stripped of the transcendental – and in the case of Conceptual art, the paint often eliminated altogether.

Parallelling such groundbreaking achievements is the profound legacy Albers bequeathed to art theory and pedagogy – a discipline he perceived crucial to cultivating a future audience for art. Born in Germany in 1888, Albers initially taught at the Bauhaus alongside Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, before emigrating to the United States in 1933 where he assumed positions at Black Mountain College, Yale and later Harvard. With such prominent artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse among his students, Albers was not only influential in disseminating the tenets of European modernism to the next artistic vanguard in America. More importantly perhaps, he transformed the nature of art education through espousal of a non-dogmatic, un-hierarchical approach based rather upon ‘scientific’ observation and experimentation. With the professed goal to ‘open the eyes’ of his audience, indeed Albers remains revered for his radical investigations into the mechanics of vision which shift emphasis from perception willed by the artist to reception engineered by the viewer. Eloquently encapsulating such experiential teachings, thus Homage to the Square: Allegro challenges our ingrained habits of perception to encourage a more acute consciousness.

Significantly, an exhibition of Homage to the Square was organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1965 (and toured to various venues throughout North and South America) while in 1971, Albers was the first living artist to be honoured with a solo retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Today, examples of Albers’ highly acclaimed Homage to the Square may be found in most major public and private art museums internationally.

1. Albers cited at
2. Albers cited in Josef Albers: Homage to the Square, Gimpel Fils Gallery, London, 1965
3. Albers cited in Weber, N., ‘The Artist as Alchemist’, Josef Albers: A Retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1988, p. 14