Hans Hofmann painted To Miz—Pax Vobiscum, 1964, near the end of his long career as an eminent painter and influential teacher. Stylistically, the Modern Art Museum's painting, with its striking rectangular planes of color, exemplifies Hofmann's late style, while, chronologically and personally, the composition suggests an occasion of closure and renewal for the artist.
Hofmann coined the term "push and pull" to signify a composition's ability to evoke flatness and depth simultaneously. The artist believed that this was the essence of painting and "only from the varied counterplay of push and pull, and from its variation in intensities, will plastic creation result."(1) "Push and pull" is abundantly evident in To Miz—Pax Vobiscum, where abutting and overlapping planes, the range and juxtaposition of colors, and the variations in paint texture and brushwork produce a dynamic play and tension between surface and space. The slabs of color—their edges crisp and soft, their colors flat and modulated—command and fascinate the viewer's eye. The ceaseless movement between flatness and space in To Miz—Pax Vobiscum not only reflects what Hofmann considered the essential concern of painting, but also, perhaps more importantly, his view of painting as expressive of a life force, "a metaphor for life itself—more lifelike than the imitation of nature."(2) This latter notion is particularly relevant to the Museum's painting, as it is a composition which, through its intense color and spatial dynamics, exalts the life of Hofmann's wife and his own continuing vital engagement with painting.
Maria Wolfegg Hofmann, known as Miz, died in 1963. She had met the artist in 1900 and married him in 1924. The death of the woman he had known for so many years, and of whom he said "lived my art and for my art," profoundly affected Hofman.(3) He initially expressed his grief with the uncharacteristically somber black and red splashes of In the Vastness of Sorrowful Thoughts, 1963 (University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley). However, Hofmann soon followed this with To Miz—Pax Vobiscum, rendered in the intense, bold colors typical of his late style is a large, vivid composition, created during his period of mourning. Hofmann explains the work as expressing his "negative ecstasy."(4)
The negative ecstasy that Hofmann association with To Miz—Pax Vobiscum can be conceived as his acceptance of the mystery of life and death, and his ability to feel and express its beauty in his art. That the painting, unlike the earlier In the Vastness of Sorrowful Thoughts, offered Hofmann a sense of emotional resolution is further suggested by the Latin phrase he included in the painting’s dedicatory title: "Pax vobiscum" means "peace be with you."
— Mark Thistlethwaite
(1) Hofmann quoted in William C. Seitz, Hans Hofmann (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1963): 27.
(2) Ibid., 80.
(3) Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann (New York: Abbeville Press, 1986): 96.