Classic Frederick Hammersley Painting

September 16, 2015


“Abstract Classicist painting is hard-edged painting. Forms are finite, flat, rimmed by a hard clean edge.” Curator Jules Langsner both defined a movement by exhibiting four artists–Frederick Hammersley, Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin–together under the banner “Four Abstract Classicists” in 1959, and is credited for coining the term Hard Edge painting. Noteworthy for putting West Coast abstraction on the map, the exhibition Four Abstract Classicists was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and traveled internationally. In this exhibition, painter Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009) first gained critical recognition. Los Angeles Modern Auctions is pleased to offer a stunning example by Hammersley from 1959, which comes with significant exhibition history in the upcoming October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design auction.


Lot 332, Frederick Hammersley, Opposing, #15, 1959
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

In 1942 one of the younger artists of the group, Hammersley started studying at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). But his studies were interrupted from 1942–1946 during World War II when he served in the military. Stationed in Paris, this period proved to be instrumental in his development as he experimented with abstract imagery. He took courses at the École des Beaux Arts and visited the studios of Picasso, Brâncusi, and Cézanne. Upon his return to California, he continued at Chouinard and focused on painting colored and patterned shapes on flat surfaces, devoid of representation.


Hammersley is best known for his Hard Edge “geometrics” paintings, those comprised of circles and straight lines. Most follow a set of rules: based on a grid with a restricted palette, Hammersley would choose to add a diagonal or a circle or introduce a new color. The finished composition then would vary depending on his choices, with the original grid hidden beneath the resulting rectangles, triangles, squares, parallelograms, or L-shapes. The artist first drew and developed the linear composition and color scheme in a sketchbook, and used a palette knife to construct the precise edges on canvas–he never used tape. These paintings are bold and bright; the circles are counterpoints to and contrast the lines, adding a surprising touch of playfulness.


Opposing (#15, 1959), is a vibrant “geometrics” painting. It carries a significant exhibition history, having been in the Orange County Museum of Art’s Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury (2007–2008) curated by Elizabeth Armstrong. Armstrong conceived of the exhibit–a concentration of 1950s California cool in art, architecture, design, and jazz–when she saw the paintings of the Abstract Classicists, and those by Hammersley. The painting was exhibited in five other institutions as well, including at the Pomona College Museum of Art (2013–2014), the Oakland Museum of California (2008), and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin (2009).

“Frederick Hammersley.” Frederick Hammersley Foundation. The Frederick Hammersley Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Aug 2015.
King, Sarah S. “You Want to Surprise the Eye: An Interview With Frederick Hammersley.” Frederick Hammersley. By Frederick Hammersley, et al. Santa Fe: Art Santa Fe Presents, 2009. 163–165. Print.
Muchnic, Suzanne. “Frederick Hammersley Dies At 90; Acclaimed Painter.” Los Angeles Times. Entertainment/Arts & Culture sec. Los Angeles Times, 6 June 2009. Web. 10 Aug 2015.
Reed, Arden. “Hammersley’s Line.” Frederick Hammersley. By Frederick Hammersley, et al. Santa Fe: Art Santa Fe Presents, 2009. 61–64. Print.
Reed, Arden. “Seeing Hammersley Whole.” Hunches, Geometrics, Organics: Paintings By Frederick Hammersley. By Frederick Hammersley, Kathleen Stewart Howe, Rebecca McGrew-Yule, and Pomona College Museum of Art. Claremont: Pomona College Museum of Art, 2007. 7–9. Print.

Lot Information:

Lot 332
Frederick Hammersley
Opposing, #15, 1959
Oil on linen
Signed and dated lower right; retains Heritage Gallery, Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, and two artist’s labels verso
Together with copy of letter from the artist dated April 8, 2004 and
exhibition catalogue
LAMA would like to thank the Frederick Hammersley Foundation for their assistance in cataloguing this work
Canvas: 30″ x 24″
Frame: 32.25″ x 26.5″ 

Provenance:  The artist; Private Collection, California (acquired directly from the above through Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Exhibited: “Hunches, Geometrics, Organics: Paintings by Frederick Hammersley,” Pomona College of Art, January 23-April 8, 2007; “Birth of the Cool: California, Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury,” traveling exhibition, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, October 7, 2007-January 6, 2008; Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, February 15-April 13, 2008; Oakland Museum of California, May 18-August 17, 2008; The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, February 27-May 31, 2009

Illustrated: Hunches, Geometric, Organics: Paintings by Frederick Hammersley. Pomona College of Art exh. cat. 2007. 21.; Birth of the Cool: California, Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury. Orange County Museum of Art exh. cat. 2007. 102.; “Ahead of His Time: The Art of Frederick Hammersley.” A. Morris. Santa Fean. 2004. 56.; “Modern Roots: Birth of the Cool.” Metropolitan Home. 2007. 72.; “Artist’s Intuition.” W. Pulkka. The Sunday Journal (Albuquerque Journal). Arts sec. 7 Mar. 2004.; Frederick Hammersley with Arden Reed, A Dialogue. SITE Santa Fe exh. brochure. 2004.

Estimate: $50,000–70,000
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

For inquiries regarding bidding, please email a LAMA representative. 

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