Hans Hofmann, "The Breakers" (1962), oil on canvas (courtesy Bennington College)

Television writer and producer Norman Lear has donated a 1962 Hans Hofmann painting to Bennington College to fund a new scholarship focused on social justice and activism. After exhibiting the Abstract Expressionist work, titled “Breakers,” the Vermont liberal arts college will sell it as part of its “Art for Access” program, started in 2018.

The two-part program cultivates the college’s art collection by inviting donations of art from alumni and other members of the Bennington community. Through the sales of some of these works on a regular basis, the school funds scholarships to increase diversity, equity, and access.

Since the founding of “Art for Access,” Bennington College has acquired 700 works of art and generated $3.9 million through the sales of artworks. Trustee and Art for Access Committee Co-chair Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan donated 650 of those works.

The Hofmann painting will eventually be sold and its proceeds used to establish the new Norman & Lyn Lear Scholarship in Social Justice and Activism. In May, a work by the German-born artist, an influential force in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the mid-20th century, sold for over $2.5 million at auction.

But for now, the painting will be exhibited in a newly renovated building on campus.

Bennington art professor and painter Jules Olitski first donated “Breakers” to the college in 1984. Lear purchased it from the school two years later, with the promise to bequeath the painting upon his death. Lear, who turns 100 in July, decided to give the painting back sooner.

“We are thankful that Lear has chosen to return the picture now, allowing new students, faculty, and staff to enjoy and learn from it, as well as significantly advancing our scholarship goals when the work is eventually sold,” Trustee and Arts for Access Co-chair Michael Hecht said in a press release.

Lear lived near Bennington College and his children attended preschool on its campus. He led a successful career as a writer and producer for shows and sitcoms such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

“My family and I have enjoyed the stunning Hofmann painting for many years and are honored to return it to the college so it can help provide access to a Bennington education for generations of future students who have the creativity, drive, and imagination to envision and build a better world,” Lear said in the statement.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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