Institutional News

Bennington College Receives Donation of Hans Hofmann Painting from Legendary Television Writer/Producer Norman Lear

Bennington College announced that it has received a major gift of art from renowned television and film writer and producer Norman Lear to benefit its Art for Access program.

Image of painting

Lear has gifted The Breakers, an important Abstract Expressionist painting from 1962 by Hans Hofmann, a key figure of postwar American art. The donation advances the dual aims of the Art for Access program: to invite gifts of art to enrich and enhance the campus and teaching, and to generate scholarship funds for talented students through the sale of select works at regular intervals. 

Known for his exuberant, color-filled canvases, and renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists—first in his native Germany, then in New York and Provincetown—Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism. The Breakers will be hung in the newly reconstructed Barn building, which will open this Spring, and, at a future date, the painting will be sold to fund The Norman & Lyn Lear Scholarship in Social Justice and Activism. The scholarship will benefit talented students who wish to pursue a Bennington education in order to apply their talents to create a more just world. 

“My relationship with Bennington College stretches back more than four decades. I’ve long been a neighbor of Bennington and have fond memories of the College when our then-young children attended preschool on the campus,” said Norman Lear. “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.”  

“We are thrilled that the Lears have made this extraordinary gift to Art for Access to advance the College’s commitment to access, equity, and diversity,” said Bennington President Laura R. Walker. “The Breakers will enrich the campus in immeasurable ways. And for the future students who will be able to attend Bennington because of this generous scholarship, there is no better example than Norman Lear. With his strong sense of social justice, Lear has shifted paradigms and created narratives that have changed the world. In his personal and professional life, Norman Lear shows us what it means to be an engaged citizen and activist.” 

 The painting has a long history with Bennington College—it was originally donated to the College in 1984 by the celebrated painter and longtime art faculty member Jules Olitski. The painting was then sold to Norman Lear in 1986 under the agreement that the painting would be returned to Bennington as a bequest. The painting has thus benefited the College twice, thanks to Olitski’s original donation and the purchase and return by the Lears, who chose to advance the donation and give the picture now, in Norman Lear’s 100th year.  

Michael Hecht, Bennington College trustee and co-chair of the Art for Access Committee added, “I am deeply grateful to Norman Lear and also extend great thanks to the late Jules Olitski for his original gift of this important painting. 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.”

About Art for Access

Lear’s gift benefits Art for Access, a philanthropic program at Bennington College that celebrates the College’s pioneering legacy in the visual arts while advancing its commitment to equity, diversity, and access. Art for Access engages Bennington’s network of collectors, artists, alumni, parents, and friends by inviting donations of art to the College to benefit students by:

  • Developing and expanding the works of art in the College’s holdings, ensuring that works available for study are ever changing; and 
  • Generating scholarship funds, through the sale of select works on a regular basis, to further the College’s commitment to access, equity, and diversity. 

Since the program’s launch in 2018, the College has been gifted nearly 700 works of art to benefit Art for Access, including significant bequests and a collection of some 650 works of contemporary art from Art for Access Committee co-chair, trustee Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan. Many of these newly gifted works hang in buildings throughout campus and are used to enhance and enrich teaching. In that same time, the College has also generated more than $3.9 million to fund Art for Access Scholarships through select sales.