Malvina Cornell Hoffman
Malvina Cornell Hoffman
One of America's foremost sculptors, Malvina Cornell Hoffman (1885-1966) studied with the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin from 1910 until his death in 1917 and is recognized by some as "America's Rodin." Hoffman is perhaps best known for her monumental bronze series, "The Races of Mankind," commissioned in 1930 by Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. Hoffman first won acclaim for her bronze sculpture of Russian dancers Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Mordkin and also studied under two other sculptors—Gutzon Borgium of Mount Rushmore fame and Herbert Adams.
Hoffman's commission from the Field Museum sent the sculptor on a round-the-world odyssey that lasted for more than eight months. During her global journey, Hoffman photographed and sketched hundreds of people of different racial and ethnic groups and collected massive amounts of anthropological data. In the end she produced a total of 104 monumental bronze figures, which were first exhibited in 1932 in Paris. The sculptures were formally unveiled to the American public at the opening of the Field Museum's Hall of Man on June 6, 1933.
Showed Early Interest in Art
Hoffman was born in New York City on June 15, 1885, the youngest child of British-born pianist Richard Hoffman and Fidelia Lamson Hoffman. Her father, born in Manchester, England, came to the United States in 1847 at the age of 16. Shortly after his arrival he played for the New York Philharmonic Society. Three years later he was hired by P.T. Barnum as an accompanist for Jenny Lind, the so-called Swedish Nightingale, on her first American tour. When he was 22, he became soloist for the New York Philharmonic, a post he held for the next 30 years. During the Civil War, Hoffman organized a series of concerts for the benefit of wounded Union soldiers. Fidelia Hoffman was a native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and the Hoffman family often spent summers on the New Hampshire seacoast nearby.
The Hoffmans' Manhattan home on West 43rd Street was a popular gathering place for the many artist and musician friends of her parents. Hoffman attended the prestigious Brearley School in Manhattan and at the age of 14 enrolled at the Art Students League. She later studied painting under John White Alexander. By the time she was 15, she had made up her mind that art would be her vocation. When she was 21, her father's health was failing, and Hoffman wanted desperately to memorialize his image. She first tried to paint his portrait in oils but was dissatisfied with the result and turned instead to clay, creating a three-dimensional likeness. The sculpture was eventually reproduced in marble. Shown the clay likeness, her father said, "My child, I'm afraid you are going to be an artist." He died two weeks later.
In 1910, a year after the death of Hoffman's father, she and her mother left New York to move to Paris, where the budding sculptor hoped to study with Auguste Rodin, the foremost sculptor of the 20th century. Desperate to gain an audience with Rodin, Hoffman was turned away from his studio five times. Unwilling to take no for an answer, she resolved that on her sixth attempt she would refuse to leave until he agreed to see her. In her 1936 memoir, Heads and Tales, Hoffman recalled her ultimatum to Rodin's concierge: "I shall not leave, he must admit me today." Her persistence paid off. Rodin agreed to grant her an audience and quickly recognized her talent, agreeing to take her under his wing.
Became Close Friends with Rodin
Off and on over the next seven years, until Rodin's death in 1917, the French master helped Hoffman improve her technical knowledge and understanding of carving, modeling, and foundry techniques, as well as her artistic discipline and expressive abilities. Student and teacher developed a close friendship, and when World War I broke out in 1914, Hoffman helped Rodin store his sculptures before she returned to the United States. To help finance her studies while in Paris, she worked as a studio assistant to American-born sculptor Janet Scudder. After her return to New York, Hoffman improved her understanding of the human form by studying anatomy at the city's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
While in Paris, Hoffman produced her first dance sculpture, "Russian Dancers." Long an aficionado of the ballet, Hoffman was inspired to create the sculpture after attending a Ballet Russe production of Bacchanale in London, featuring prima ballerina Anna Pavlova. The sculpture later was awarded first prize in an international art exposition. It was the first in a series of ballet-inspired sculptures Hoffman created. She met Pavlova in New York in 1914, and the two remained close friends until the dancer's death in 1931. To perfect her knowledge of ballet and the basic movements of its performers, Hoffman took about 30 lessons from Pavlova's partner. Pavlova then convinced the sculptor to make her debut in a ballet recital. Pavlova loaned Hoffman the same costume which the Russian ballerina had worn in Bacchanale in London and tied bunches of grapes about Hoffman's brow. Suffering stage fright, Hoffman danced to center stage at New York's Century Theater as a full orchestra provided a musical backdrop. Hoffman, overcome with nervousness, collapsed in a dead faint. It was the end of her ballet career.
While in New York in the fall of 1914, Hoffman set up a residence and studio at Sniffen Court in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood. During World War I, the sculptor was active in Red Cross relief efforts and also served as the American representative for Appui aux Artistes, a Paris-based organization she had helped to found. The organization was dedicated to providing assistance to artists and models who had lost their jobs because of the war. At the close of the war, Hoffman embarked on a seven-week inspection tour of hospitals and children's centers in the Balkans at the request of Herbert Hoover, who was then serving as director of the American Relief Administration.
Unveiled "The Sacrifice"
Hoffman's first major sculpture after the war was "The Sacrifice," a massive memorial to Harvard University's war dead. The sculpture, carved in Caen stone, was commissioned by Mrs. Robert Bacon in memory of her late husband, the former U.S. ambassador to France and a hero of World War I, for display in Harvard's proposed War Memorial Chapel. While construction on the chapel continued, Hoffman's completed sculpture was exhibited at upper Manhattan's Cathedral of St. John the Divine from 1923 until 1932.
In 1925, Hoffman unveiled her most significant architectural sculpture, "To the Friendship of the English Speaking People," at Bush House in London. Consisting of two heroic stone figures and an altar for the entrance to the house, it was commissioned by American-born businessman Irving Bush. Staid Londoners were startled by the sight of Hoffman clambering over her massive statuary putting finishing touches on her work. That same year, the sculptor traveled to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, to study equestrian sculpture with Ivan Mestrovic. She also filmed Mestrovic at work on his "American Indian Groups" sculpture for Chicago's Grant Park.
In June 1924 Hoffman married violinist Samuel Grimson. Hoffman first met Grimson in 1908 when he came to the Hoffmans' Manhattan home to play chamber music with her father. A couple of years after they married, the couple moved to the Villa Asti in Paris.
By far the biggest commission of Hoffman's career came when she was approached by Stanley Field, who asked if she would be interested in participating in a massive undertaking planned by Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. The museum hoped to put together a series of more than a hundred bronze and marble busts, heads, and life-sized figures representing all the peoples of the world. The museum wanted the sculptures completed before the 1933 opening of the Chicago World's Fair and planned to divide the work among three prominent sculptors. Hoffman wanted the whole job for herself, and she eventually persuaded Field to award the commission exclusively to her.
Once she had struck an agreement with Field and the museum's board of directors, Hoffman, with her husband in tow, embarked on an eight-month tour to find models for her statues of the world's many ethnic groups and races. On her travels, the sculptor photographed or sketched scores of models. In Singapore a Dyak headhunter modeled for Hoffman. Deep in the jungles of the Malay Peninsula, she drew a sketch of a Saka warrior, who would not allow her interpreter or white escorts to observe them while she modeled. On Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's islands, Hoffman spent several days among the Ainu, sketching, photographing, and observing members of that indigenous group.
With her research complete, Hoffman went to work on the sculptures in her Paris stuido. By early 1932 she had completed 97 bronze figures, casting many of them herself. The remaining statues were carved in marble. All were completed in time for a debut exhibition at the Musee d'Ethnographie in Paris's Palais du Trocadero. In all, Hoffman's "Races of Mankind" series included 105 sculptures—35 full figures, 1 half-size figure, 30 busts, and 39 heads. Almost from the start, the series provoked controversy. While prominent abstract artists of the early 1930s criticized Hoffman's sculptures as either too realistic or too romantic, social scientists argued that her work relied too heavily on physical rather than cultural characteristics. Despite the criticism, almost everyone agreed that it was a monumental work of art.
In 1936 Hoffman divorced Grimson and returned from Paris to her Sniffen Court residence and studio in New York. For the next three decades she continued to work out of her New York studio, producing a number of notable sculptures, including a World War II memorial for the Epinal Memorial Cemetery in France. In 1939 Hoffman published an instructional guide to sculpture entitled Sculpture Inside and Out. This was followed in 1943 by Heads and Tales, an account of her world travels on the "Races of Mankind" project, and in 1965 by her autobiography, Yesterday Is Tomorrow. On July 19, 1966, Hoffman died at her home in Manhattan.
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"Malvina Cornell Hoffman." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/malvina-cornell-hoffman
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Malvina Hoffman, 1887–1966, American sculptor, b. New York City. She was a pupil of Rodin. Of her spirited figures representative examples are Pavlowa gavotte (Stockholm, Sweden) and Russian Dancers. Her portraits include those of John Muir (American Mus. of Natural History, New York City), Ivan Mestrovic (Brooklyn Mus., N.Y.), and busts of Paderewski as artist and as statesman. Her most impressive achievement is a series of 100 bronze portraits of racial types (Hall of Man, Field Mus., Chicago). To procure material for this anthropological gallery, Miss Hoffman traveled about the world for five years. She wrote an account in Heads and Tales (1936); her Sculpture Inside and Out was published in 1939.
"Hoffman, Malvina." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hoffman-malvina
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Daughter of Richard and Fidelia Lamson Hoffman; married Samuel Grimson, 1924 (divorced 1936)
Daughter of a celebrated German-born concert pianist, Malvina Hoffman studied at the Brearley School and the Art Students' League in New York. In 1910 she was accepted as a student by Auguste Rodin and was associated with him until his death in 1917. This was the most formative influence upon her work as a sculptor; on his advice she studied anatomy and dissection for three winters at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Hoffman married a musician in 1924 and was divorced in 1936; there were no children.
In 1930 Hoffman received what is believed to be the largest commission ever given a sculptor: over 100 bronzes depicting the races of mankind to be placed on exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. This project, which opened in 1933, established Hoffman's reputation as a leading figure in American art. Other widely known pieces include a World War I memorial entitled "The Sacrifice" (1922), in Memorial Chapel at Harvard, and portrait heads of Wendell Wilkie (1944) and of Teilhard de Chardin (1948). Various individual works received numerous prizes and awards. Hoffman was a fellow of the New York Historical Society and a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur.
Heads and Tales in Many Lands (1937) is Hoffman's account of her around-the-world trip collecting and modeling "racial types" for the Field Museum's Hall of Man. The collection was conceived as an artistic as well as scientific record of mankind, especially the primitive races which seemed to be endangered by the rapid diffusion of Western culture. Although she was assisted by ethnographers and anthropologists, each piece of sculpture was finally a record of the artist's vivid impression. "I have tried," she wrote, "both by the gestures and poise of the various statues, as well as by the characterization in the facial modeling, to give a convincing and lifelike impression. I watched the natives in their daily life… .Then I chose the moment at which I felt each one represented something characteristic of his race, and of no other."
Although a contemporary scientist praised her enthusiastic portrayal of Africans, the collection has been criticized both for the conception of racial type and for the glorification of the Nordic type. Curiously, the statue representing the "Nordic" is based upon a man Hoffman found in New York who had "the best and most evenly developed physique" she had ever seen. The Field Museum no longer displays the collection as a whole, but individual pieces are effective and reveal Hoffman's gift for portraiture.
This project, which occupied Hoffman for most of five years, is again discussed in her autobiography, Yesterday Is Tomorrow (1965), which also treats the years of study with Rodin, and the influence of distinguished contemporaries such as sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, pianist Paderewski, surgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, and dancer Paul Draper and his sister Ruth, a monologist. There is an account of her friendship with the dancer Pavlova, which produced a major work, Hoffman's 26 bas-relief panels depicting the Bacchanale (1924). Her textbook, Sculpture Inside and Out (1939), intended for beginning and amateur sculptors, shows her interest in the techniques of her art.
As a sculptor Hoffman excelled in portraiture. Despite interest in modernism and exposure to Rodin, Hoffman's work is essentially realistic, often sentimental. Many individual pieces have charm, and all her work is strengthened by her mastery of anatomy. Hoffman's prose, like her sculpture, is restrainedly genteel. The two biographical volumes provide useful documentation of her social and artistic milieu, the lively New York-London-Paris circuit of the first half of this century.
Heads and Tales (1936). A Sculptor's Odyssey (1936). Map of Mankind (1946). Malvina Hoffman (1948).
Field, H., The Races of Mankind (1933).
CB (1940, Sept. 1966). NCAB.
American Magazine of Art (Feb. 1934). Art Digest (15 Oct. 1936, 15 March 1937). Art News (Sept. 1966).
"Hoffman, Malvina." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hoffman-malvina
"Hoffman, Malvina." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Retrieved August 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hoffman-malvina