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Malvina Cornell Hoffman
Portrait and figure sculpture, ballet dancers
Malvina Hoffman was born in Brooklyn in 1887. Her father, Richard Hoffman, was a piano prodigy who immigrated to the United States when he was fifteen years old. Her artistic talents became apparent at a young age, with artists, including Gutzon Borglum, encouraging her. Hoffman studied with Borglum as a teenager at the Women's School of Applied Studies and the Art Students League. She also attended the Brearley School where she studied with John White Alexander. A 1909 bust of her father, who died later that year, was exhibited in the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition. The following year Hoffman moved to Italy and Paris with her mother to further her pursuit of art. In Italy, she studied with Emanusle Rosales where she learned casting, Chasing, and finishing from the foundaries. In Paris, she studied with Auguste Rodin from 1910 to 1914. Upon his suggestion, she briefly returned to New York to study dissection at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
She garnered acclaim soon after her arrival in Europe. Russian Dancers won first prize in an international exhibition in 1910. Although Hoffman opened a New York studio in 1912, she returned to Paris from 1913-1915. By 1914, her circle of friends included Gertrude Stein, Brancusi, Matisse, and the dancer Najinsky. With the outbreak of World War I, Hoffman was active in Red Cross relif efforts. She served as the American representative for Appui aux Artistes, a Paris-based organization she had helped to found. The orginization 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.
During and after the war, she travelled to Yugoslavia where she first met sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, with whom she studied a decade later. She was commissioned to make a number of war memorials, including The Sacrifice at Havard University.
Hoffman is known for portrait sculptures; some of her subjects included pianist Ignacy Paderewski, ballerina Anna Pavlova, conservationist John Muir, poet John Keats, sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie, as well as the working class individuals she met in daily life.
In 1929, Hoffman received an enormous commission from the Field Museum in Chicago. Originally meant for a group of artists, Hoffman convinced the museum to award her the entire project, The Hall of Man. She and her musician husband, Samuel Grimson, embarked on a five year journey of extensive global travel to study and create models of people in their native environments. On her travels, the sculptor photographed or sketched a diverse group of personalities. In Singapore, Hoffman found a Dyak headhunter to sit for her. 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 being portrayed.
On Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's islands, Hoffman spent several days among the Ainu, sketching, photographing, and observing members of that indigenous group. She eventually executed twenty-seven life size figures, twenty-seven busts, and fifty heads. Inspiration also came from the 1930 Colonial Exhibition in Paris, where she kept a studio. Today, The Hall of Man is considered a reminder of outdated ideas cocerning race, culture, and genetics, yet Hoffman's technical skill, talent, and the individuality in each sculpture cannot be denied.
Other notable sculptures include a series of twenty-six stone panels for the facade of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, a bronze Mongolian Archer, which won a gold medal from the Allied Artists of American in 1962, and the American Battle Monument at Epinal, France, which commemorates the Battle of the Bulge. Her war monuments in Europe after World War II were significant because many of her previous works throughout Europe had been destroyed by the Nazis.
In 1936, she authored a memoir, Heads and Tales, that describes the experience of creating the sculptures for The Hall of Man. In 1939, she published the instructional book Sculpture Inside and Out, and in 1965, she wrote her autobiography, Yesterday is Tomorrow.
Hoffman was a member of the National Sculpture Society, National Academy of Design, Elected Member, National Arts Club, New York, National Association of Women Artists, National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, Pen and Brush Club, New York.
Malvina Hoffman died in her Manhattan studio in 1966.