Malvina Cornell Hoffman
Sold for $17,500
signed, copyright-marked and inscribed "AM (conjoined) CAST 98" along back edge.
h. 39-1/2", w. 9-1/2", d. 9"
Provenance: Estate of Edward "Ted" L'Engle Baker and Ann McDonald Baker, Jacksonville, Florida.
Literature: Conner, Janis and Rosenkranz, Joel, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893-1939, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989; Rubenstein, Charlotte Streifer, American Women Sculptors, Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1990; Hoffman, Didi, Beautiful Bodies - The Adventures of Malvina Hoffman, Pennsylvania: Fulton Books, Inc., 2018.
Notes: Carving became a harbor of safety into which I could steer my thoughts and sense of salvation by self-obliteration. It became the deciding factor in my decision to be a sculptor.
Hoffman was born and raised in New York City, the youngest of five children; her two brothers and two sisters were all at least a decade older than her. Her father was an English-born pianist, one-time accompanist to the singer Jenny Lind, and long serving soloist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and her mother, Fidelia Lamson, was a pianist, from a socially prominent family, and one of the "400" of New York Society. As the beloved "baby" of the family, Hoffman was surrounded by love and support her entire childhood. The Hoffman family lived in a prosperous, yet slightly bohemian neighborhood, and artists and intellectuals were frequent visitors; the actress Lillian Russell was a neighbor, and the poet Marianne Moore was a childhood friend. Her prodigious talent evident at an early age, Hoffman's father encouraged his youngest daughter to pursue her art. She attended the Chapin School for Girls, the Brearley School and, beginning at the age of 14, enrolled in art classes at the Art Students League and the Women's School for Applied Design. She then studied panting with John White Alexander and sculpture with Herbert Adams and George Grey Barnard. In 1909, the Danish sculptor Gutzon Borglum was so impressed by a plaster cast she did of her father, he encouraged her to submit it to the National Academy of Design Exhibition in 1909, where it was accepted. When her father fell ill shortly after, she undertook a marble version and thus began her career.
After her father's death, Hoffman designed wallpaper until an unexpected inheritance afforded her the opportunity to travel to France. Determined to be accepted as a student by the sculptor Auguste Rodin, she showed up at the doorstep of his studio five times before he consented to even review her work - and then he did so only because she dropped the name of his most important patron, who also happened to be a close Hoffman family friend. As soon as he saw her portfolio, he immediately allowed her access to his studio. Hoffman studied with Rodin for over a year, eventually becoming one of his favorite assistants. Their relationship lasted until his death. While in Paris, Hoffman also studied with fellow American Janet Scudder, whose "Boy With Fish" is offered here as lot 693, working in her studio. She received honorable mention for one of her works in the Paris Salon of 1910.
Upon her return to the United States, Hoffman honed her skill by studying anatomy at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgery, and the resultant models were utilized by medical schools and institutions for years. She also taught herself the painstaking technique of the lost bronze process and experimented with carving a wide variety of woods and stone. She set up a studio on Sniffen Court, where one of her neighbors was fellow sculptor Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, whose "Play Days" is offered her as lot 173.
Admired as a portraitist, Hoffman traveled the world seeking inspiration and her oeuvre ranges from inspired figures of the ballerina Anna Pavlova, her impressive series "The Races of Man" commissioned by the Marshall Field Museum, to her whimsical garden sculptures, of which the fountain offered here is a delightful example.
She was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a Fellow of the National Sculpture Society, named to the National Academy of Design in 1925 and made an Academician in 1931, and named Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1951 by the French government.