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Richard Hoffman (1831–1909)

Object Name: Bust
Date: 1909
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Medium: Painted plaster
Dimensions: Overall: 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. ( 47 x 47 x 26.7 cm )
Description: Portrait bust; dark brown bronze painted plaster.
Credit Line: Gift of the artist
Object Number: 1951.459
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Marks: Inscribed under proper left shoulder: "Owl sitting on crescent moon"

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Hoffman, celebrated pianist and father of the portrait sculptor Malvina Hoffman, came to America from England in 1847 and three years later accompanied Jenny Lind on her tour of the nation. In addition to achieving an international reputation as a pianist he was a teacher and a composer, and for many years he was one of the most prominent artists of the New York music world, appearing regularly with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. In 1869 he married Fidelia Marshall Lamson. His autobiography, Some Musical Recollections of Fifty Years, was published in 1910. He died at Mr. Kisco, New York.

The sculptor, only twenty-two years old when she modeled the likeness of her father, had been studying painting but was restless and dissatisfied with it as a means of expression. In her book Heads and Tales (1936, p. 31), she wrote of that crucial moment in her career: "My desire to make some adequate portrait of my father eventually drove me into sculpture. I had studied painting enthusiastically for some time, when I felt the need of three-dimensional form. I made two portraits of my father, one in pastel and one in oils, and being dissatisfied with the results, I begged him to let me try to do his portrait once more in sculpture. He posed for me most of the time while playing the piano, and I could sense the strength of his will that I should do a good piece of work. I felt a strong collaboration of spirit, and at the end he was as convinced as I was that sculpture would be the medium I must choose for my art expression." She carved a marble replica of the best in a friend's studio in Macdougal Alley and sent it to the National Academy of Design where it was exhibited. In Rodin's studio in Paris the next year, when she was applying to that great master to become his pupil, she showed him photographs of two of her portraits - one was the bust of her father, the other of Samuel Grimson, a young musician who she later married. According to her autobiography, Rodin replied after observing them at length: "Character seems to interest you. You have studied these men well. One is a mature artist with his life battles behind him, the other is the young dreamer with his battles ahead of him." Both of these busts are illustrated in Malvina Hoffman's book Heads and Tales (1936, p. 38).


Robert Lehman Sculpture Gallery, New-York Historical Society, November 2000–2014.