Malvina Hoffman

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c. 1920

Malvina Hoffman (June 15, 1885,[1][2][3] sometimes given as 1887[4] – July 10, 1966), was an American sculptor and author, well known for her life-size bronze sculptures of people. She also worked in plaster and marble.

Stanley Field, director of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, commissioned Hoffman to create sculptures of people representing members of the diverse groups of cultures around the world that became a permanent exhibition at the museum entitled "Hall of the Races of Mankind", which was popular for both for its artistic and cultural values.[5] It was featured at the Century of Progress International Exposition, the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 that celebrated the centennial of the city. The museum also published a Map of Mankind, featuring her sculptures in a border surrounding a map of the world that was distributed widely with an informative, large-format booklet that made Hoffman's sculptures very well known.

Portrait busts of significant individuals of that time and depictions of people in their everyday lives were frequent works executed by Hoffman. Dancers were the subjects of the works that brought her earliest recognition and she continued to sculpt dancers throughout her career, some individuals repeatedly, such as Anna Pavlova. She was highly skilled in foundry techniques as well, often casting her own works. Hoffman published a definite work on historical and technical aspects of sculpture, Sculpture Inside and Out in 1939.

Life and career[edit]

English: Artist Malvina Hoffman; Stanley Field, director and the nephew of the founder of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago; and actress Mary Pickford at the 1934 opening of Hoffman's Grand Central Art Galleries exhibition "The Races of Man."
Artist Malvina Hoffman; Stanley Field, director and the nephew of the founder of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago; and actress Mary Pickford at the 1934 opening of Hoffman's Grand Central Art Galleries exhibition "The Races of Man."

Malvina Hoffman was born in New York City, the daughter of the concert pianist, Richard Hoffman. She attended both the Brearley School and the Chapin School.[6] She gravitated toward sculpture at an early age, and, by the age of fourteen, she was taking classes at the Art Students League of New York. She later received help from the sculptors Herbert Adams, George Grey Barnard, and Gutzon Borglum, who was a friend of her family. Another family friend, Alexander Phimister Proctor, allowed her the use of his MacDougal Alley studio for a summer. As a young girl the artist saw Swami Vivekananda.[7] Much of her inspiration as a young woman was drawn from dancers and music, and several of her sculptures reflect these subjects.[8]

After the death of her father in 1910, at the age of 23, Hoffman moved to Europe with her mother. They resided first in Italy before moving to Paris where, after three unsuccessful attempts, she eventually was accepted as a student by Auguste Rodin after sitting on his door step and refusing to leave.[9] Rodin’s essence of teaching as per her statement is “Do not be afraid of realism”.[10] He later convinced her to return to Manhattan to spend a year dissecting bodies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The education she received there was invaluable, honing her remarkable skill of rendering anatomical features that was evidenced highly when she embarked on her ambitious project to sculpt the anthropological series.

While working for the Red Cross during and after World War I, Hoffman traveled to Yugoslavia where she first met sculptor Ivan Meštrović, with whom she would study a decade later. She was commissioned to execute several war memorials following World War I, both domestically and internationally.

Anthropological series[edit]

In 1930, Malvina Hoffman began working for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, sculpting life-sized statues of members of the diverse cultural groups. She eventually completed 105 sculptures for the project, including busts, full-length figures of individuals, and small family groups. Her skill at representing the human form allowed her to render the graceful beauty of her subjects during their daily activities. This project resulted in the largest single corpus of her work.[citation needed]

Initially, these sculptures were set up in the Hall of Man that was established at the museum. The stories of her trips to track down the various models for each cultural group form the basis of her first book, "Heads and Tales". During the 1960s, however, after 30 years of display, questions began to circulate regarding the relevance of the context in which the original display was exhibited. According to American Historical Review, "the sculptures in the "Races of Mankind" had perpetuated an older typological approach by presenting "race" in the form of literally static bronze figures depicting idealized racial 'types'".[11] These potentially offensive pieces were then redistributed throughout the museum and/or placed into storage.

In 2016, fifty recently conserved sculptures from the Mankind collection were on display at the museum in an exhibition called, "Looking at Ourselves: Rethinking the Sculptures of Malvina Hoffman."[12]

Many of a limited series cast of smaller versions of the Hoffman life-sized anthropological sculptures, Mankind, were purchased by well-known art collectors, such as Geraldine R. Dodge, so appreciation for her skill in this endeavor has not been lost. A number of the works were featured in an auction held at Dodge's New Jersey estate in the late 1970s, and many remain held in other private collections.[citation needed]

Post-World War II[edit]

Studio in Manhattan

Following World War II, Hoffman was chosen to execute a sculpture for the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial in Vosges, France. This marks the site of bloody fighting that took place in December 1944, in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

In addition to her professional talents, it is likely that Hoffman was chosen as the sculptor for this project because of the very active role she had played in the Red Cross during both World War I and World War II. Her selection also is symbolically meaningful because, during their occupation of France, the Nazis deliberately destroyed several of her commemorative works that were located in Paris.

Some of her later commemorative monuments stand at Harvard University and Syracuse University as well as at locations in London and Paris. Many of her portraits of individuals are among the collection of the New York Historical Society. She maintained a salon, a social gathering of artistic and personal acquaintances, at her Sniffen Court studio for many years.


Throughout her career, dancers fascinated Hoffman and they formed the subject matter for many of her most well-known pieces although the anthropological works are the greatest in number for a single project. Many of her works were portrait busts: both of significant persons of the time and of working-class people she encountered in daily life. She was often commissioned to execute commemorative monuments and was awarded many prizes and honors, including a membership to the National Sculpture Society.

She was married to Samuel B. Grimson, often known simply as S. B. Grimson, who traveled with her during her search for authentic indigenous models for the anthropological series. Over 2,000 photographic negatives from that search are among the extensive documents of her career. Some are featured in her autobiographies.

In 1925 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1931.

In 1965 she published Yesterday is Tomorrow, her final book. The next year, at the age of seventy-nine, Malvina Cornell Hoffman died while working in her studio in Manhattan, which had been purchased for her early in her career by the philanthropist Mary Williamson Averell.

Selected works[edit]



  1. ^ Hill, May Brawley, The Woman Sculptor: Malvina Hoffman and Her Contemporaries, Berry-Hill Galleries Inc., NY, NY 1984 p. 29
  2. ^ Hill, May Brawley, The Woman Sculptor: Malvina Hoffman and Her Contemporaries, Berry-Hill Galleries Inc., NY, NY 1984
  3. ^ Rubenstein, Charlotte Streifer, American Women Artists: from Early Indian Times to the Present, Avon Publishers 1982 p. 176
  4. ^ Alexandre, Arsene, Malvina Hoffman, J.E. Pouterman, Editeur, Parios, 1930 p.11
  5. ^ Field Museum
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Malvina Hoffman Sculptures at the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of NY". Retrieved March 7, 2016. 
  8. ^ Essays on Women's Artistic and Cultural Contributions 1919–1939. 2009. p. 164. 
  9. ^ Bailey, Brooke (1994). The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Artists. United States of America: Bob Adams Inc. pp. 78–79. ISBN 1-55850-360-9. 
  10. ^ A Little Girl Who Remembered Vivekananda Archived July 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Brattain, 2007.
  12. ^ Edward Rothstein (March 23, 2016), "A Mold in Which to Cast a New Orthodoxy". Wall Street Journal, p. D5
  13. ^ "Malvina Hoffman Sculpture of Sri Sarada Devi". Retrieved March 7, 2016. 


  • Alexandre, Arsène, Malvina Hoffman, J.E. Pouterman, Éditeur, Paris 1930
  • Brattain, Michelle, "Race, Racism, and Antiracism: UNESCO and the Politics of Presenting Science to the Postwar Public". The American Historical Review 112.5 (2007): 40 pars. March 11, 2010.
  • Connor, Janis, and Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture – Studio Works, 1893–1939, University of Texas Press, Austin 1989
  • Field, Henry, The Races of Mankind, Sculptures by Malvina Hoffman, Anthropology Leaflet 30, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago 1937
  • Field Museum (January 1979). "The Legacy of Malvina Hoffman". Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin. Retrieved May 15, 2011. 
  • Hill, May Brawley, The Woman Sculptor, Malvina Hoffman and Her Contemporaries, The Bearley School 1984
  • Hoffman, Malvina, Heads and Tales. Charles Scribner's Sons, NY, NY 1936
  • Hoffman, Malvina, Sculpture Inside and Out, Bonanza Books, NY, NY 1939
  • Hoffman, Malvina, Yesterday Is Tomorrow, Crown Publishers, Inc. NY, NY 1965
  • Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, Hunting Hoffman in the Field Museum, unpublished manuscript
  • Nishiura, Elizabeth, American Battle Monuments – A Guide to Military Cemeteries and Monuments Maintained By the American Battle Monuments Commission, Omnigraphics, Inc, Detroit, Michigan 1989
  • Papanikolas, Theresa and DeSoto Brown, Art Deco Hawai'i, Honolulu, Honolulu Museum of Art, 2014, ISBN 978-0-937426-89-0, p. 79
  • Proske, Beatrice Gilman, Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture, Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina, 1968
  • Redman, Samuel J, "Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums". Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2016.
  • Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer, American Women Sculptors’ G.K. Hall & Co. Boston 1990

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