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About Malvina Hoffman

Malvina Hoffman was born the fifth child into a family of stature and music. Her father, Richard Hoffman, was the pianist for the New York Philharmonic for 30 years. He was a child prodigy and began performing in public before his feet could reach the ground. Malvina Hoffman’s mother, Fidelia Lamson Hoffman, was born into the elite society of New York and it was Fidelia’s friends who recognized Hoffman’s talent and encouraged her. Women such as Mrs. E.H. Harriman and Mrs. Otto Kahn were her greatest friends, Mr. Henry Clay Frick gave Hoffman her first commission – of his daughter, Helen. Hoffman’s lifelong childhood friends were Helen Frick and Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan.

Malvina Hoffman studied at the Art Students League of New York and early mentors were Gutzon Borglum (Mount Rushmore) and her cousin, sculptor Herbert Haseltine (Man O’ War). She was encouraged by the greatest collectors in the world, her New York patrons. With references and samples of her work, Hoffman earned acceptance as a student of Auguste Rodin in 1910, at 25 years old.

When her father died in 1909, Hoffman became responsible for taking care of her needs and those of her mother. Despite her mother’s family’s wealth, her father was a musician and his income did not allow for savings. Her godmother left $1000 to Hoffman for her to study art in Europe and with that money she and her mother lived in Paris for a year. She earned extra income and worked in Paris for American sculptor Janet Scudder while she studied. She was also part of the Gertrude Stein salon in the early 1900’s and was immersed in the Avant Garde art scene. Hoffman wanted to follow their lead but her commissions paid the bills.

In Paris, Rodin’s studio, the Hôtel Biron was a hotbed of creative energy with many of the greatest artists and dancers always found together. Hoffman was a part of his world. She was close to Rodin. He was now in his 70’s and found Hoffman expressed his younger passions as an artist. He began to share all he knew about art and saw her as his legacy. He depended on her to create his installations and Malvina helped him catalogue his works which would later become the Musée Rodin upon his death. She was often at his home in Meudon and was trusted by Rodin’s wife Rose, who trusted no one. The two sculptors kept up their friendship with many letters as Hoffman travelled between New York and Paris. Before World War 1, Hoffman hid all of Rodin’s work in the Hotel Biron basement at the demand of the French military. After Rodin’s death in 1917, Hoffman was asked to help bring his works out of the basement and install them in the Musee Rodin.

Hoffman was asked by the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris to install her over-life size Russian Dancers, which won first prize at the Paris Salon, in the Gardens. This was Hoffman’s greatest honor, but it was stolen by the Nazi’s in World War 2 and never seen again. She was the first woman ever asked to have her work in the Gardens.

Malvina Hoffman as a young artist

Pictured with teacher and friend, sculptor Auguste Rodin

The original Hall of Mankind exhibit, the largest bronze commission in the history of art. Malvina Hoffman was the highest paid artist in the history of art (1930)

Curator of the Luxembourg Gardens, Léonce Bénédite  and Malvina Hoffman celebrating the installation of Russian Dancers, 1919. Malvina Hoffman was the first woman ever invited and installed in the Gardens. The Germans stole her bronze in WWII and it was never seen again.

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