Sunday, 13 August 2017


“The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.” - Desmond Morris 

Charles Constantin Joseph Hoffbauer (June 28, 1875 - July 26, 1957) was a French-born artist who became a United States citizen. He painted a wide variety of subjects, including many that depicted scenes of historical interest.

Charles Hoffbauer was born in Paris. His parents, Féodor Hubert Hoffbauer and Marie Clemence Belloc Hoffbauer, were of Alsatian origin. Féodor Hoffbauer was a well-known archeologist, architect, and artist, and likely influenced his son's interest in history. As a child, Charles sometimes assisted his father in conducting research. The elder Hoffbauer’s 1882 book on Paris architecture, Paris à Travers les Ages, has been updated over the years and remains in print with the latest edition published in 2007.

After receiving a traditional elementary and secondary education in French schools, Hoffbauer attended the École des Beaux-Arts for three years. He studied under Fernand Cormon, François Flemeng, and symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. Classmates of Hoffbauer included Paul Baignères, Charles Camoin, Henri Evenepoel, Raoul du Gardier, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault. Shortly before his 21st birthday, Hoffbauer reported for his mandatory French military service. He trained at Falaise, Normandy for 18 months. Completing his military service in September 1897, he returned to Paris and began his career as an artist.

In 1898, Hoffbauer’s first submission to the Paris Salon was awarded Honorable Mention, and the following year he became the youngest artist to earn a Gold Medal and be deemed Hors Concours—a status he held for seven years. Hoffbauer’s artistic skill was rewarded again in 1902 when Revolt de Flamands won the Bourse de Voyage award, and the artist used the five thousand-franc prize to fund a summer sketching trip to Italy in 1903. The drawings Hoffbauer produced during this visit inspired Triomphe d’un Condottiere¸ a work that was awarded the highest honour (the Prix du Salon) by the Paris Salon in 1906. The artist continued to travel over the next several years, producing work while visiting Milan, Rome, Cairo, Aswan, Athens, and Venice.

However, the place that truly captured Hoffbauer’s attention he had only seen in photographs: New York City. Images of Manhattan’s skyline captivated Hoffbauer and served as artistic inspiration throughout 1904; he produced a significant amount of studies and paintings featuring New York’s skyscrapers and metropolitan life, all without ever stepping foot on American soil. American and European audiences alike were impressed with Hoffbauer’s vibrant cityscapes that successfully reproduced the iconic scenery of the great city. Hoffbauer made his first trans-Atlantic journey to the United States in 1909, arriving in New York on December 21. One year after his arrival Hoffbauer met and befriended Roland Knoedler of Knoedler Galleries, who became the artist’s primary dealer in the United States.

Two one-man exhibitions held at Knoedler Galleries in 1911 and 1912 garnered Hoffbauer significant acclaim with American audiences. In an excerpt from Knoedler’s 1912 exhibition catalogue, fellow artist Arthur Hoeber describes his admiration for Hoffbauer: “One feels he has caught the spirit of American progress; caught much of its practicalness[sic], with not a little of its vitality, for these pictures of our city are sui generis and they fairly exude American bigness and bustle, the sense of accomplishment despite great obstacles.”

Hoffbauer’s artistic career had several significant highlights in 1912: In addition to the success of his solo show at Knoedler Galleries, the artist chose to repaint Triomphe d’un Condottiere, a work that had earned him Prix du Salon six years earlier. The repainted piece was met with great success when it was exhibited that year at the Architectural League, and Hoffbauer’s audacious decision was rewarded with a commission for the Battle Abbey murals at the Confederate Memorial Institute at Richmond, Virginia.

In 1914, Hoffbauer’s progress on the Battle Abbey murals was halted by World War I; the artist volunteered as a private and spent the next four years serving on the front and working as an official war artist. He returned to the United States in 1919 and was able to complete the Battle Abbey murals one year later; the success of Hoffbauer’s depictions of Confederate leadership was so great that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for the City of Richmond in 1925.

Hoffbauer continued to produce work and exhibit throughout the 1920s: He accepted a mural commission for the State Capitol at Jefferson City in 1921 and also showed pieces at the Paris Salon and the Art Institute of Chicago. Hoffbauer’s career took an interesting turn in 1935 after he watched Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs, which inspired him to pursue film animation. He considered the United States to offer the greatest potential for success in this field and in 1936, Hoffbauer made the decision to move to New York. The artist believed that there was an existing void in the realm of film animation that he could fill by dramatising historical events. While this idea was turned down during a 1938 meeting with Walt Disney, the legendary film animator encouraged Hoffbauer to move to California and work for him.

Hoffbauer accepted Disney’s offer and relocated to Hollywood in 1939, and two years later, on December 26, the artist became a naturalised American citizen. The success Hoffbauer achieved as a muralist and painter during the 1940s and early 1950s was monumental: He was offered mural commissions from McCornack Hospital in Pasadena, the Citizen’s Committee for the Army and Navy, and the N.E. Mutual Life Insurance Company, and also participated in exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and Stanford University. Hoffbauer left California in 1953 and settled in Rockport, Massachusetts, where he resided until his death in 1957.

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