The New York Times, Monday
July 11, 1966
Malvina Hoffman, Dead At Age of
Malvina Hoffman, the sculptor, died of a heart attack
yesterday morning in her studio at 157 East 35th Street. She
was 81 years old.
Studied Painting First
Miss Hoffman had been living at the studio with her
secretary, Gullborg Groneng. According to Miss Groneng, she died
in her sleep at 10 A.M.
Miss Hoffman, one of the foremost sculptors of the
United States, had been a pupil of Auguste Rodin. She was widely
known for her portrait sculptures of Americans. Her bust of Wendell
L. Willkie is enshrined at Willkie House here. Her portrait in
marble of Mrs. Edward Henry Harriman, wife of the financier and
railroad director, is a feature of Arden House at Columbia University.
The sculptor was equally well known abroad. Her famous "Bacchanale
Russe" stands in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
Miss Hoffman was born here. her father, Richard Hoffman,
had been one of the best-known pianists of his day. He was brought
here from Britain by P. T. Barnum as an accompanist for Jenny
Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale." Miss Hoffman grew
up in a brownstone house on West 43rd Street, near where Town
Hall now stands. It was a house in which many of the musicians,
singers and artist of New York in the eighteen nineties were
At first, Miss Hoffman studied painting with John
Alexander. Then she went to Paris, and sculpture won her dedication.
She became the trusted pupil of Rodin. According to her own account,
she had to fight her way into his studio.
She studied under two other sculptors, Gutzon
Borgium sculptor of the Mount Rushmore portraits who had settled
here in 1901 and adopted Rodin's free technique, and Herbert
Adams. But Miss Hoffman soon developed a style of her own.
She won her first fame with Bronzes of Pavlowa
and Mordkin. Her bas-relief frieze of the Russian dancers became
a legend of the art world. It demonstrated how thorough was Miss
Hoffman's preparation for her work and how intensely she studied
'Races of Mankind'
While she was working or the frieze she took dancing lessons
from Pavlowa's partner.
After Miss Hoffman had taken 30 lessons, Pavlowa impressed the
sculptor in her own bacchanale costume, tied the bunches of grapes
about the sculptor's brow and launched the young artist on her
Miss Hoffman, game but frightened to death, danced
to center stage at the Century Theater while a full orchestra
blared out its triumph. Then she fell in a dead faint. She danced
rarely after that.
The same sort of preparation and dynamic execution
went into what was perhaps her monumental work, 104 life-size
or heroic figures in bronze called "Races of Mankind."
The work was done under a commission from the Field Museum of
Natural History in Chicago, whose Hall of Man they occupy. Miss
Hoffman roamed the world to do her research. In Singapore, a
Dyak headhunter was a model for her. In the Malay jungle, she
worked for two hours alone with a Saka warrior. He would let
her model his muscular body, but he wouldn't allow her interpreter
or white escorts to observe them.
Startled the English
She modeled members of & ancient race, the hairy
Ainu In Hokkaido, the chill, northern most of the Japanese Islands
There, as elsewhere, she lived with her subjects, taking the
primitive conditions in stride. When she had finished, she wrote
back, "All that now remains to be done is to go to the delousing
Among her other large work was a symbolic group called
"The Sacrifice," for Harvard's War Memorial Chapel.
It was commissioned in memory of Robert Bacon, class of '07,
who had been Ambassador to France, by Mrs. Bacon to commemorated
Harvard's war dead. The group carved in Caen stone was ex-hibited
at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine from 1923 to 1932
while the Harvard chapel was being completed.
Miss Hoffman executed a group of two heroic stone
figures and an altar for the entrance to Bush House in London.
She startled the English by climbing about the statuary like
a rigger to put finishing touches to the Work while it was in
place. It was characteristic of her even though all her life
she had been a slender woman of slight build. She had learned
under Rodin that her calling was arduous, that she had to become
used to lifting weights she learned to use carpenters and plumbers'
tools, to bend iron, saw wood and build armatures. She become
expert on the characteristics of materials, to calculate the
strains and build the necessary supports for her clay and stone
figures. She became accustomed to standing on her feet from early
morning until late at night. she visited foundries to learn about
metal. But in the midst of all the physical demands, she had
to be an artist, too.
Test of Greatness
Rodin had considered her sketches of his work to be primitive
and would not take her on as a pupil until she made drawings
that met his standards. She then took the sketches of Michelangelo
Later, Rodin often took her to the Louvre just before
closing lime. He would take a bit of candle from his pocket,
light the wick, and by its soft light show her the smooth strong
planes of the great statues.
"This is the test," he would say. "Watch
the sharp edge of light as I move it over the flowing contours
of these great chef-d'oeuvres of Egypt. You will see how continuous
and unbroken are the surfaces, how the forms flow into one another
without a break."
In World War I, Miss Hoffman founded American Yugoslav
Relief and was aided in the. work by Mrs. Harriman. After the
war she made an Inspection tour of Yugoslavia for Herbert Hoover
and the American Red Cross.
Miss Hoffman wrote several autobiographical volumes,
including "Heads and Tales"' in' 1936 and "Yesterday
Is Tomorrow" last year. She also wrote works on sculpture,
including a history.
In 1924, she was married to Samuel B. Grimson, an
English musician and inventor, who had been a close family friend.
He accompanied her on her five years of international research
for the "Races of Mankind." they were divorced In 1936.
Funeral plans were incomplete last night.