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Monday, July 21, 2014

Heinrich Hofmann

Resurrected Christ, 1867, Heinrich Hofmann, of questionable authenticity and           
visual accuracy.             
Heinrich Hofmann,
Self-portrait, ca. 1850
One of the peculiar elements having to do with art, is the fact that an artist's work can be immensely popular and familiar, yet the artist remains relatively unknown. For example, who painted Washington Crossing the Delaware? Who sculpted the seated statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial? What architect designed the St. Louis Arch? Who wrote the song, Happy Birthday to You? Each of those creative endeavors are instantly recognizable. You're probably humming the song mentioned above at this very moment. Yet you probably couldn't name the creator of any of those works if your life depended upon it. I'm not going to list them here. I want you to have to look them up if you're curious. That way, you're more likely to remember them. One more painting I'm sure you've seen, Christ in Gethsemane (below, right); who painted it? If you said Heinrich Hofmann, having read the title above or the one below the image, that's cheating, but I'll give half a point for presence of mind.
 
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane,
1890, Heinrich Hofmann (now at
Riverside Church, NY.)
Some artists falling into the "known but unknown" category I'm talking about were what's known in the recording industry as "one hit wonders." The Washington Crossing the Delaware artist would fall into that category as would, I suppose, the writer of Happy Birthday to You. Some unknown artists despite their highly familiar work, simply never were famous (like the guy who invented the "smiley face"). Hofmann falls into neither such category. He created nearly a dozen (maybe more) paintings depicting the life of Christ. He was quite popular and famous in his own lifetime. Instead, he falls into the category I call, "gone and now forgotten." Of course, Hofmann is not alone in this category, either as a painter of Christ or in having been largely forgotten. Quick, name one other painter of Christ in the past two-hundred years.



A typical Hofmann portrait predating
his religious works.
Heinrich Hofmann was German, born in 1824. He grew up in a very "arty" family, his father painting in watercolors, his mother giving art lessons before she was married and his two brothers also showing exceptional talent. In 1842 Hofmann entered the Dusseldorf Academy of Art and thereafter studied under a number of local professionals. He also spent several years studying in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, as well as Munich and Darmstadt in Germany. Around 1848, Hofmann settled in Darmstadt to become a portrait painter. There he found that his family's political connections served him well in obtaining high-profile (and lucrative) commissions. His popularity led him to Dresden and Prague where he rendered several other portrait images such as the one at left.

The Arrest of Christ, 1858, Heinrich Hoffman, one of his earliest religious works.
Portrait of a Young Jesus, ca 1881,
Heinrich Hoffman
Then in 1854 Hofmann's mother died. Heartbroken by her death, he painted his first image of Christ, The Burial of Christ (now lost). Thereafter he traveled to Italy, first to Venice where he studied the works of Bellini and Giorgione, then to Padua where he found works by Giotto, and finally to Florence and Rome. Eventually he went to Dresden and a position at the Academy of Art there. Though he continued painting portraits, more and more during the latter years of his career Hofmann devoted himself to rendering images of the life of Christ. Having studied carefully the Renaissance masters, Hoffman came to his new-found devotion to religious art steeped in tradition, yet marrying it with northern European instincts to form a style all his own. He was the leading edge of a resurgence in interest in a new type of religious art, largely Protestant, and more personal than that of the monumental church-directed art of the 16th and 17th centuries. Hoffman set about creating, in a sense, a new biblical translation that, being visual, was much more universal than relying on the many languages of just Europe alone.

Jesus in the Temple, 1881, Heinrich Hofmann.
Portrait of a Young Jesus (above, left) is based upon this painting.
Christ's Image, 1894, Heinrich Hofmann,
now part of the Riverside Church collection
The list of Hofmann's religious works is not long, but its contents were highly influential as other artists also turned to the life of Christ for inspiration (and with the invention of color lithography, print reproduction royalties). Artists such as Warner Sallmon, John Everett Millais, Edouard Manet, Christen Dalsgaard, and William Holman Hunt all were influenced to some degree by Hofmann. Hoffman's paintings span the entire second half of the 19th-century, including (in chronological order), The Arrest of Christ (1858), St. Mary with Christ Child and Apostles (1860), The Resurrected Christ (top, 1867), The Adulteress Before Christ (1868), Christ Preaching at the Sea of Galilee (1875, destroyed during WW II), Jesus in the Temple (above, 1881), Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (below, 1889), and his beloved Christ in Gethsemane (1890). In 1894, Hofmann painted his final religious work, Christ's Image, originally intended just for himself, to hang over his bed. It is now hangs with three other Hofmann paintings at the Riverside Church, in New York City. Heinrich Hofmann died in 1911.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, 1889, Heinrich Hofmann. His famous Christ at 33 is based upon this painting.
Resurrection of Christ, 1867,
a period reproduction upon which
the Resurrection painting at top
is likely based (or vice-versa)..
Since Hoffman's death (and the lapsing of copyright protection) a blizzard of Hoffman reproductions (many quite poor) has blanketed the religious art market. One reason is that some of Hofmann's works were church altarpieces and thus only available for reproduction in copied form. Some (bottom) are even of doubtful attribution. His Resurrected Christ (top) dating from 1867 is one such example. Although it seems to be a work by Hofmann based upon an altarpiece, I've included it here, but I cannot ascertain with any certainty its visual accuracy. Many Hoffman reproductions were printed quite cheaply as "Sunday School" images and have faded considerably (bottom). Some prints, said to be by Hofmann and labeled "Vintage 1955," are, at best, poor copies based upon these cheap reproductions from the late 19th or early 20th century. I have not included any such images here. They appear to be much to colorful to be accurate representations of Hoffman's work.

Last Supper, though purportedly
by Hofmann, I could find no
record of any such painting.
The Ascension, also said to be
by Hofmann, an even worse
reproduction than the one at left.

 

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for the information. I may email you soon with a couple of questions. I recently purchased an old print by Hofmann "Christ and the Rich Young Ruler" with his stamped name and possibly original signature.

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    Replies
    1. I'm not much of an expert on Hofmann but I'll do what I can. I should tell you, I have a pretty dismal record along this line, especially with regard to the quagmire that is the print world.

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  2. Thank you for your quick reply. That is ok, I am not extremely knowledgeable on prints but antique prints are very interesting. Working on a short email tonight.

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