Charles Hoffbauer (1875–1957)

Charles Hoffbauer was a prolific, French-born artist renowned for his historic murals and paintings, in addition to the impressionist New York City street scenes which brought him considerable success in America.

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources
VII. Notes

I. Biography

On June 28, 1875, Charles Hoffbauer was born in Paris, France; at the age of seventeen the young artist enrolled at the École National des Beaux-Arts where his peers included Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, and Albert Marquet.(1) Hoffbauer’s studies were interrupted when he was called to army duty in March 1896, and after spending eighteen months stationed in Falaise, Normandy, he returned to Paris to resume painting. 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.(2)

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.(3) The drawings Hoffbauer produced during this visit inspired Triomphe d’un Condottiere¸ a work that was awarded the highest honor—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.(4)

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.(5) 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 dramatizing historical events.(6) 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 naturalized 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.

II. Chronology

1875 Born June 28 in Paris, France
1893–6 Begins formal art training at the École National des Beaux-Arts in Paris
1896–7 Assigned to an infantry regiment in March, stationed at Falaise, Normandy for training
1897 Discharged and returns to Paris; resumes painting and drawing
1898 Exhibits at the Paris Salon for the first time in the spring, awarded Honorable Mention
1899 Exhibits at the Paris Salon, becomes the youngest artist to become Hors Concours and win the Gold Medal
1900 Awarded the bronze medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle
1902 Exhibits Revolte des Flamandes, which is awarded the Prix Rosa Bonheur and receives the Bourse de Voyage, the French Government Traveling Scholarship
1903 Spends the summer in Italy
1904 Exhibits Coin de Bal at the Salon d’Automne in Paris
1905 Invited to exhibit in the 10th Annual Carnegie International in Pittsburgh
1906 Receives the Prix du Salon, the highest award in any category, at the Paris Salon
Travels to England in October, stays in London for several months
1907 Visits Belgium and Holland in August
Travels to Milan, Rome, and Cairo from October through December
1908 Visits Luxor, Aswan, Athens, Venice, and Rome during the early spring
Two of his paintings, Revolte des Flamandes and Sur les toits are shown in London and the Franco-British Exhibition
1909 Arrives in New York on December 21
1910 Befriends Roland Knoedler of Knoedler Galleries, who becomes the artist’s dealer in the United States
Takes a fall sketching trip to the Adirondacks
Travels to Boston in September
1911 Successful one-man exhibition at Knoedler Galleries in February
Leaves for Paris to visit family in June, returns to New York in November
1912 Submits mural sketches to be considered for the Confederate Memorial Institute at Richmond, Virginia, which are approved; Hoffbauer accepts the contract on July 27
Second one-man exhibition at Knoedler Galleries
Elected a member of the Architectural League
Travels to Paris during the summer
Becomes a founding member of the Comité France-Amérique of the Académie Francaise on December 30
1913 In January, begins working on murals in the Confederate Memorial Institute
1914 Returns to France on August 8; enlists in the 274th Infantry Regiment as a private and is sent to the battlefield of the Marne
1915 Appointed official war artist and promoted to the rank of sergeant
1917 Earns the Cruix de Guerre for his bravery in the Battle of the Somme
1918 Goes on leave from January through March; studies and sketches in Padua, Florence, Pisa and Siena
1919 Leaves Paris, arrives in New York City on April 25
1920 Completes the Battle Abbey murals in October
1921 Receives commission to paint mural in the State Capitol at Jefferson City, Missouri, along with other contributing artists including Alexander Calder and N.C. Wyeth
1922 Hoffbauer’s father, Féodor, passes away in Paris
1924 The Musée de l’Armée purchases a group of Hoffbauer’s World War I drawings and watercolors
1925 On May 15 while in Paris, receives the Distinguished Service Medal for the City of Richmond for his mural in the Confederate Memorial Institute
1928 Awarded the Prix de l’Institute de France for Napoleon at Rivoli
1929 Exhibits work in the Mural Painters Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago
1930 Marries Henrietta Brownell Lowry on June 17
Accepts commission to decorate the Town Hall of Arras in France
1932 Hoffbauer’s mother passes away during the spring in Paris
1933 On January 18, elected member of the jury of the École National des Beaux-Arts
1935 Sees Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs and becomes inspired to pursue film animation
1936 Leaves Paris and moves to New York to pursue a career in film animation
1937 Elected jury member of the Exposition Internationale, Paris
1938 Receives an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of Richmond on April 29
Meets Walt Disney on July 1 and pitches the idea to create animated films based on historical events; Disney turns him down, but recognizes Hoffbauer’s talent and recommends that he come to Hollywood
1939 Moves to Hollywood, California
1940 Hired by Walt Disney as a research artist
Receives commission to paint eight historical murals in the N.E. Mutual Life Insurance Company in Boston
1941 Becomes a naturalized American citizen on December 26 in Los Angeles, California
1944 Paints a series of twelve panels for the McCornack Hospital, Pasadena
1947 Returns to Paris in May after more than eleven years absence; auctions the contents of his Paris studio on October 20
1949 Invited to exhibit sixty tempera works at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in September; exhibition travels to Stanford University in December
1950 Splits time between Los Angeles and San Francisco where he has five one-man exhibitions
1952 Leaves California; briefly resides in Providence before settling in Boston
1953 Permanently settles in Rockport, Massachusetts
Unanimously elected Corresponding Member of the Institut de France on December 16
1957 Passes away on July 26

III. Collections

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Belfry & Town Hall, Arras, France
Confederate Memorial Institute, Richmond, VA
House of Representatives, Jefferson City, MO
Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, France
Musées des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, Rouen, France
Museum of the City of Paris, France
Please Touch Museum, Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, PA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
The State Hermitage, Russia
Virginia Historical Society, VA

IV. Exhibitions

1898–9 Paris Salon; honorable mention 1898; gold medal 1899
1900 Paris Exposition Universelle; bronze medal
1902 Paris Salon; Prix Rosa Bonheur; Bourse de Voyage
1904 Salone d’Atomne
1905 10th Annual Carnegie International Exhibition
1906–9, 1911 Paris Salon; Prix National Du Salon, 1906
1911–2 Knoedler Galleries; solo exhibitions
1912 Architectural League
1919 Galerie Devambez
1926–30 Paris Salon; Prix de l’Institut de France, 1929
1928 Architectural League
1929 Art Institute of Chicago
1932 École Nationale des Beaux-Arts
1936 Paris Salon
1940 Los Angeles Museum
1949 California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Stanford University
1950 Five one-man exhibitions in Los Angeles and San Francisco

V. Memberships

Académie des Beaux-Arts, 1933; jury member
Architectural League, 1912
Comité France-Amérique of the Académie Francaise, 1912; founding member
École National des Beaux-Artes, 1933; jury member
Exposition Internationale, Paris, 1937; jury member
Institut de France, 1953; Corresponding Member
Légion d'Honneur, 1919; Chevalier
Société des Artistes Françaises

VI. Suggested Resources

Falk, Peter H. “Charles Hoffbauer” Who Was Who in American Art. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999. 1585.
Gropper, Joseph. Charles Hoffbauer. West Somerville, MA: Gropper Art Gallery, 1977.

VII. Notes

Joseph Gropper, Charles Hoffbauer (West Somerville, MA: Gropper Art Gallery, 1977), 2.
Ibid.
Arthur Hoeber, “Concerning Charles Hoffbauer” in Paintings by Charles Hoffbauer (New York: M. Knoedler & Co., 1911), np.
Arthur Hoeber, “A Foreword,” Paintings of Charles Hoffbauer (New York: M. Knoedler & Co., 1912), np.
Gropper, 10.
Ibid, 18.

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Charles Hoffbauer