Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Nuer Man and other male sculptures from Malvina Hoffman

A passionate reader of this blog suggested to include Malvina Hoffman in the sculptors mentioned here, with a focus on her Nuer Man, the African warrior standing nude on one leg.

'The Nuer Man'

Indeed, her talent and achievements are impressive : she sculpted more than 100 life-sized mainly male sculptures based on real models, to illustrate the diverse groups of cultures around the world. Our dear reader, based in Chicago, was lucky to meet himself some of these Nuer tribesmen when he spent some time in Western Ethiopia and South Sudan.

As he says, "Hoffmann's sculptures were largely 'hidden away' for years because their realism was considered an 'embarassment' ... even though her sculptures were amazingly accurate. She took meticulous measurements of every part of her subjects: nose, arms, penis, everything. Even the Nuer Man was pulled from the floor of the Art Institute of Chicago for a while; but they created a new space where they now display a number of works by her, including this piece".


Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966), born in New York, was from an artist background (her father was an excellent pianist) and he encouraged her to sculpt. So did the famous sculptor of Mt Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, seeing a bust that she had sculpted. When her father died, she moved to Italy then Paris as she wanted to continue to study art, and she wanted to do it with Rodin!


And she succeeded (after many attemps to meet him!). She studied with him from 1910 to 1914. Rodin was reportedly impressed by both her persistency, and the quality of two busts she did (the one of her father, and another bust she had made of a young violin soloist named Samuel Grimson, who would later become her husband.

Malvina Hoffman in her studio
"Rodin’s essence of teaching as per her statement is “Do not be afraid of realism”. He later convinced her to return to Manhattan to spend a year dissecting bodies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The education she received there was invaluable, honing her remarkable skill of rendering anatomical features that was evidenced highly when she embarked on her ambitious project to sculpt the anthropological series."

"Stanley Field, director of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, commissioned Hoffman to create sculptures of people representing members of the diverse groups of cultures around the world that became a permanent exhibition at the museum entitled "Hall of the Races of Mankind".
She started this project in 1930. She was very skilled at expressing the beauty of her subjects during their daily activities.


The museum also published a Map of Mankind, featuring her sculptures in a border surrounding a map of the world that was distributed widely with an informative, large-format booklet that made Hoffman's sculptures very well known."

Photograph of the Nuer Man who posed for Malvina Hoffman

In 2016, fifty recently conserved sculptures from the Mankind collection were on display at the museum in an exhibition called, "Looking at Ourselves: Rethinking the Sculptures of Malvina Hoffman.