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Vlastislav Hofman papers and drawings, 1904-1984, 1904-1984

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Finding aid for Vlastislav Hofman papers and drawings, 1904-1984

Biographical / Historical Note

Vlastislav Hofman (1884-1964), was born in Jičín, a small town in northern Bohemia. Hofman's father was a shoemaker and an avid socialist. He was responsible for organizing a social-democratic organization in Jičín and in the surrounding area. Vlastislav Hofman's early exposure to political activity was to later inspire his work in the theater, such as in the designs for the "Husité" and "Svítání." From 1902 to 1907 Hofman attended the Czech Technical University in Prague, where he studied architecture under the direction of Jan Emil Koula and J. Schulz and met fellow artists Pavel Janák and Josef Chochol.

After becoming an architect, Hofman participated in numerous design competitions for public buildings in Prague and other cities. Hofman worked closely with Chochol, Janák, and Josef Gočár in developing a Cubo-Expressionist movement in architecture. Few of Hofman's projects were ever realized, but a handful of innovative designs such as the Prague Dáblice cemetery (1912-1913) gained Hofman notable acclaim for his architectural work. Together with Chochol, Janák, and Josef Gočár and others, the group extended their Cubo-Expressionist ideas to furniture and ceramic design. In other countries, Cubist principles were rarely applied to the decorative arts, in contrast to the highly original and innovative Czech movement. The Prague group is considered one of the most important Cubist centers after Paris, and the Expressionist element of its work has been observed to keenly reflect the agitation and upheaval of the times.

At various points in his career, Hofman was affiliated with several Prague artists' groups and other fundamental institutions in the development of Czech modernism. He was briefly a member of Artěl and early in his career joined Spolek výtvarných umělců Mánes (the Mánes Association of Plastic Artists). In 1911, he was a founding member of the avant-garde group Skupina výtvarných umělců. The group was responsible for several large exhibitions in Prague and published a journal entitled Umělcký měsíčník, edited by Josef Čapek. In 1912, Hofman left the group, along with many of his artistic allies, and returned to Mánes. Among Hofman's closest collaborators of the Czech avant-garde were Josef Čapek, Václav Špála, Emil Filla, Antonín Procházka, Vincenc Beneš, Otto Guttfreund, Chochol, Janák, and Gočár. Hofman designed illustrations for a number of books, among a collection of short stories by Karel Čapek in 1916. The artistic activities of Hofman and his peers were interrupted by World War II, for which many, including Hofman, were called to serve. Upon return from the war, Hofman joined the group Tvrdošíjiným, an early product of newly-independent Czechoslovakia, and exhibited work at their first show in 1918. In 1921, he published a collection of woodcuts entitled Fysiognomie. The publications were numbered and each woodcut is hand-painted in watercolor. (The Getty Research Institute holds copy number 10B).

In the early 1910s, Hofman corresponded frequently with his close friend, the playwright Jan Bartoš, during which time they discussed psychological portraits of characters in the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Both artists claim to have been inspired by Dostoevsky's characters. These drawings brought Hofman's artwork to the attention of the director Karel Hugo Hilar. In 1919, Hofman began his career in the theater with a production of Antonín Dvořák's play "Husité," directed by Hilar. This was the first of a number of historical productions that would occupy Hofman throughout his career. Several of Hofman's other production designs, such as those for William Shakespeare's "Bouře" (The Tempest") in 1920 are distinguished by a characteristic intensity of lighting effects. The Cubist strain of Hofman's work is evident in many of his set designs, among others "Královna Kristýna" (1922). On two separate occasions (1929 and 1939) Hofman created sets for the science fiction play "R.U.R.," written by the foremost Czech writer of the period, Karel Čapek. Altogether, he designed sets and costumes for close to 300 productions and throughout his career worked with several leading Czech dramaturgists, among them Hilar, Vojta Novák, Jan Bor and Karel Dostal.

Hofman was recognized repeatedly for his work in the theater, and received awards for his designs at home and abroad. In 1936 he was invited to Rome with Hilar to take part in a large international theater conference. Many of the most prominent twentieth century playwrights, writers and artists were in attendance, including Luigi Pirandello, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Walter Gropius, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Filippo Tommaso Marínetti, and Maurice Maeterlinck.

Hofman remained active in the theater until the 1950s. In 1951, he designed a long series of costume designs for the film "Anna proletářka," produced in 1953. Several exhibitions of Hofman's work were organized during the latter part of his career. A large monograph on his theatrical career was published in 1951. Since Hofman's death in 1964 at the age of 80, his work has been featured in several international exhibitions in Germany, Italy, the United States, and in the Czech Republic.

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