CM: Malvina Hoffman was introduced to Frances Rich in New York in 1933 by film director John Ford (1894-1973). Rich and Hoffman hit it off immediately. They sailed together for Paris and stayed there from July 1933 to September 1935. Rich was delighted to be under Hoffman's tutelage. "Malvina wasn't there half of the time," Rich said, "but she used to put me out to learn how to carve in stone, to cast in plaster, to learn to enlarge". For Rich, Hoffman was the kind of woman to emulate - an artist with talent, consistence and strength.
Rich recalls that Hoffman used to call her "Gazelle" because she "leapt around all the time" [Roy Slade 1981, p.2]. It is, therefore, no wonder that Hoffman would incise that pet name on the bust she created of Rich. According to Rich, Hoffman was "quite remarkable in her interpretative portraits" [Jacqueline Van Voris 1971, p.42] . With La Gazelle, Hoffman captured Rich's "fourth dimension", as the author used to call it [ib. p.46]. By that, Hoffman meant the psychographical essence of the sitter. She captures the whole presentation, both materially as well as psychically. This portrait reveals Hoffman's mastery of anatomy, which she learned by spending a year dissecting bodies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan, in keeping with Auguste Rodin's advice. The education she received there was invaluable; she honed her remarkable skill of rendering anatomical features that was much in evidence when she embarked on her ambitious project to sculpt the anthropological series for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. In addition, this portrait pulsates with life. The bust's vividity emanates from many of its elements - the boyish hairdo with wavy hair, the parting lips of a wide smile, and the spirited turning of the head. All of these aesthetic solutions help shape the beholder's perception of the portrait as a human gazelle. But the greatest contribution of Hoffman here is her modernist approach, as exemplified by the bust's asymmetrical and irregular cropping. As earlier sculptors - first Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), then Aristides Maillol (1861-1944) - it was unnecessary to represent the entire body to capture a form, a movement, a spirit, or an emotion, a lesson learned from the beauty of accidentally fragmented sculptures from the ancient world. Hoffman began modelling La Gazelle in clay in 1934, while in Paris. Subsequently she created the surviving plaster mould from which to cast the present bronze version in 1935.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens