On Vlastislav Hofman

Vlastislav Hofman

1884 — Born in Jičín, East Bohemia, on February 6, to Anna (née Hůšová) and František Hofman, a shoemaker. Had a sister Lenka, who moved to the USA in 1911, a sister Růžena (married name Hýblová), who spent her whole life in Jičín, and a half-brother František Hůša.

1890—1896 — Attended primary school in Jičín.

1896—1902 — Attended secondary school in Jičín. Became aware of his liking for art in the fifth or sixth form.

1902 — Graduate on July 18, and decided to give priority to his ambitions in art. Sat the entrance examinations, without success, for the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and at the same time enrolled in the Czech University of Technology, Prague.

1902—1907 — Studied structural engineering and architecture at the Czech University of Technology.

1906 — At Easter, exhibited drawings and watercolours of Prague, Kozojedy, and other townscapes at the 4th Exhibition of the Association of Architecture Students.

1907 — As a new architecture graduate, applied to Prague City Hall, on March 1, for the post of architect or draughtsman in the Technical Department of the City Office. Hired on May 15.

1909 — Together with Chochol, Janák, and others who later became leading Cubist architects, became a member of the Society for the Protection of Old Prague (Klub za Starou Prahu).

1910 — In early 1910, began considering how to save and rebuild the soon-to-be-demolished Baroque house of the sculptor Matthias Braun, on the corner of Vodičkova and Jungmannova ulice in Prague. Entered a competition held by the Society for the Protection of Prague. Elaborated a number of proposals for a new building, which would retain the Braun House. — Got to know the art historian Antonín Matějček, who, while on a visit to France, sent postcards to him in the Café Union. Was now firm friends with the writers František Langer, Štech, and the Čapek brothers.

1911 — Helped to found an avant-garde group for his generation. The group held its first meeting on May 20, with Filla, Gočár, Otto Gutfreund, Janák, Hofman, Kysela, Kratochvíl, L. Šíma and Špála; they adopted the simple name of Skupina výtvarných umělců (the Group of Fine Artists). — With the Skupina commencing activities on November 20, 1911, Hofman began writing for the Umělecký měsíčník (only for vol. I, 1911—12); the second issue (in the supplement, pp. 19   20) published pictures of Hofman´s walnut furniture for a den (a table, two upholstered armchairs, and a desk with an upholstered chair).

New Year's Eve party of Skupina výtvarných umělců — from the left: Beneš, Guttfreund, Čapek, Chochol, Čapek; in the middle from the left: Gočár, Dvořák, Hofman, Janák; on the bottom from the left: Langer, Thon

1912   The first exhibition by the Skupina výtvarných umělců in the Municipal House, Prague, was held from January 5 to March 1. Hofman exhibited upholstered furniture: a couch, chairs, and two armchairs; the suite was completed by three sets of glass tableware and three ceramic sets. For the Prague Art Workshops "Prague Studios" (Pražské umělecké dílny — P.U.D.), Hofman designed interiors for the sculptor Josef Mařatka and a director of the National Theatre, Vojta Novák. — In the summer, continued working on the Ďáblice cemetery plans. — The second exhibition by the Skupina výtvarných umělců was held in the Municipal House, Prague, from September 28 to the end of November. In addition to works by Czech artists, it included works by Picasso, Derain, and Friesz, as well as Heckel, Kirchner, Műller, and Schmidt-Rottluff from Die Brűcke in Dresden; Bedřich (Fiedrich) Feigl was also included. — On October 9, he and Josef Čapek left for Paris. — Owing to differences of opinion over the conception of Cubism and a more liberal attitude to new trends in art, Hofman left the Skupina výtvarných umělců in November, together with Chochol, the Čapek brothers, Šíma, Špála and Brunner.

1914 — On returning from Italy, Špála lived with Hofman in his new flat at Mikulášká 28. In mid-summer the First World War broke out. In December, Brunner, Miloš Marten, Miroslav Rutte, Langer, the literary historian Arne Novák, and the architect and town-planner Otakar Novotný, like so many others, were sent to the front. Hofman and Špála reported for conscrition, but Hofman, who had long suffered from a stomach complaint, was let go on New Year´s Eve.

Linz1915 — On June 5, now judged fit for active service. In September, went to Linz, where he remained for just 42 days, before being discharged.

1916 — Worked on illustrations for the volume Zářivé hlubiny a jiné prosy (Luminous dephts and other stories) by Josef Čapek and his brother Karel, and also chose the typeface and designed the cover of the book. Published by Borový in May, the book was not a success. — Granted extended leave from the army until March. A deep, mutually inspirational friendship developed between Hofman and the critic-playwright Jan Bartoš; at Bartoš´s suggestion, Hofman decided to do illustrations of characters from Dostoyevsky´s novels, which he read enthusiastically in preparation. — Found kindred spirits in the writer Richard Weiner and the critic Josef Kodíček. Made "painted boxes" for Artěl.

1917 — In January, Hofman´s father died of tuberculosis. In response to Hofman´s request, the army granted him idefinitive leave. — From April 2 to 15, Hofman presented, in Štenc´s Print Room (Štencův grafický kabinet) on Národní třída, Prague, a series of thirty drawings of Dostoyevsky´s characters. — The exhibition appealed to the new publisher B. M. Klika, who met Hofman and commissioned him to illustrate a new edition of Karel Jaromír Erben´s Svatební košile (Wedding shirts). Began work on these pen drawings immediately and with great dedication. (The book was not published till 1920). — Thanks to Bartoš, at the start of summer, Hofman met the Roman-Catholic oriented translator and publisher Josef Florian. — Florian introduced him to the poet, printmaker, and translator Bohuslav Reynek.

1918 — Preparartions began for a long-awaited exhibition of works by the younger generation. Hofman contribuited to it; a group was formed, eventually called "Tvrdošíjní" /The Stubborn; their own translation into German was "Die Unentwegten"). On March 30, the exhibition, their first, opened in Weinert´s Art and Auction House, Na příkopě, Prague, under the name "A přece! Výstava několika tvrdošíjných" (You´ll see! An exhibition by some of the stubborn). Tantamount to the group´s manifesto, the exhibition comprised works by Čapek (31 pieces), Hofman (20 drawings, linocuts, and watercolours), Kremlička (10 pieces), Marvánek (9), Špála (16), and Jan Zrzavý (25). They had an individual, loose conception of the Cubist idiom, taking their themes from everyday life, with a new sensuous quality. Hofman designed the catalogue cover. Neumann wrote the introduction and Špála designed the poster. — On August 22, appointed "Building Inspector". Parteciped in the Artěl Tenth Anniversary Exhibition (1908—18) at the Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague, and wrote a preface to the catalogue. — In a letter to Florian, of December 20: "... During the war it wasn´t really Christmas. It mattered little that there was snow; il was just cold stuff; it was to no avail that larks sang in spring and that in summer the sky was blue and it was hot. It seemed to me that I was on another planet; it was impossible to take pleasure in anything. ... Two months after war, euphoria, joyous drinking ... I drink, and do nothing. No need for art now. Nothing but meetings, organizations, grovelling, worrying about the nation, about oneself. It´s better just to drink ..."

1919 — Worked intensively on linocuts for the Ethopia series. — In summer he and Václav Špála had an exhibition in Zagreb, Croatia, where he displayed his series of drawings of characters from Dostoyevsky´s novels. — Jan Bartoš introduced Hofman to the writer and theatre director Karel Hugo Hilar, who for the last five years had been head of the Vinohrady Theatre (the Městské divadlo na Královských Vinohradech). Hofman found a kindred spirit and contemporary, a modern-minded artist who lived for drama. On Bartoš´s prompting Hilar commissioned Hofman to design sets for Arnošt Dvořák´s Husité (The Hussites). — With their friends the Šterns and his future wife Zdeňka Ledererová, Hofman travelled to Slovakia and the Valašsko region of Moravia and painted landscapes.

The Twenties1920 — On January 6 the second exhibition of the Tvrdošíjní (the Stubborn — Josef Čapek, Hofman, Špála, and Zrzavý) opened in Weinert´s Art and Auction House; Karel Čapek wrote the introduction. — He also wrote to Reynek " ... I´m looking for something Classical and Modern ... The main thing is the spiritual aspect, no objectivity, no "civilnost" ... — The unexpected success of his sets for Husité aroused the interest of other directors. In addition to Hilar, Hofman now began working with Karel Dostal and Václav Vydra. In a production of Herakles (Hercules) by Otokar Fischer at the Vinohrady Theatre he used projection to create luminous backdrops for the first time. In the Czech premiere of Verhaeren´s Les Aubes, on November 7, Hofman presented other innovations: skies, fires, and explosions projected onto a circular backdrop. Although neither man tended to express their praise, Fischer wrote to Hofman immediately after the premiere of Herakles in May. — On July 12, married the translator Zdeňka Ledererová (born in 1896), the daughter of the writer Eduard Lederer. On their honeymoon they travelled by way Dresden and Berlin to Wangerooge, a German island in the North Sea.

1921 — Hofman´s series of linocuts Six Eras in Our History was published in Prague. In Stará Říše, Florian published Hofman´s portfolio of coloured linocuts entitled Physiognomies. — Hofman began working with the opera director Ferdinand Pujman.

1922 — An exhibition of Hofman´s paintings was held in the Aventinská mansarda exhibition hall.

1923 — At Prague City Hall, continued as Chief Building Inspector. Again worked on the exit for the short version of the Letná tunnel. Entered a competition for development of the Lesser Town, Prague. — Early in the year the Hofmans moved into a flat at Vratislavova ulice 156/22; Hofman designed his own Cubist furniture for their new home. — In summer, received a grant to visit Italy for a month. Travelled with his wife to Florence, Siena, Pisa, Assisi, Rome, and other cities, and was impressed by the "beautiful mosaics". On the journey, focused on architecture, painting, and modern stage design.

1924 — Received the Czechoslovak State Prize for stage design. — On August 16, Hofman´s daughter Adriena was born.

1925 — Completed the second design for a crematorium in Moravská Ostrava (demolished in 1980). — At the "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes", Paris, Hofman received a gold medal for stage design.

W. Shakespeare, Hamlet - 1st scenery, Leopolda Dostálová and Eduart Kohout1926 — Under the slogan "In the Foreseeable Future", Hofman entered a competition for a road at Petřín Hill, Prague; he took First Prize. — Designed the architecture of the Jirásek Bridge, Prague, with his friend and collegue František Mencl. — The Hofmans and their friends the Papoušeks visited the French Riviera, travelling through Monaco, Nice, and Cannes to Marseille, and from there on to Carcassonne and Toulouse.

1927 — Travelled with his wife to Greece, visiting Athens, Delphi, and Olympus, as well as Corfu, and on their return journey visited Vlore, Durres, Kotor, Dubrovnik, and Split.

1928 — Worked on designs for a dining room and living room to give as a wedding present to his brother-in-law Antonín Lederer; the furniture is Art Deco and was made the following year. — On April 22 Hofman´s second daughter, Zdenka was born. In the summer Hofman underwent an operation in the sanatorium in Podolí, Prague.; the family then stayed with the Lederers in Jindřichův Hradec.

1929 — Worked on a production of King Lear, directed by K. H. Hilar at the National Theatre. The premiere was on March 6. Hilar used a revolving stage for the first time. Though it was small and creaky, this device was an important first step and was used in later productions by Hilar and Hofman to heighten dramatic effect.

1929—1933 — Together with František Mencl realized the Jirásek Bridge, Prague.

1930 — Made several paintings while on a visit to Belgium and Holland (including Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent).

1931 — Worked as Head of Bridge Construction (Department No. 5), a post he took up on July 1. Elaborated development plans and concentrated on bridge design (primarily over the river Vltava) and underpasses. — Went on a study trip to Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, sketching and painting landscapes and monuments. Also travelled to Greece, Crete, and Rhode, visiting Athens again, and returning to Prague by way of Venice.

1932 — Sophocle´s Oedipus Rex, directed by Hilar at the National Theatre, was the talk of the season. — At Easter, he visited Belgrade, Serbia, and Sofia, Bulgaria; studied Slav architectureand town planning; studied the placement of historical monuments in the landscape, and visited hard-to-reach medieval monasteries.

1933 — Hofman and Mencl completed the Jirásek Bridge; Hofman also worked with Jan Fischer on a design for Nusle Bridge, for which they proposed a steel construction.

1934 — In spring, he and Rutte travelled to Greece. After returning, full of enthusiasm about the beauty of the Classical architecture and the inimitable Greek blue, designed a set for The Birds by Aristophanes (directed by Frejka). According to Ladislav Pešek, who played Pisthetaerus, Hofman knew how "to create an ideal space for an actor to work in, exactly what he needed. He never held back an actor in order to promote his own ends."

1936 — Hofman worked on the terms of reference for a competition for Štefanik Bridge, a project entrusted fully to Hofman. With Mencl, Miloslav Kovalevski, C. Laurent, and other collegues he completed the bridge over the Jizera at Káraný.

1937 — Hofman and Mencl designed a grand bridge over Masaryk Station, Prague, which would have been a long-term solution for the road network in the expanding city, but it was never built. — For the first time in almost ten years, a play by Karel Čapek was produced: Bílá Nemoc (The white plague). Directed by Dostal at the Estates Theatre, Prague, it was a warning "against the spread of the epidemic of barbarism /Nazism/, and a proclamation to all that the supreme right of man is the right to live." Dostál´s production was economical and austere, making it all the more powerful. The play achieved a true monumentality and simple human pathos. Hofman´s set also displayed an appropriate austerity and monumental simplicity, giving the play a highly suggestive atmosphere. The clinical interiors are complemented with the projection of images of suffering. "The images of the poor and the sick were poignant in their biblical simplicity", wrote Rutte in Národní listy, on January 31, 1937.

Zdeňka Hofmanová with her daughters1938 — After Bílá nemoc, with its grim warning, Dostal directed Karel Čapek´s Matka (The Mother, 1938) at the Estates Theatre, Prague, calling for the defence of humanity and everything precious to menkind. Hofman designed the sets.

1939 — On March 15 the Wehrmacht invaded the Bohemian Lands. — Bor worked on a production of Macbeth for the National Theatre. The premiere was scheduled for October 28, the anniversary of the day the Czechoslovak Republic was founded. The situation in Prague was explosive; there were demonstrations, which the Germans brutally suppressed. The atmosphere during the premiere was tense, utter silence reigned as the curtain fell, followed by a hurricane of applause. The acting, the direction, and Hofman´s stage design left no one indifferent.

1940 — Hofman continued to head the Bridges Department at Prague City Hall. — At the Triennale di Milano, won the Gran Premio for the stage design. — Showed signs of emphysema.

1941 — With Mencl and Kovalevski, Hofman worked on a footbridge for Židovský ostrov (Jewish Island) on the Smíchov side of the river, beyond the water tower. With Oldřich Širc and Miloslav Kovalevski he designed the Štefanik Bridge (construction did not begin until 1949) . — He returned to plans for a new bridge to the Slovanský ostrov (Slav Island) on the river Vltava, Prague, designing all architectural aspects himself. — Suspected of hiding weapons during a stay in the countryside, Hofman was questioned by the Gestapo in the town Jihlava. His two brothers-in-law, however, were arrested by the Gestapo. As part of the anti-Jewish measures of the Germans, the whole Lederer family was sent to concentration camps; Hofman´s wife Zdeňka was deported to Theresienstadt (Terezín).

1943 — Was transferred from Building Department No. 5 to Department No. 2. — In May, after graduating, his daughter Adriena was concripted as a forced labourer at the Benjamin Fragner pharmaceutical company in Dolní Měcholupy near Prague.

1945 — Hofman´s father-in-law, the writer Eduard Lederer (Leda), died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Of the twelve members of the Lederer family, only Hofman´s wife Zdeňka and her mother Bedřiška Ledererová survived. They returned from Theresienstadt in May. Upon her return, Bedřiška Ledererová was unable to get the family property back, which had been confiscated by the Germans. — In summer Hofman´s daughter Zdenka was treated for a heart condition.

1946 — On 31 May, Hofman´s daughter Zdenka died of heart disease at the age of eighteen in a sanatorium in Dobříš. On the same day, his mother-in-law, Bedřiška Ledererová, died in Prague, after being hit by a car.

1947 — Began a large series of drawings of churches in and aroud Prague, which he continued until the early 1960s. In this series he has systematically documented both well-known and forgotten places — chapels, monasteries, derelict roadside crosses. He drew in the open air, choosing locations from Hlavsa´s guide to the city. Travelled to Poříčí nad Sázavou, Roztoky, Levý Hradec, Stará Boleslav, Tismice, and other locations. — Bought cottage No. 120 in Světlá pod Luží.

With daughter Adriena and Angelo Ragusa in Světlá pod LužíWith his daughter Adriena and with Angelo Ragusa in Světlá pod Luží

The end of the Forties

The beginning of the FiftiesThe beginning of the Fifties

1948 — In the early evening of October 28, the footbridge to Slovanský ostrov was ceremoniously opened. In line with Hofman´s design, the footbridge was illuminated by blue neon light from its railings.

1949 — On April 1, after 41 years at Prague City Hall, Hofman retired. — His wife became seriously ill, and died on December 4. — In response to imminent plans by the Czechoslovak authorities to prevent Czechoslovaks from marrying foreigners, Hofman´s daughter Adriena quickly married her fiancée, the Italian civil engineer Angelo Ragusa on Christmas day.

With Adrianka and Dino1951 — Hofman had by now worked on over 250 sets for plays in the Vinohrady Theatre, the National Theatre, the Estates Theatre, and the Regional Theatre, Brno.   Vlastislav Hofman´s 30 let výtvarnické práce na českých jevištích (Thirty years of design work on the Czech stage) was published by Osvěta.

1954 — Hofman received the Order of Labour.

1960 — A retrospective of Hofman´s work was held in the Municipal House, Prague, the third exhibition of its kind.

1964 — Hofman suddenly died on August 28. His funeral was held in Prague on September 4. — The stage designer Josef Svoboda took it upon himself to write an obituary of Vlastislav Hofman. In it he emphasizes Hofman´s exceptional talent and international significance in stage design, calling him "the first modern Czech stage designer".

Hofman had the gift of economy in his art, he could express an idea powerfully and with a minimum of resources. He displayed great versatility and originality, was an artist of European stature, operating in a broad range of fields, and held strong opinions on art. He was an architect, town-planner, painter, printmaker, draughtsman, designer, stage designer, critic and theoretist, and also had an excellent understanding of literature and music.