Gerard Hoffnung (1925-1959)
Gerard Hoffnung developed a unique vein of gentle, yet powerful humour through drawings, lectures and even concerts – for his favourite subject was music at its most delightful and daft.
Gerard Hoffnung was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Berlin on 22 March 1925, and as a child already made a reputation for himself as a disruptive influence. Due to the anti-semitic policies of the Nazis, he left Germany with his mother in 1938 and settled in London. There he attended Highgate School and, later, Hornsey School of Art where he failed through lack of seriousness. His major talent was for comic drawing and, contributing to Lilliput from the age of 15, he became staff artist on the London Evening News and on New York’s Flair magazine; other periodical work included cartoons for Punch. He also taught art at Stamford School (1944) and Harrow School (1945-50).
Himself an amateur musician, Hoffnung made musical life his central subject in his cartoons for periodicals and in such books as The Hoffnung Orchestra (1955). He originated a series of humorous concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, and used the foyers for solo shows in 1951 and 1956. A bon viveur and raconteur, he was a frequent broadcaster and often spoke at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, but he also had a quiet and concerned aspect which is illustrated by his work as a prison visitor. His sudden death on 28 September 1959 was marked in the following year by a memorial concert at the Royal Festival Hall and such concerts continue to give delight to many appreciative audiences.
During May and June 2011, Chris Beetles Gallery played host to the now famous international touring exhibition of work by Gerard Hoffnung, drawn from the family’s own collection and chosen by his widow, Annetta Hoffnung. It was its first appearance in London for over a decade.
Annetta Hoffnung, Gerard Hoffnung, London: Gordon Fraser, 1988; Richard Ingrams (rev), Hoffnung, Gerard [formerly Gerhardt] (1925-1959)’, in H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 27, pages 523-524