Hoffbauer and His Murals

A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Charles Hoffbauer was thoroughly versed in French academic procedures of painting large-scale themes of grandeur and historical importance. In preparing the Memorial Military Murals he used a full repertoire of those techniques.

Unable to view events fifty years in the past, Hoffbauer by necessity invented the scenes of his murals. His production of imagery was a gradual process. One means by which the artist developed initial ideas of composition was the small ink and watercolor sketch.

No less effective a device in the first stages of development were clay and wood models, which allowed Hoffbauer to invent and refine compositions.

Literally dozens of very small ink and pencil sketches (arranged on matboard by the artist) were a means to develop precise details of imagery. The small sketches were tested on a large scale in some sixty crayon and pastel drawings.

Most of the pastels, like most of the small drawings, are rendered on grids, which routinely were used as a means to enlarge and transfer figures from a small to a large scale. In that process, the detail in each small square of a grid is repeated in the corresponding square of a larger grid.

Though only a means to the end of the finished product of the mural cycle, Hoffbauer's clay models are stunning works of sculpture. Their vigorous and tactile surfaces, animated with light and shadow, are the work of a sensitive artist responsive to his medium in the manner of his famous French and American contemporaries Auguste Rodin and Frederic Remington. The models allowed Hoffbauer to invent and refine compositions. By arranging and rearranging the models, and by looking at these from the low perspective of ground level, the painter could select from seemingly infinite possibilities the most compelling viewpoint from which to stage a scene.

Hoffbauer's models, sketches, and photographs are in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society.