Edith Hoffmann, the first unofficial woman Editor of The Burlington Magazine?

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Edith Hoffmann, born 24 July 1907

Editorial Secretary of The Burlington Magazine 1938-1946, then Assistant Editor 1946-1950 (acted as Editor with Ellis Waterhouse as consultant in 1944-1945). Contributor to The Burlington Magazine from 1938 to 1995.

The art historian and critic Edith Hoffmann was educated in Berlin, Vienna and Munich, where she gained her doctorate in 1934 with a thesis on German group portraits. Hoffmann left Germany for Britain the same year and after working as a volunteer in the Printroom of the British Museum joined The Burlington Magazine in 1939. She wrote over 150 articles, exhibition and book reviews for the Burlington in the course of six decades.

Hoffmann was one of the many refugees who contributed to The Burlington Magazine shortly before and during the Second World War under the editorships of Herbert Read and Tancred Borenius. As she recalled, in July 1939, four weeks before the outbreak of war, art historians from many countries had gathered in London to attend the International Congress of the History of Art, and among them were many Germans. Read’s editorial to welcome the Congress reflected the editorial policy of The Burlington Magazine, mentioning “an atmosphere free from political or racial prejudice, [in which] people of all nations can meet and express their devotion to those values which survive all temporal conflicts”. The writers for The Burlington Magazine during the war were mostly either young researchers such as John Pope-Hennessy or scholars of advanced age such as Laurence Binyon and Campbell Dodgson. Anthony Blunt and Cecil Gould contributed while still in war service. But perhaps the greater contribution to the Burlington in those years was that of the many foreign art historians who had found refuge in Britain, such as Ernst Gombrich, Otto Kurz, Leo van Puyvelde and Nikolaus Pevsner.

As the conflict intensified, all sort of restrictions imposed themselves on the Burlington: scarce paper (and therefore fewer and shorter articles), difficulty in finding advertisers, and fewer foreign subscribers. However, the institutional gap during the conflict allowed new ideas and new methodologies in art history to come to the fore. And it was in these war years that Hoffmann became the first woman to be in charge of the magazine, albeit in unofficial capacity. As Hoffmann herself remembers, after Borenius left in 1944, “The directors decided that we should carry on as best we could […] There was a certain amount of printable material in the drawers of my desk, our old contributors and our staff could be relied upon and the office routine was always the same. I enjoyed many months of undisturbed work”.

During and immediately after the war, Ellis Waterhouse acted as editorial consultant and Hoffmann continued as Assistant Editor. Hoffmann’s work was indispensable to The Burlington Magazine as it was she who prepared the magazine for publication.  Waterhouse’s contribution was limited to an advisory role: “Every fortnight Ellis Waterhouse used to appear in a great hurry, to look at articles and letters which had arrived. His decisions were always quickly taken.” Hoffmann continued in her post after the appointment of Benedict Nicolson in 1947 but eventually left The Burlington Magazine in 1950. She maintained close contact with Nicolson until his death.

From 1951 onwards Hoffmann moved to numerous countries accompanying her husband, an Israeli diplomat. In the 1950s and early 1960s Hoffmann lived in Tel-Aviv, Brussels, New York and Jerusalem – sha contributed to the Encyclopedia Hebraica in 1953-1965 and lectured in Art History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1960-61. In 1957-1958 Hoffmann wrote monthly reviews and surveys of exhibitions in New York for The Burlington Magazine. Hoffmann moved to Amsterdam in the mid 1960s, to South Africa, and then to Paris in the 1970s. In 1974-1975 she wrote monthly reviews and surveys of Paris exhibitions and she continued contributing to The Burlington Magazine until the 1990s when retired in Jerusalem. Over the years she contributed to art-historical journals such as Apollo, Art News, Phoebus (Basle), and Studio, and to The Listener, Manchester Guardian, The New Statesman, Twentieth Century and frequently to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Hoffmann’s main research interests were German Expressionism and, in later years, Symbolism and its literary connections. Her main publications were the first English-language monograph on Oskar Kokoschka (London, 1947) and her articles on Félicien Rops.

Nota bene: There was another art historian named Edith Hoffmann (1888-1945) who worked at the Printroom of the Budapest Szépművészeti Múzeum and published on Dürer and Hungarian art literature.

BP, January 2014 (with thanks to Yonna Yapou)

For a more extensive biography of Edith Hoffmann see the online Dictionary of Art Historians  (http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/hoffmanne.htm)

Select Bibliography:
Edith Hoffmann, Who’s Who in Art, 2000. p. 262.
Edith Hoffmann, ‘The Magazine in War-Time’, The Burlington Magazine, July 1986, pp. 478-480.

Main Publications:
Kokoschka, life and work. [With two essays by Oskar Kokoschka, and a foreword by Herbert Read], London, Faber & Faber, 1947.
‘Notes on the Iconography of Félicien Rops’, The Burlington Magazine, 123 (April 1981), pp. 204-218.
‘Rops: peintre de la femme moderne’, The Burlington Magazine, 126 (May 1984), pp. 260-265.

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