A life in music: Gerard Hoffnung

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Gerard Hoffnung communicated his richly comic vision of the world through words, drawings and music. Incredibly imaginative, his drawings are a time capsule of his humour, creativity, and artistry, reflecting the warmth and breadth of his joy of life.

Gerard at work, courtesy of the Gerard Hoffnung Archive

Hoffnung was almost as gifted a musician as he was an artist, his true passion being for the brass instruments of the orchestra. This led him one day to purchase a bass tuba which, with serious dedication, he set about learning to play.

He was 25 at the time and, after two or three years and many hours of practice, he found himself ensconced amidst the brass section of the Morley College Orchestra as their bass tuba player.

From this vantage point at the rear of the orchestra, his perceptive eye was free to focus — with affection and critical amusement — on the foibles and idiosyncrasies of his fellow performers. Almost immediately, he felt inspired to create cartoons —  which ran into many hundreds — in the final years of his short life.

Gerard playing the saxophone, Courtesy of the Gerard Hoffnung Archive

Hoffnung’s genius was to communicate his richly comic vision of the world through words, drawings and music. Incredibly imaginative, the titles of Hoffnung’s playful works alone – ‘Cat with Musical Whiskers’, ‘Cymbal Player with Bandaged Nose’, ‘Tubular Bell Accident’, amongst others – all bring extraordinary scenes to life.

Bursting onto London’s musical scene at The Royal Festival Hall in the mid-1950s, the musician-come-illustrator captured the interest of the music industry, and the population, to which he carved a prolific working career.

His ability to have those around him in floods of laughter is ever present through his drawings, which keeps his joyous spirit alive. When the collection of Hoffnung’s cartoons was exhibited at the Edinburgh Festival, the Guardian wrote: ‘...never before at an Edinburgh exhibition can so many visitors have been heard giving way to uninhibited laughter as the crowds filing through the Hoffnung exhibition [...] in all, this exhibition is guaranteed to keep you happy for as long as you have the time to spare.’

'Gerard and Annetta Hoffnung with an Alphorn’, Courtesy of the Gerard Hoffnung Archive

‘‘Whenever I’m stuck at my drawing board there sits the Tuba in the corner of my studio glowing all over. “Go on cocky” he says, “have a blow”. And soon ideas begin to flow, as the muse which has deserted me takes a sharp turn to the right and makes a prodigal come back.’’

Gerard Hoffnung

We are privileged to offer 50 of Hoffnung’s works as fine art prints, each produced to an exceptional museum quality standard and framed by hand in our state-of-the-art Sussex workshop.

Brilliant as standalone pieces, each of the prints can also be appreciated as collectors’ items with a myriad of animated scenes to form your very own Hoffnung gallery at home. Exceptionally playful in nature, they’re perfect for the admirer of light-hearted illustrations, devoted musician or lover of orchestras.

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