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Highlanders in France, September 1916 - Charles Constantin Joseph Hoffbauer

Watercolour on paper. Signed lower left ‘Ch Hoffbauer / Sept 1916’. Framed and glazed.

Hoffbauer’s watercolour sketch of Highlanders on the move during the Somme Offensive (1 July-18 November 1916) is a first hand account. The artist was a signaller in the 274e Régiment d'Infanterie and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery on the Somme. His regiment fleetingly participated in the 1917 demonstrations that constituted the ‘Mutinies’ of that year after the failed Aisne offensive. Hoffbauer, who became a sergeant, was later appointed an official war artist and also worked in a camouflage unit.

Charles Constantin Joseph Hoffbauer (1875-1957) was the son of Féodor Hoffbauer, the archaeologist, architect, and illustrator. He attended the École des Beaux-Arts and was a successful artist with an international reputation before the First World War. His early work focussed on historical subjects and later included stylish contemporary genre scenes which were well received at the Paris Salon. He won a French government travelling scholarship and visited New York where his ‘Triomphe d’un Condottiere’ won him a commission to create four huge murals for the U.S. Civil War Confederate memorial in Richmond, Virginia. The work however was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War and Hoffbauer’s duty as a French Army reservist. In a letter written in early 1915 he reported, ‘I volunteered to go to the front, and was sent near Rheims. . . . After a period of most bloody battles . . . my regiment is now checking the Germans before Rheims. We live in trenches, and are rapidly returning to the state of civilization of the cave man. I am writing this letter in a little hole . . . six feet underground. . . . My fountain pen and the telephone apparatus hanging near me (for I am a telephonist) are the only remains of civilization . . . thousands and thousands of men will die. . . .’ Hoffbauer returned to America in 1919 to resume work on the murals, and astonished the Confederate Memorial Association by destroying his earlier work and beginning again with the added insight of his own war experience. The murals were met with high praise and earned Hoffbauer considerable recognition and other prestigious commissions. He later became a U.S. citizen and embarked on several projects with Walt Disney including a regrettably unfulfilled animated film based on 120 temperas depicting Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812.

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