Wlastimil Hofman (1881-1970) was born in Karlin, a suburb of Prague, Czech Republic, as the son of a Czech and a Pole. After moving to Krakow in 1889, his parents opened a jewelry store in the Sukiennice. From 1895 Hofman attended evening drawing courses at the Academy of Fine Arts in the studio of Florian Cynk. The following year he dropped out of high school and at the age of 16 was accepted to the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. In his third year of studies he moved to the studio of Jacek Malczewski and took part in outdoor classes with Jan Stanisławski. He graduated from the school as a primus with the opinion: “Hofman is an exceptionally talented person, develops quickly and independently”.* That same year he left to study in Paris, where he was a student of Leon Gérôme at the École des Beaux Arts for a year. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to return to Krakow. There he opened his first studio on Dębniki. In 1905 he founded the Group of Four with Mieczysław Jakimowicz, Leopold Gottlieb and Witold Wojtkiewicz, later transformed into the Group of Five (without Wojtkiewicz, with Jan Rembowski and Tymon Niesiołowski). They strove to revive the romantic idea of ”correspondence of arts”, to revive the concept proclaimed by Baudelaire of the affinity of fine arts, literature and music. They chose their patron, the great Polish Romantic, poet, painter and draftsman Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Hofman took part in all the exhibitions of the group, including in Vienna (1906, 1908) and Berlin (1907). After the outbreak of World War I, he left with his father for Czechoslovakia. In the summer of 1917 he returned to Poland. After critical reviews of the first postwar exhibition, he decided to go to Szklarska Poręba. He stayed there until his death – the painter died in 1970, exactly two years after his beloved wife Ada Hammer.
Description of the painting:
What secret does the “Legend” from 1915 hold? The figure of the woman and the angel depicted as a young man has been placed in the very close foreground. The painter focused attention exclusively on their torsos occupying almost the entire painting field. Turning their bodies in their direction, they establish a visual contact that emphasizes the intimacy of this moment. The woman’s face is visible in the right profile, while the body in three quarters. The red of her waistcoat and dark hair tied in a low bun contrast with her pale skin. She intertwines her hands in a gesture of prayer, and from her parted lips seems to emit a faint whisper. Slightly higher in his posture, the angel with light brown, disheveled hair reaching his shoulders looks at her intently. With the pointing finger of his right hand he covers his mouth, while his left hand rests on his chest near his heart. His blue robe is decorated with a brown waistcoat made of sheepskin, and from behind his back a wing appears, shining with shades of dark green and gold.
This pair is presented against the open space among the cultivated fields, shrouded in the remnants of snow. Just behind the woman’s back, the artist placed a fragment of the meadow with shrubs, partly covered with bundles of straw. On one of the exposed branches, a bird with brown feathers merged with the background perched. Above it, on the horizon line, the outline of a village with barely visible houses with sloping roofs appears. The landscape is only a complement to the composition and although it does not occupy much space on the canvas, it is an essential element of the pictorial content. We can interpret this scene as the moment of the visitation of Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. In the Catholic Church, the day of the Annunciation falling on March 25 has its own names in folk tradition: including the Blessed Virgin of Flower, Stream or Reviving. There was a live faith that the one announced of future motherhood was not only pregnant, but also the whole earth awakening from its winter sleep. Then the birds, including skylarks, began to build nests, which, according to legend, the Mother of God surrounded with special care, covering their nests with her own robe from predators. Perhaps in the background, a skylark was shown, announcing the revival of vital forces of the rural landscape. It appears in the company of cornflowers, symbolizing vegetation in the world of nature.
The year of the painting’s creation and the depiction of Mary, whose features we recognize as its muse and future wife Ada Hammer, indicate the personal dimension of this religious representation. In order to understand its hidden message, it must be linked to the tumultuous beginning of their difficult and, so to speak, forbidden feeling. They met in 1914, when Hofman, fearing conscription into the Austrian army, moved to Prague. He lived there with his cousin Ludwig Hammer, a renowned lawyer whose wife often posed for him. Due to his recreational nature and dedication to other women, Hammer was often absent from his villa, which resulted in a close relationship between the painter and his model. The lovers decided to inform Ludwig, who in response offered them a life together. However, being people of deep faith, they decided to leave and in 1917 they found themselves in Krakow, and two years later in Paris, where they had a civil wedding. The church wedding took them more than 30 years.
The feeling that united Hofman and Adele lasted for fifty years of their shared life, but for it to be possible, the woman had to leave her husband. We can therefore interpret the representation as an expression of submission to the care of an angel, who, pointing to the heart, appears to be covering his mouth in a gesture commanding silence. Permission for a pure and innocent love, symbolized, it seems, by the blue of his garment, will however be accompanied by suffering, indicated by the presence of the lamb’s skin and the red of Mary’s garment. These elements, known from Christian iconography as a sign of suffering, appear on the canvas in the company of green wings of the messenger. Their color is an expression of rebirth, freshness and life – so in this work there is also a hidden hope for the fulfillment of true love.