Theodor (1868-1943) and Oskar (1871-1937) Hofmeister were masters of gum printing techniques that were so admired by the pictorialists.
Approved biography for Hofmeister Brothers
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)
Theodor Ferdinand Eduard and Oskar Ludwig Robert Hofmeister were German brothers who, for the most part, made pictorial photographs together from 1895 into the 1910s. They were widely heralded for their large-scale gum-bichromate prints, and were the most prominent creative photographers in Hamburg, leading the Society for the Advancement of Amateur Photography.
They were both born in Hamburg, and lived there for most of their lives in the same house. Theodor established a wholesale business selling door and window hardware. Although his business card indicated that he was open only one hour a day at one point, he made enough money to collect antiques and take up amateur photography. Oskar became a lawyer, working in both Hamburg’s district court and, by 1929, as an inspector in the regional court.
Though they occasionally issued work individually, the Hofmeisters made their name together, producing fully realized pictures by 1897, only a few years after beginning. Oskar was usually in charge of making the exposures, but his brother often accompanied him and discussed possible compositions over sketches that Oskar made at the scene. Theodor then printed their pictures, turning their large bathroom into a darkroom. He learned the gum-bichromate process from the Viennese pictorialist Heinrich Kuehn, whose expressive prints inspired the Hofmeisters.
The Hofmeisters produced portraits, figure studies, and images of German peasants and their villages. They were most successful, however, at making landscapes, with and without figures, using their Northern Germany surroundings to produce dark, moody, and decorative images.
Undoubtedly, their most well-known image was The Solitary Horseman (Einsamer Reiter) of 1903, which pictured a riding figure and trees silhouetted against a sky of roiling clouds. They printed it as a dark blue gum-bichromate, as large as 27 x 38 inches, wowing everyone who saw it, including Alfred Stieglitz, who acquired a print of it for his personal collection. The art critic Sadakichi Hartmann devoted a one-page article to the piece in the July 1904 issue of Camera Work, observing, "The artist, whose gaze is at all times turned inward, seems to be the true personification of the solitary horseman. He is always ready to saddle his horse and leave behind him the great, curious city with its many superstitions, its grotesque rivalries of castes and classes and set out on another journey along highways swept by wintry rains or burned by the summer sun."
The brothers became so skilled at their work that other pictorialists traveled to Hamburg to learn from them, and the brothers happily complied, imparting both technical information and aesthetic inspiration. Theodor also shared his knowledge by writing books and articles. In 1898 alone, he contributed four articles to the monthly Photographische Rundchau and wrote two books. One publication was on making gum prints as a means of artistic expression, while the other, Das Figurenbild in der Kunstphotographie, coauthored with Oskar, addressed the figure as a subject.
The Hofmeisters were recognized internationally, in exhibitions, publications, and photographic organizations. They became members of the world’s two leading groups of artistic photographers, the Linked Ring Brotherhood in London and Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession. In July 1904, Camera Work featured six images by them (three of them photogravures) and an appreciative article by Ernst Juhl.
Theodor and Oskar exhibited their work heavily until about 1910. Their pictures were seen regularly in the international exhibitions in Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Wiesbaden, Amsterdam, Boston, Brussels, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Paris, and Vienna. In 1906, Stieglitz presented their work in two shows in the United States—an exhibition of Austrian and German work at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and a general Photo-Secession show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Montreal’s 1907 Exhibition of Pictorial Photographs Arranged by the Photo-Club of Canada included their work, as did the important 1910 show at the Buffalo’s Albright Art Gallery.
In addition to Camera Work, other periodicals outside of Germany reproduced their images. These included the American Annual of Photography 1902 and the Photographic Times frequently during 1900-02 and 1905-06. Their work was prominent in London’s Photograms of the Year, appearing nearly every year between 1898 and 1914.
Around 1910, the Hofmeister brothers forsake gum printing, and began making straight prints. Strangely, many years later—in 1933—their photographs showed up a few times at photographic salons in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And the next year, Oskar won first prize in an exhibition in Munich.
Oskar Hofmeister died in Hamburg in 1937. Theodor died on March 1, 1943, in Ichenhauser, Germany, a small village near Ulm, where his wife had grown up and to where they fled during the bombing of Hamburg during World War II.
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 1 June 2013.
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