Irwin D. Hoffman (1901-1989)
The Jury Deliberates
Oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches. Signed lower right: "Irwin D. Hoffman". Inscribed faintly on verso, "THE JURY DELIBERATES" in red pencil on upper left side of top stretcher.
Irwin D. Hoffman: An Artist's Life (Boston: Boston Public Library, 1982).
Acquired, most likely directly from the artist about 1940, by Brooklyn, NY attorney Sidney Louis Struble (1894-1981) and his wife, Marjorie Dixon Struble (1896-1982); painting was among personal belongings left onsite in 1982 when the Strubles' home in Brooklyn, NY, was purchased from their estate by Evangeline Gruen, currently of Loxahatchee, FL. Acquired from Gruen via eBay auction on May 13, 2022.
Original 3-inch antiqued frame in excellent condition.
Irwin D. Hoffman was one of four sons born to a Russian Jewish immigrant tailor and his wife in East Boston, Massachusetts, in 1901. While his brothers attended Harvard, Irwin followed a different path, enrolling in afternoon classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts while still in high school and attending full-time on a scholarship thereafter. At nineteen, he received his first one-man exhibition at Grace Horne Galleries in Boston. The highly prestigious Paige Traveling Scholarship awarded to him upon graduation in 1924 financed two years of travel and study in Europe, Russia and Northern Africa. “Days were devoted to copying at the Louvre and working in various ateliers,” he wrote colorfully of his time in Paris, “but even more time was devoted to raising a beard, a moustache and a Lot of Hell.”*
Hoffman relocated to New York City by 1927 but traveled widely with two brothers who were mining engineers, producing paintings and lithographs of miners and their families as well as the people he observed on prospecting trips to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, capturing “the dignity and spirit of these people whom he went to great lengths to know.”**
Hoffman did not shrink from frank portrayal of the challenges of poverty and other social ills, but was equally adept at satire. In The Jury Deliberates, the artist cast a lighthearted gaze on the presumed sanctity of the jury room, depicting a chaotic scene around the jury table in which flirtation, daydreaming and boredom trump passionate discussion of the merits of the case. Whether Hoffman meant any additional criticism by depicting the jury as composed exclusively of white citizens (and dominated by males) is impossible to ascertain. In any event, Hoffman’s approach is effective: he draws the viewer’s eye past the primping ingénue and her flirtatious admirer into the heart of the composition where one animated juror seeks to persuade an intractable counterpart while his colleagues remain largely self-absorbed around him. The words “Hitler” and “Poland” appearing in the headline of the newspaper clutched by the bald juror in the upper center of the work provide a clue to the painting’s date, likely referencing the invasion of that country which began on September 1, 1939.
*Irwin D. Hoffman: An Artist's Life (Boston: Boston Public Library, 1982), p. 17.
** Ibid., p. 25.