Charles C. Hofmann was born in Germany around 1820, and immigrated to America in 1860, arriving in the port of New York. In subsequent years he lived in several communities along Pennsylvania's Schuylkill River, sometimes as a resident/patient of the public poorhouses. He is the best-known of the three so-called "Pennsylvania Almshouse Painters," the other two being Louis Mader and John Rasmussen.
As a record of Hofmann's meanderings, there exist approximately seventeen paintings and three watercolors of almshouses that he executed in Schuylkill, Berks, and Montgomery Counties. In one of the watercolors, View of the Alsmhouse, Hospital, Lunatic-Asylum and Agricultur [sic] Buildings of Berks County, 1865, the word "lithograph" appears in an inscription directly after Hofmann's name, ostensibly referring to his profession. Indeed, the decorative border and the lettering of the drawing is the type one would find on a print. Later, in his oil paintings, Hofmann placed vignettes around a central scene, a device commonly used in nineteenth-century lithographic views of geographical locations and landmarks.
The Berks County institution in Reading was the one which the artist entered with the greatest frequency; its records list his reason for admittance as "intemperance." His stays there do not seem to have been rehabilitative--one source reported that "it was his wont on visiting days, to approach visitors and beg a few pennies to 'help put something in his bottle' for which he will paint for you, a pretty picture." Most of Hofmann's known works, however, were painted for staff members and officers of the institutions depicted.
In addition to the almshouse views painted throughout the 1870s, Hofmann produced at least six other landscapes. In November 1881 Hofmann was admitted to the Berks County Almshouse with a broken arm. He died there five months later and was buried in the indigent's graveyard. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Armstrong, Thomas. Pennsylvania Almshouse Painters. Exh. cat. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, 1968.
Armstrong, Thomas. "Charles C. Hofmann." In Lipman and Armstrong 1980, 103-109.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 201.