Gerard Hoffnung


Master of the absurd, combining his talents for cartoons and music. He was born Gerhard Hoffnung of prosperous German-Jewish parents on 22 March 1925 in Grunewald, Berlin. His early drawings were humourous and often macabre. In December 1938 the family was forced to leave Germany; they moved to Florence and then, with his mother, to London (the father emigrated to Palestine), living at Hampstead Garden Suburb. Interested in both drawing and music from an early age, he went to Hornsey School of Art but was expelled due to his reluctance to conform; he completed his studies at the Harrow School of Art. 1945-6: taught briefly at the Stamford School in Lincolnshire, where he also drew for the Stamford Mercury. From 1946: his work was appearing in Lilliput, Housewife, The Strand, Tatler and other journals. 1948: taught art at Harrow School, London. 1950-51: went to New York where he became a regular contributor to Fleur Cowles’s Flair but the magazine collapsed shortly after, and he returned to London. From 1950: became involved with programs on the BBC, particularly One Minute Please . His musical cartoons appeared in Punch and as collections in The Maestro (1953), The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra (1955) Hoffnung’s Musical Chairs (1958) Hoffnung’s Acoustics (1959), Hoffnung’s Music Festival and other titles. His absurdist approach to music culminated in the Hoffnung Music Festivals which he organized at the Royal Festival Hall, London, from 1956. He died 28 September 1959, age 34, in London. Hoffnung’s legacy continued after his early death with concerts including, for example, an octet using pop-guns , and the famed Amadeus Quartet using floor polishers and vacuum cleaners. Many of his musical cartoon-books continue to be published by the Hoffnung Partnersahip, London.

‘What he said [on the radio quiz programme One Minute Please ] and the way he said it were just as oddly absurd as his drawings, turning logic inside out and reason upside down.’ (Bruno Adler, quoted in Hoffnung, 1988, p. 78)

Writings by

  • The Maestro, London: Dobson, 1953, and Munich: Albert Langen, Georg Müller
  • The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, 1955
  • Hoffnung’s Musical Chairs, 1958
  • Hoffnung’s Acoustics, 1959
  • Hoffnunglos (Without hope), Zurich: Diogenes, 1959.

Writings about

    Urban Roedl, ‘Gerard Hoffnung’, Graphis 40, 1952, pp. 118-23, 182-3
  • ( various authors), O Rare Hoffnung. A memorial garland, London: Putnam, with Dennis Dobson, 1960
  • John Inglis Hall, ‘Gerard Hoffnung: a celebration’, The Connoisseur, Sept. 1973, pp. 14-22
  • Brigid Peppin and Lucy Micklethwait, Dictionary of British Book Illustrators, London: John Murray, 1983
  • Annetta Hoffnung, Hoffnung, London: Gordon Fraser, 1988
  • Michael Rust/Annetta Hoffnung, ‘The humour of Gerard Hoffnung‘ (summary of a talk by AH to Letter Exchange, 13 October 2004), Letter Exchange Magazine no. 17, June 2007
  • and www.good (for recordings).
  • note on GH’s Hoffnunglos, in Gebrauchsgraphik (International Advertising Art), Berlin: Phönix Illustrationsdruck und Verlag GmbH (later: ‘Gebrauchsgraphik’ Druck und Verlag GmbH), 1933-71. Published from Munich from 1950., Sept. 1959, p. 60
  • Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie, Munich, London, New Providence: K.G. Saur 1995- (from 1997: Munich only)., 1997
  • Carl Heussner, ‘The maestro’, Gebrauchsgraphik (International Advertising Art), Berlin: Phönix Illustrationsdruck und Verlag GmbH (later: ‘Gebrauchsgraphik’ Druck und Verlag GmbH), 1933-71. Published from Munich from 1950., Feb. 1959, pp. 54-5
  • Walter Amstutz (ed.), Who’s Who in Graphic Art, Zurich: Amstutz & Herdeg Graphis Press, 1962. , 1962
  • International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigrés 1933-45, Munich, New York, London, Paris: K.G. Saur, 1983., 1983


  • Little Gallery, London, 1948
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Dec. 1976-March 1977
  • British Cartoon Centre, St Bride Institute, London, 2001
  • Frome, Somerset, 2005. Many world-wide venues from 1961.