Saturday, 19 May 2018

100 year anniversary of Ferdinand Hodler

Die Nacht, 1890
Today marks 100 years since the death of Ferdinand Hodler, probably the most recognised Swiss painter of today.

Hodler (14th March 1853 – 19th May 1918) was hailed as helping to revitalise monumental wall painting and his work was thought to embody the ‘Swiss federal identity’ Many of his best-known paintings are scenes in which characters are engaged in everyday activities, such as the famous woodcutter (Der Holzfäller, 1910, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). In 1908, the Swiss National Bank commissioned Hodler to create two designs for new paper currency. His designs were controversial: rather than portraits of famous men, Hodler chose to depict a woodcutter (for the 50 Swiss Franc bank note) and a reaper (for the 100 Franc note)

Winterthur Kunstmuseum features many of Hodler’s works in the main collection and includes works such as Die Empfindung (1908) and Der Redner, Studie zur Einmütigkeit (1913) in the current Ferdinand Hodler – AlbertoGiacometti. An Encounter.
Der Redner, Studie zur Einmütigkeit (1913)

He was born in Bern, the eldest of six children. By the time he was eight years old, he had lost his father and two younger brothers to tuberculosis. His mother remarried to a decorative painter named Gottlieb Schüpach who had five children from a previous marriage and the birth of more children brought the size of Hodler's family to thirteen.

The family was poor, and nine-year-old Hodler was put to work assisting his stepfather in painting signs and other commercial projects. After the death of his mother from tuberculosis in 1867, Hodler was sent to Thun to apprentice with a local painter, Ferdinand Sommer where he learned the craft of painting conventional Alpine landscapes, typically copied from prints, which he sold in shops and to tourists.

At the age of 18, Hodler travelled on foot more than 160km to Geneva to start his career as a painter. He later travelled to Basel where he studied the paintings of Hans Holbein - especially Dead Christ in the Tomb – and Madrid in 1878 to study the masters such as Titian, Poussin, and Velázquez at the Museo del Prado.

The works of Hodler's early artwork consisted of landscapes, figure compositions, and portraits, treated with a vigorous realism and in the last decade of the nineteenth century his work evolved to combine influences from symbolism and art nouveau. His turning point was the creation of Night in 1890 which created a scandal at the Beaux-Arts exhibition in Geneva a year later. However, a few months later, it was exhibited in Paris at the Salon where it attracted favourable attention and was championed by Rodin.
Die Empfindung (1908)

Hodler developed a style he called ‘parallelism’ that emphasized the symmetry and rhythm he believed formed the basis of human society. In paintings such as The Chosen One (1893), groupings of figures are symmetrically arranged in poses suggesting ritual or dance. Hodler thought of woman as embodying the desire for harmony with nature, while a child represented innocence and vitality.

After several divorces Hodler met Valentine Godé-Darel in 1908 who became his mistress. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1913, and the many hours Hodler spent by her bedside resulted in a remarkable series of paintings documenting her decline from the disease. Some of these are currently being exhibited in the Ferdinand Hodler – Alberto Giacometti. AnEncounter exhibition at Winterthur Kunstmuseum. Valentine’s  death in 1915 affected Hodler greatly and he died just three years later.

Winterthur Kunstmuseum website.

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