Monday, 14 May 2018

Mother's Day at the museum

Portrait d'Annette, 1964, Alberto Giacometti
I had the perfect Mother’s Day present yesterday – a whole morning to myself to spend at the local art gallery. Not that I don’t love my little tykes to bits, but I do get to spend every day with them and free time is a coveted and very rare thing indeed, as every mother knows. It was also the perfect day for a visit to a gallery as it was also International Museum Tag (although in the UK it isn’t actually until 18th) which means free admission.

I went along to the Ferdinand Hodler – Alberto Giacometti. An Encounter exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, hailed as the first time ever that the two great Swiss artists have been featured in a joint exhibition. It is easy to see why, as at first glimpse they are poles apart – Hodler with his strange painterly depictions of repetitive figures on grand canvases and Giacometti with his squished heads and sculptured forms (a friend of his once said that if Giacometti decided to sculpt you, ‘he would make your head look like the blade of a knife’)

But the curators had worked hard at finding several parallels, such as the representation of groups of figures, studies of the Swiss mountain peaks and a particularly touching room featuring the artists’ lover and mother.

Giacometti was born at the beginning of the 20th century (10 October 1901) and Hodler was born much later in 1853 (14th March) although funnily enough, both artists died at the age of 65.

Selbstportrat mit Stehkragen, 1879, Hodler
The first room contrasts the artistic giants’ two self portraits cleverly – I mistook them for each other’s work! The Giacommeti painting looked to me just like Hodler’s work and the Hodler self portrait was how I imagined Giacommeti would have looked when younger. My favourite by far was the Hodler self portrait. It was astonishing - so feverish and haunting - he looked like a man possessed - and so unlike any work I have seen of his before. I attempted to catch this in a quick sketch – see below.

The next room featured the groups of figures. I liked the contrast in this room – each piece of Hodler’s work was accompanied by a piece of Giacommeti’s featuring a group of similar proportions – Hodler’s monumental paintings of characters moving in a kind of harmony, contrasted splendidly with Giacommeti’s tiny, isolated figures detached from the world around it. Then there was the collection of alpine paintings, which to me seemed to have a similar approach for the two artists, my favourite here was the one by Giacometti – see below.

The most penetrating and poignant room featured a host of work by Hodler depicting his model and lover Valentine Godé-Darel – once alive and smiling and the rest of her on her deathbed (due to cancer) just two years later. A heartfelt reminder of how quickly we can lose our loved ones. Giacometti’s portrait of his mother (see above) is just as revealing, as her  wavering head disappears into the grey ether surrounding it.

I just made a couple of sketches - quite unusual for me, as I often leave an exhibition with a notebook brimming with pencil drawings, but those two sketches were telling – the two pieces of work and two people who, for me, had the greatest impact.

Ferdinand Hodler – Alberto Giacometti. An Encounter runs until 19th August. Admission 19fr. opening hours Tuesday 10am – 8pm, Weds until Sunday 10am - 5pm and Monday closed.

Monte del Forno, um 1923, Alberto Giacometti

Portrait de Diego sur socle, 1959, Alberto Giacometti

Valentine Godé-Darel auf dem Totenbett, 1915, Ferdinand Hodler 


  1. It looks like a great exhibition, and yes, such a bizarre combination of Swiss artists. And so surreal that they both died at 65. The Musée d'Art et d'Historie in Geneva recently had a Hodler retrospective. they created a interactive called Holder, King Of The Selfie, it's worth checking out.

  2. What a great idea. I love that :)