HODLER, Ferdinand
(b. 1853, Bern, d. 1918, Genève)


Swiss painter. The oeuvre Ferdinand Hodler, who is held to be one of the foremost Central European Symbolist painters of the late nineteenth century, was shaped by his personal conception of the world, underpinned by the principles of symmetry and rhythm.

He came from a poor family and lost both of his parents at an early age. He received his first training from Ferdinand Sommer (1822-1901), a painter from Thun who produced lake and mountain landscape views for tourists. In 1871 or 1872 Hodler moved to Geneva to attend lectures in natural science at the Collège de Genève and to copy paintings by Alexandre Calame and François Diday in the museum there. In 1873 he became a pupil of Barthélemy Menn (1815-1893) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva and while there undertook an intensive study of Dürer's writings on proportions. In 1878 he travelled to Madrid, spending almost a year there, and was strongly influenced by the Spanish landscape and by the works of such masters as Titian, Poussin, Claude, Velázquez and Goya in the Museo del Prado. He returned to Switzerland in 1879, having learnt to lighten his colour.

On returning to Switzerland he was introduced to the Symbolist trends in French painting by the poet Louis Duchosal. Thenceforward his works reinforced this aspect and were centred on representing states of mind and man's main philosophical concerns. Dating from this stage in his development is Night, executed in 1890 (Berne, Kunstmuseum Bern), a painting related to the idea of death and sleep, which enjoyed success at the Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris in 1892. A subsequent series of twenty-seven life-sized figures from Swiss history, painted from life, marked the start of his career as a painter of the Swiss national imaginary and the beginning of the considerable appreciation he still enjoys in his country of birth.

Hodler took part in the Berlin Secession in 1900, in the Munich Secession in 1903, and a year later showed his works together with those of Edvard Munch and Axel Gallén at the Vienna Secession. During the last years of his life he ended up becoming one of the most innovative muralists of the period, with works such as those executed for the University of Jena in 1907 and Hanover council in 1911.

He died in Geneva in 1918.

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