Friday, December 19, 2014

Ferdinand Hodler

The Night (Die Nacht)
oil on canvas
116.5 × 299 cm
Museum of Fine Arts Berne, Switzerland

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) was one of the leading Swiss Symbolist painters, along with Arnold Bocklin, of the 19th century. He used stylized, awkwardly gesturing figures in conjunction with simplified color, overcoming realistic and impressionist conventions, and infused his works with an intellectual, symbolic content. He remained in relative obscurity until the age of 50, when he finally received an award for his most famous painting: The Night (1891). From 1910 onwards he received honours and commissions both at home and internationally. In the German-speaking countries, he is considered one of the founders of Modern Art.

He was born in Berne, the eldest of six children. His father made a meager living as a carpenter; his mother was from a peasant family. His childhood was characterized by poverty, sickness, and death. His father died of tuberculosis soon after Hodler's birth and his mother too died of tuberculosis when he was 13. Nine of her children likewise died of tuberculosis early. Eventually the disease killed all of his remaining siblings, instilling in him a powerful consciousness of mortality.

His first training as an artist was in the workshop of his stepfather, and he did not receive a traditional academic training. Instead he was apprenticed to a local decorative painter. In search of better training, he went to Geneva in 1871, where he painted signs while learning French. He was initially influenced by the realism of Gustave Courbet and Camille Corot. He was greatly impressed by the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger, and he studied the theories of Albrecht Durer, Leonardo da Vinci, and Vitruvius in his search for answers to the artistic analysis of nature. His artistic formation formally ended in 1878, when he went to Madrid to study the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velazquez at the Prado Museum.

By 1886 he begun to paint in a sharply delineated, harsh style touched with rustic awkwardness and simplicity. From 1891 onwards, he turned to Symbolism - developing an innovative approach which he called "Parallelism". He is also seen as a harbinger of Expressionism. He painted portraits, historical and mythological paintings, as well as landscapes.