Ferdinand Hodler

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Ferdinand Hodler
Ferdinand Hodler self portrait.jpeg
Self-portrait, 1916
Born (1853-03-14)March 14, 1853
Died May 19, 1918(1918-05-19) (aged 65)
Nationality Swiss
Field painting

Ferdinand Hodler (March 14, 1853 – May 19, 1918) was one of the best-known Swiss painters of the nineteenth century.

Early life[edit]

Hodler was born in Berne, the eldest of six children. His father, Jean Hodler, made a meager living as a carpenter; his mother, Marguerite (née Neukomm), was from a peasant family.[1] By the time Hodler was eight years old, he had lost his father and two younger brothers to tuberculosis. His mother remarried to a decorative painter, but in 1867 she too died of tuberculosis.[2] Eventually the disease killed all of Hodler's remaining siblings, instilling in the artist a powerful consciousness of mortality.[3]


Before he was ten, Hodler received training in decorative painting from his stepfather and, subsequently was sent to Thun to apprentice with a local painter, Ferdinand Sommer. Hodler's earliest works were conventional landscapes, which he sold in shops and to tourists. In 1871, at the age of 18, he traveled on foot to Geneva to start his career as a painter.

The works of Hodler's early maturity consisted of landscapes, figure compositions, and portraits, treated with a vigorous realism. He made a trip to Basel in 1875, where he studied the paintings of Hans Holbein—especially, Dead Christ in the Tomb, which influenced Hodler's many treatments of the theme of death.[4] In the last decade of the nineteenth century his work evolved to combine influences from several genres including symbolism and art nouveau. He developed a style which he called "Parallelism", characterized by groupings of figures symmetrically arranged in poses suggesting ritual or dance.

Swiss 50 Franc banknote from 1911 Series Two, Der Holzfäller by Holder
Swiss 100 Franc banknote from 1911 Series Two of a reaper by Holder

Hodler's work in his final phase took on an expressionist aspect with strongly coloured and geometrical figures. Landscapes were pared down to essentials, sometimes consisting of a jagged wedge of land between water and sky.

The most famous of Hodler's paintings, however, portray scenes in which characters are engaged in everyday activities, such as the famous woodcutter (Der Holzfäller, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). This painting went on to appear on the back of the 50 Swiss Franc bank note issued by the Swiss National Bank and another painting by him was featured on the 100 Franc note as well. Both appeared in the 1911 Series Two of the notes and they were identified as "F. Holder".

In 1914 he condemned the German atrocities conducted using artillery at Rheims.[5] In retaliation for this, German art museums excluded Hodler's work.

Adult life and influence on his work[edit]

In 1884, Hodler met Augustine Dupin (1852–1909), who became his companion and model for the next several years. Their son, Hector Hodler, was born in 1887, and founded the World Esperanto Association in 1908.[6]

From 1889 until their divorce in 1891, Hodler was married to Bertha Stucki, who is depicted in his painting, Poetry (1897, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich).

In 1898, Hodler married Berthe Jacques.

In 1908, he met Valentine Godé-Darel, 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.[5] Her death in January 1915 affected Hodler greatly. He occupied himself with work on a series of about 20 introspective self-portraits that date from 1916.

By late 1917 his declining health led him to thoughts of suicide. He died on May 19, 1918 in Geneva leaving behind a number of unfinished works portraying the city.



  1. ^ Hauptman and Hodler 2007, p. 9.
  2. ^ Hauptman and Hodler 2007, pp. 9–10.
  3. ^ Kunstmuseum, Bern: Fedinand Hodler Biography
  4. ^ Hauptman and Hodler 2007, p. 12.
  5. ^ a b Hauptman and Hodler 2007 p. 36.
  6. ^ Hauptman and Hodler 2007, p. 100.


  • Hauptman, William, & Hodler, Ferdinand (2007). Hodler. Milan: 5 continents. ISBN 978-88-7439-362-6
  • Matthias Fischer, Der junge Hodler. Eine Künstlerkarriere 1872-1897, Wädenswil: Nimbus, 2009. ISBN 978-3-907142-30-1
  • Ferdinand Hodler. Catalogue raisonné der Gemälde. Landschaften. Band 1. Hrsg. vom Schweizerischen Institut für Kunstwissenschaft Zürich. Scheidegger & Spiess, Zürich 2008, ISBN 978-3-85881-244-5. (Band 1 enthält Teilband 1 [Kat. 1–300] und Teilband 2 [Kat. 301–626, D1–D52 (fragliche Zuschreibungen), R1–R70 (irrtümliche und falsche Zuschreibungen).]
  • Marc Fehlmann, Review of Oskar Bätschmann and Paul Müller eds., Ferdinand Hodler. Catalogue Raisonné der Gemälde, Die Landschaften, Zurich 2008: http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/autumn09/ferdinand-hodler-catalogue-raisonne
  • Jill Lloyd and Ulf Küster (eds.): Ferdinand Hodler. View to Infinity. Neue Galerie New York, Hatje Cantz Verlag 2012l, ISBN 978-3-7757-3380-9.
  • Ferdinand Hodler. Catalogue raisonné der Gemälde. Bildnisse. Band 2. Hrsg. vom Schweizerischen Institut für Kunstwissenschaft Zürich. Scheidegger & Spiess, Zürich 2012, ISBN 978-3-85881-2554-1. ([Kat. 627–1055, Kat. D53–D68 (fragliche Zuschreibungen), Kat. R71–R105 (irrtümliche und falsche Zuschreibungen).]

External links[edit]