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Ferdinand Hodler: 1853 - 1918

Ferdinand Hodler was born in Bern, Switzerland, in 1853, the son of a carpenter. When he was five his father died and his mother remarried. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a landscape artist in Thun, and when he was 18 he studied painting with another in Geneva. This was a training that was thorough, rather than inspired, though it made him familiar with Hans Holbein the Younger, Rembrandt, and the landscapes of Camille Corot.

A journey to Spain in 1878 broadened Hodler's style, bringing him in touch with a mild form of Impressionism. His real interest, however was in legend and history, his real feelings for the primitive and the tragic. These were reinforced in 1881 by a visit to Paris, where he came in contact with many new styles. He absorbed new ideas, especially those of Paul Gauguin and his followers and those of the Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat. He became a symbolist and his own "parallelist" principles consisted mainly in the rhythmic, repetitive use of line and shape in composition, with emphasis on their decorative and mystical elements. His paintings were in some ways comparable with those of the Symbolist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who praised the Procession of Wrestlers, Hodler's prize-winning entry at the Paris World Exhibition in 1889. Hodler's color was brighter, however, and his forms were more stylized than Chavannes.


Self Portrait of the Artist in a Rage, Ferdinand Hodler, 1881
In 1890 his Night caused a stir at the Paris Salon. He also met much violent criticism, particularly of his fresco designs for the Zurich Museum, which were finally accepted in 1899. In Germany there were many enthusiasts for his work, despite the fact that it gradually came dangerously close to sentimentality. He was awarded a gold medal at Munich in 1897 and admitted to the Berlin Sezession in 1899. At the Vienna Sezession of 1904 a large show was held in Hodler's honor. Within the next few years he received commissions from both the university of Jena and the city of Hanover. Apart from these large decorative commissions, his later works consisted mainly of mountain landscapes, painted with arbitrary and expressive color. He died on May 20, 1918.

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