Accueil > Nos rendez-vous > Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)



A major landscape painter and an unequaled portrait artist who enriched the Symbolist current while heralding Abstraction

Thunersee mit symmetrischer Spiegelung vor Sonnenaufgang / The Thoune lake, with symétrical reflexion before sunset.Oil on canvas, 89 x 100 cm. Zurich, private collection © Institut suisse pour l'étude de l'art, Zürich

This is the first exhibition dedicated to the Swiss artist in France, since the monography of the Petit Palais in 1983. Two years after the musée d'Orsay purchased one of the painter's important works, Le Bûcheron (1910), this event is pursuant of the program inaugurated by the museum in 1995 aimed at unveiling the great artists of foreign schools. The exhibition groups together 80 major paintings that cover the artist's career, starting in the middle of the 1870s up to the last landscapes in 1918: all the genres the painter experienced, whether the large compositions of symbolist figures, historic paintings, landscapes and portraits are represented. Two cabinets of graphic arts allow us to understand the creative process of this relentless drawer. Some forty photographs, taken by close friends and in particular by Gertrud Dubi-Müller, Hodler's friend, collector and model, help us enter the painter's workshop. In order to enter a dialogue with today's art, the musée d'Orsay has invited Helmut Federle. The artist, who always recognized Hodler as one of his major sources of inspiration, placed four drawings of mountains and a monumental painting, 4.4 the distance, 2002 (private collection) in the exhibition's itinerary

An improper "Nuit"

Over the last twenty years, the studies and exhibitions dedicated to Holder have shed light on new aspects of his work. The exhibition at the musée d'Orsay has the ambition of redefining the sources and the geography of modern art and of contributing to render to Ferdinand Hodler the central place that he occupied at the heart of the European avant-gardes at the turn of the XXth century. Linked to Symbolism, Hodler was considered during his life one of the leaders of modernity, as he opened decisive ways towards abstraction as well as to Expressionism. Born in Bern in 1853, he lived in Geneva up to his death in 1918, but following difficult beginnings he accomplished a European career, punctuated with scandals and successes. As a member of the Great Sécessions, his work was acclaimed in Vienna, Berlin and Munich as of the 1900s. But it was in Paris that he was consecrated for the first time in 1891 when he presented his manifest work, La Nuit (1889-1890, Bern, Kunstmuseum) that the city of Geneva considered improper and had forbidden him to exhibit. Celebrated by Puvis de Chavannes, Rodin and the French critics, the painting launched Holder's international career and turned him into one of the major representatives of Symbolism: this key work, that never leaves the museum of Bern, is loaned exceptionally to the musée d'Orsay.

Ikkustration: Bildnis Gertrud Müller / Portrait of Gertrud Müller (1911), oil on canvas, 175 x 132 cm Soleure Kunstmuseum Dubi-Müller-Stiftung

The «national Swiss painter»

At the turn of the century, Zurich, Geneva, Iéna or Frankfort gave him important public commissions that gave the artist all the opportunities to experiment his taste for a simplified, monumental and decorative art. He staged the founding moments of the History of the Swiss Confederation (La Bataille de Morat, 1917, Glaris, Kunsthaus) and emblematic figures such as the reapers and lumberjacks. Hodler became from the end of the 1890s the number one national Swiss painter. In his paintings of landscapes, he focused on magnifying nature, and in particular the mountains, and in doing so profoundly renewed the genre. His loyalty to the topography of the locations is accompanied by a rigorous stylisation, thus imposing Hodler as a unique landscape artist, equal to Cézanne (La Pointe d'Andey, vue de Bonneville (Haute Savoie), 1909, musée d'Orsay). Holder was convinced beauty resided in order, in symetry and rhythm, and he founded his compositions on what he called the «parallelism» (« repetition of similar forms») (Paysage rythmique au Lac Léman, 1908, private collection).

Moving portraits

Hodler was also a deeply innovating portrait artist: the effigies of collectors are there to prove it (Portrait of Gertrud Müller, 1911, Soleure Kunstmuseum), of poets and critics who supported him, as well as uncompromising self-portraits (Autoportrait avec roses, 1914, Schaffhouse, Museum zu Allerheiligen), that announce the «cycle of Valentine», unequaled in the history of art. From his companion's experience through agony, Hodler made between 1914 and 1915 a series of portraits that are each a moving proof of the progress of the illness and death (Valentine on her death bed, 1915, Bâle, Kunstmuseum). Following that cycle, Hodler pursued his meditation on death through a series of almost abstract views of the lake of Geneva where the painter's quest for simplicity and unity-which he never ceased to radicalize - seemed to culminate: « The closer I get to the great Unity, the more I want my art to become simple and great. »


Exhibition catalogue Hodler, 22,5 x 27 cm, paperback, 240 p., 220 illustrations, edited by the Musée d'Orsay/RMN, 40 €,
Petit Journal de l'exposition, 20 x 29 cm, 30 illustrations, 16 p., French/English, 3,50 €

Illustration: FERDINAND HODLER: Blühender Kirschbaum / CHerry tree (1905) Oil on canvas 60 x 48 cm Private collection © Institut suisse pour l'étude de l'art, Zürich

This exhibition is organised by Réunion des musées nationaux with the support of Pro Helvetia, Fondation suisse pour la culture

To see more illustrations, click on VERSION FRANCAISE at the top of this page

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OPENING HOURS: Daily from 9.30am to 6pm, Thursday 9.30am to 9.45pm. Closed Mondays
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CURATORS: General curator: Serge Lemoine, Président du Musée d'Orsay,
Curator: Sylvie Patry, conservateur au Musée d'Orsay
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