Gerard F. Kennedy Writer

‘A Troubled Soul’, Ferdinand Hodler

On a recent visit to MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) a painting caught my eye.  I had not heard of the artist before.  The painting, ‘The Woodman’ by Ferdinand Hodler hangs in the ‘transparent, suspended exhibition’ on the second level of Lina Bo Bardi’s architectural masterpiece (c 1968) on the Avenida Paulista.

‘The Woodman’, detail (1910)

My curiosity generated the following information.

The main collection of works by Hodler is held in the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland.

Born in Bern, Switzerland on 14th March 1853 Ferdinand Hodler moved to Geneva at the age of eighteen.  Previously, despite a childhood blighted by relative poverty, illness and loss, he had gained some artistic experience working in his stepfather’s workshop.  In Geneva Ferdinand studied French and studied art under Barthélemy Menn (then Director of the Geneva Art School).  During this period he discovered the work of Ingres, Delacroix and Carot.  However, it was the paintings of Holbein the Younger that impressed Holder more.  The work of Rubens and Velázquez was also to have an influence on the young Holder.  In 1878 he went to Madrid to study their work at the Prado Museum.

As his method developed and matured his anger and despair began to shape and colour his compositions.  He began to compose using repetition of forms and colours painted in flat, symbolic style; he called his system ‘parallelism’.

‘The Night’, 1890

At first his ‘mystical, antirealistic’ paintings brought Hodler notoriety.  By the turn of the century, however, he had achieved popularity and received a Gold Medal at the World’s Fair in Paris.

Despite the recognition and popularity of his work Hodler’s personal life was anything but happy.  Towards the end of 1917 he contemplated suicide after becoming ill with pulmonary edema.  Although mostly bedridden, Hodler continued to paint from his balcony.

Ferdinand Hodler died in Geneva on 19th May 1918.

‘Self-portrait’, 1912


Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica & Encyclopaedia of World Biography

Images: ‘The Woodman’, MASP. Photo: Gerard F Kennedy

‘The Night’, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland

‘The Troubled Soul’, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland

‘Self-Portrait’, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland