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Hodler's scenic Switzerland: Geneva's Musee Rath celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ferdinand Hodler with a retrospective look at his scenic paintings.

Driving along the auto route overlooking Lake Geneva not long after visiting the Hodler "Le Paysage" exhibition, I suddenly saw that familiar sight in a new "Hodlerian" way, reduced to a near-abstraction of sky and water with those strong horizontal lines delineating the various tones of blue. Not that I was unfamiliar with Hodler--his portraits, monumental decors and historical works are a sort of leitmotif of Swiss culture--but the Musee Rath's concentration on his landscapes underscored the power and beauty of his interpretations of nut natural surroundings. They are essential to an understanding and appreciation of Hodler's art.

The paintings of Lake Geneva grouped on the lower floor of Musee Rath begin with a view of the lake from Saint-Prex, Painted in 1901, such panoramic waterscapes began to dominate his work. His pictures are characterised by the absence of people and any reference to human life. i.e. buildings, devoid of detail and reduced to design elements.

His motifs became increasingly stylised, the contours blurred, the forms--mountains, shoreline. clouds--created exclusively by his masterful manipulation of colour.

Hodler had an excellent vantage point. In 1913, the painter took up residence on Geneva's elegant Quai Mont-Blanc with a view of the French Alps and the Saleve, which came to occupy a central point in his art. Tormented by insomnia and the infirmities of advanced age, he used the early morning hours to observe the passage from night to day. A series of paintings from the winter of 1917. 1918, the year of his death, portray the distant Mont-Blanc massif throughout the day--from dawn to sunset. These paintings, impressionistic hi style, achieve effects similar to Claude Monet's celebrated studies of the Cathedral of Rouen

Genevois By Adoption

Ferdinand Hodler was born in 1853 in Bern. He apprenticed with the Swiss landscape painter Ferdinand Summer in Thun from 1868-70, where he developed his scenic inclinations. He moved to Geneva in 1871, with the goal of copying the works of Alexandre Calame and Francois Diday at the Musee Rath. He remained in Geneva to continue his studies under Barthelemy Menn at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts through 1877. It was during this period that Hodler thought of becoming a naturalist and took courses in geology with Carl Vogt, which influenced his later paintings of rocks and mountains.

After a brief sojourn in Spain, where he expressed great enthusiasm for the Spanish painters whose works he saw at the Prado, Hodler returned to Geneva and rented a studio on the Grand-Rue. Examples of this early period of development of Hodler's scenic signature are arranged chronologically in the current exhibition. Many of these are quite conventional in style, indicating the objects of the artist's interest but without his characteristic stamp.

A Thematic Journey

Towards 1890, Hodler's style of painting underwent a significant change and a mystical dimension began to emerge. At the same time, he discovered symmetry as a principle of composition, something he referred to as "parallelism", laying down his colours in horizontal bands.

Following his participation ha the 19th Secession exhibition in Vienna in 1904, his landscape output went from strength to strength. His stylised motifs took on a monumental aspect. While undergoing a constant process of simplification, he continued to make a bold play of colour.

From the outset of this true "Hodlerian" style, curator Paul Lang switched from a chronological to a thematic organisation of his works: trees, rocks and streams, mountains, valleys, etc.

His paintings of lakes form the final four segments, denoting their importance in his total oeuvre. In the section "Sovereignty of the Lake", an element of Art Nouveau creeps in, ,seen in the design-like ordering of elements and dynamic curves. Two segments are devoted to reflections of mountains in the water, juxtaposing the strong diagonals of the mountains with the horizontal lines of their reflections.

From Geneva To Zurich

This exhibition is the result of the close collaboration with the Zurich Kunsthaus and the Swiss Institute of Art. The 70 paintings shown come front a variety of public and private sources, including a dozen from the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire, which boasts the largest number of Hodlers (142 paintings and 657 drawings) in its permanent collection.

On view at the Musee Path through February 1, 2004, the exhibition will go on to Zurich, where it can be seen at the Kunsthaus beginning March 5.
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Title Annotation:Art & Culture
Author:Krienke, Mary
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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