Hodler and Symbolism
In the mid 1880s in Geneva, Hodler met poets, critics and journalists such as Louis Duchosal, Mathias Morhardt, and Edouard Rod. Admirers of Wagner, Mallarmé and Verlaine, they formed the first Symbolist circles in Geneva with which Hodler was closely involved. They were also in contact with the Parisian artistic world, and certainly fuelled the young painter's desire to join it.
Ferdinand HodlerThe Angry One© Kunstmuseum, Bern
From the beginning of the 1880s, in fact, Hodler had been looking to widen his audience: in 1881, at the National Society of Beaux Arts, he exhibited a self-portrait entitled The Angry One; he also exhibited several works in London. In 1885, his first one-man exhibition was organised in Geneva, then another in Berne in 1887. Even if Hodler did not achieve the success he had hoped for, these exhibitions helped to establish him as one of the most important artists in Switzerland.
Hodler's art developed towards a style of realism coupled with idealism and Symbolism. His portraits of the destitute and of artisans at work were the starting point for a much wider reflection on man's destiny. A Glimpse into Eternity was a significant development: an old man is making a child's coffin. As well as carefully recreating the details of the carpenter's work, Hodler links the scene to a superior order through the character's attitude of prayer, the rigorous composition and the powerful light.
Ferdinand HodlerA glimpse into eternity© Kunstmuseum, Bern
Gradually divested of any reference to daily life or specific social environment, the theme develops, through processions or groups of careworn, old people, towards a radical portrayal of our inexorable march towards death. For, in this period at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1890s, death had become an obsession for Hodler who, since his childhood, had been faced with the loss of his family members. He revealed this in The Night, painted in 1889 to 1890, a seminal work and manifesto of Hodlerian Symbolism.