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Edvard Munch – Bowing Out Of The Dance Of Life

the-dance-of-life

EDVARD MUNCH

(1863-1944)

‘’ From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity. ‘’

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Toward the end of the 19TH century, Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychiatrist, was investigating unconscious phenomena and the influence of childhood events on the causation of neurosis. At about the same time, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863- 1944) began to express his inner world through his artistic creations, giving birth to an exceptional art style which would later be known as Expressionism.

Edvard Munch’s mother’s premature death from tuberculosis was one of the most painful events in his life. She died in 1868, leaving Edvard, who was five, his three sisters and younger brother in the care of her much older husband, Christian, a doctor imbued with a religiosity that often darkened into gloomy fanaticism.

Several years later, the death of his older and favorite sister Sophie, to whom he had become attached in her place, compounded his tragedy.

During Munch’s critical stages of development, his father became emotionally unavailable after his wife’s death. All those losses and trauma were intensified by the poverty experienced by the Munch family. Thereafter, Munch’s father experienced fits of depression, anger and quasi-spiritual visions in which he interpreted the family’s illness and difficulties as punishment of divine origin.

He would often read to his children the ghost stories of Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the lessons in religion and history, instilling in young Munch a general sense of anxiety about death and morbid fascination with it.

Although he lacked his father’s faith in God, he had nonetheless inherited his sense of guilt.

Munch’s precocious talent was recognized very early. His personality and his art evolved progressively. It can be seen from two self-portraits; a small three-quarters profile on cardboard, painted in 1881-1882, when he was 18, depicts the artist’s good classic looks- straight nose, strong chin, sensual lips with academic correctness.

Five years later, Munch in a larger self-portrait is impressionistic and splotchy. His hair and throat blur into background, his outthrust thin and lowered gaze lend him an insolent air; red rims of his eyes suggests a boozy sleepless night, the beginning of a long descent into alcoholism.

edvard-munch-portrait

His first sexual experience apparently took place in 1885, when he was 21, with Millie Thaulow, a wife of a distant relative. He was thrilled and maddened while their relationship lasted and desolate and tormented, two years after, when Millie ended it.

Munch was fascinated by the theme of a forlorn man and dominating woman – Vampire (from 1893-94), and The Ashes (1894). In The Ashes, a woman reminiscent of Millie confronts the viewer, her white dress unbuttoned to reveal a red slip, her hands raised to the sides of her head, while a distraught lover holds his head in despair.

ashes

Although he began his artistic career as a student of Norwegian painter Christian Krogh, who advocated Naturalism, a realistic depiction of contemporary life, Munch developed a psychologically charged and very expressive style in order to transmit emotional sensations.

Munch, as a restless soul himself, believed that a painter mustn’t merely transcribe external reality, but should record the impact a remembered scene had on his own sensibility. His personal tragedies, sicknesses and failures fed his creative work.

One of Munch’s finest self-portraits, a lithograph of 1895, depicts his head with clerical-looking collar, materializing out of a black background: a thin white band at the top of this piece contains the year and his name and a corresponding strip below features a skeletal arm.

In an undated private journal he wrote:’’ I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies – the heritage of consumption and insanity – illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood at my cradle’’.

One of Edvard’s sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness, and his brother, atypically robust for a Munch, died suddenly of pneumonia at 30. Only his younger sister, named Inger, who like him never married, lived into old age.

edvard-munch-self-portrait-1895

In 1889, Munch traveled to Paris on a state fellowship to study in the atelier of Leon Bonnat. Influenced as a young man by his exposure in Paris, he began to draw after Impressionists and Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose, sometimes, airy compositions differed dramatically from Munch themes of death and personal loss.

But, he progressed toward simplified forms and blocks of intense color with the purpose of conveying strong feelings. In early 1890, in a huff, Munch quit the class of Parisian teacher who had criticized him for portraying a rosy brick wall in the green shades that appeared to him in a retinal afterimage.

In 1889, while he was still in Paris, Munch received a letter. He read that his father had died of a stroke. Munch once observed – the death unhinged him. He was sobered by the responsibility and gripped by remorse that he had not been with his father when he died.

For his absence, he could not release his feeling of grief into a painting of the death scene, as he had done when his sister Sophie and his mother died. Night in Saint Cloud (1890), a moody, blue interior of his suburban Paris apartment captures his emotion and his state of mind; a shadowy figure in a top hat- his roommate Emanuel Goldstein, a Danish poet- stares out a window at the bright light on the Seine river. The evening light casts a symbolic pattern of a cross onto the floor, evoking the spirit of his devout father.

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In 1890s, following his father death Munch embarked on the most productive and the most troubled stage of his life. Spending his time between Berlin and Paris, he undertook a series of paintings that he called The Frieze of Life, the most artistically significant and popularly renowned of his entire career.

He produced this series consisted of 22 works for an exhibition of Frieze in Berlin, 1902. The paintings bore such titles as Jealously, Despair, Anxiety, Puberty, Melancholy, Death in the Sickroom, and anthology The Scream, which he painted in 1893.

Munch’s The Scream is a Mona Lisa for our time, an icon of modern art. As Leonardo da Vinci evoked a Renaissance ideal of serenity and the values of Humanism, Munch defined our own age and how we see it- wracked with uncertainty and anxiety.

It stands among an exclusive group, including Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Matisse’s Red Studio, comprising the essential works of modernist experiment and lasting innovation.

His painting of a twisted, sexless, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, recreated a vision that had grasped him as he walked along the road overlooking the city of Oslo, one evening in his youth with his two friends at sunset.

It seems unlikely that he observed an actual person in anguish. As he later described it, the ‘’air turned to blood’’ and the ‘’faces of my comrades became a garish yellow-white’’ (—) ‘’I heard the enormous infinite scream of nature’’.

During this potential period, his style varies dramatically, depending on the emotion he was trying to communicate in a particular painting. He turned to an Art Nouveau sultriness for Madonna (1894-95) and psychologically laden and stylized Symbolism in Summer Night Dream (1893).

In his impressive Self-portrait with Cigarette in 1895, painted while he was feverishly engaged with the Frieze of Life, he employed the flickering brushwork of Whistler, rubbing and scraping at the suit jacket so that his body appears as evanescent as the smoke that trails from the cigarette he holds smoldering near his heart.

In a moving evocation of Sophie’s death, Death in the Sickroom (1893), he adopted the bold graphic outlines of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse- Lautrec. He and his sister loom in the foreground, while his aunt and praying father, who is obscured by her chair, attend to the dying girl.

Across the vast space that divides the living siblings, portrayed as adults, from their dying sister, the viewer’s eye is down to the vacated bed and the useless medicines around it.

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Visiting Kristiania in 1898, Munch had met Tulla Larsen, who would become his cruel muse. She was the wealthy daughter of Kristiania’s leading wine merchant, and at the 29, she was still unmarried. He first set eyes on Tulla Larsen when she arrived at his studio in the company of an artist with whom he shares the space.

From the outset, she persuaded him aggressively. In his telling, their affair began almost against his will. He fled to Berlin, and that across the Europe-she followed him. He would refuse to see her, and then succumb.

Reconstruction of their tormented relationship has relied on Munch sometimes conflicting, but far from disinterested accounts. The Dance of Life (1899-1900), an homage of their relationship, set on midsummer’s night in Aasgaardstrand, the seaside village where he was with Millie Thaulow, and where he had a tiny cottage.

A vacant-eyed male character, at the center of the painting, representing Munch himself, dances with a woman in red dress- probably Millie. Their stiff bodies maintain an unhappy distance, and their eyes do not meet.

Tulla Larsen can be seen to the left, in a white dress, golden-haired, smiling benevolently. She appears again on the right side, but this time in a black dress; her countenance as dark as her dress with her eyes downcast in bleak disappointment.

the-dance-of-life

Larsen longed for Munch to marry her. Hesitating, even he went so far as to make a grudging proposal, he finally escaped from her to Italy and eventually to Berlin, in 1902, to stage The Frieze of Life Exhibition.

The same year, in summer Munch returned to his cottage in Aasgaardstrand, seeking peace but drinking heavily and brawling publicly; he failed to find it.

After more than a year’s absence Tulla Larsen reappeared in his life. Firstly, Munch had ignored her overtures, until her friends informed him that she was in a suicidal depression and taking large doses of morphine, he agreed to see her.

There was a quarrel, and the full story is unknown; somehow, he shot himself with a revolver, losing part of a finger on his left hand and also inflicting on himself a less obvious psychological injury. His anger intensified when Larsen, short time later, married an artist.

For instance, in his painting Golgotha (1990), prone to exaggerated feelings of persecution, he depicted himself nailed to a cross, magnified the fiasco in his mind, until it assumed an epic scale.

In the next few years, his drinking, which had long been excessive, grew uncontrollable. He wrote in his journal that ‘’ the rages were coming more, and more often now’’. Anguished as he was, he still managed to produce some of his finest work: Self- Portrait with a Bottle of Wine ( 1906) and tableau, executed in several versions, in which he uses himself as the model for the slain French revolutionary Marat, and Tulla Larsen is cast as Marat’s assassin.

edvard_munch_-_self-portrait_with_a_bottle_of_wine_-_google_art_project

In the fall of 1908, Munch collapsed in Copenhagen. Hearing hallucinatory voices and suffering paralyses on his left side, he was persuaded by his old roommate from Paris, Emanuel Goldstein to check himself into a private sanatorium on the outskirts of the city.

There he regained some mental stability and reduced his drinking. He departed in May next year, stronger and eager to get back to his art.

Most of art historians would agree that the great preponderance of his best work was created before 1909. His late years will be less tumultuous but at a price of personal isolation. In the following period of his life, there were not as many poignant paintings as there had been, when he was involved in life.

Returning to Norway in 1909, Munch began to work on an important series of murals for the assembly hall at Oslo University. The Aula Decorations, as the murals are known, signaled Munch new determination to look on the bright side, in this case quite literally.

In newly independent Norway, Munch was praised as the national artist. Along with his new fame came wealth, but not serenity. Maintaining his distance from an alternately adoring and scornful public, Munch withdrew to Ekely, an estate on the outskirts of Oslo, defending his need for isolation as necessary to produce his work.

At Ekely, he took up landscape painting, depicting the countryside around him, with bright color at first, later in bleaker tones.

Edvard Munch had never married, living alone on his estate for the last 27 years of his life, revered and increasingly isolated. He surrounded himself with his works that dated to the start of his long career.

He called his paintings his children and hated to be separate from them.

After his death, 1944, at the age of 80, on the second floor of his house, behind locked doors, it was discovered a huge collection of 1,008 paintings, 15,391 prints, 4,443 drawings, along with lithographs and lithographic stones, etchings, woodcuts, copperplates and photographs.

In a final irony of his difficult life, Munch is famous nowadays as the creator of a single image, which has obscured his overall achievement as a great and influential artist of modern art.

between-the-clock-and-the-bed

In self-portraits Between the Clock and the Bed from 1940-42, not long before his death, it could see what had become of the man who, hung back from ‘’the dance of life’’. Looking stiff and physically awkward, he stands wedged between a grandfather clock and a bed, as if apologizing for taking up so much space.

His ‘children’ arrayed the wall behind him, one above the other. Like a devoted parent, he sacrificed everything for them.

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

andy-warhol-eating-a-hamburger

Two of the biggest art movements that have dominated the twentieth century are Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.

While stylistically very different, both movements compliment each other and reflect the ever-increasing complexity that the 20th century saw with industrialization and globalization.

What is Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism (AKA The New York School) came out of America, in New York as part of a post World War II painting movement during the last part 1940’s.

Abstract Expressionism was the first state-side art movement to achieve international attention, making New York the center of the art world within western culture and now in a place to compete internationally with Paris.

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The movement moved quickly throughout the United States with San Fransisco area soon becoming an artistic hub for Abstract Expressionism as well.

Pop art, however emerged nearly a decade later in the mid-1950’s in Britain and later made it to the United States during the late 1950’s were it really took its roots.

With these two movements closely overlapping, it is important to understand the differences and similarities of these movements and their context within contemporary art history.

Here is a short documentary about abstract expressionist Carlos Garcia de la Nuez, just to get your mind percolating and give you a glimpse into the process that an abstract expressionist artist uses.

Non-Representational Art

In Abstract Expressionism there is no representation of person, place, or object.

With a focus on spontaneous, subconscious expression; Abstract Expressionism focuses on the medium itself and exists without representation of subject.

That is to say that these paintings make no attempt to capture the reality of the physical world.

Because of this, as well as Modernist influences, abstract expressionists believe that when you create art you should create art that can only be done using that medium.

In this way, Abstract Expressionism is a celebration of the medium.

For example: Jackson Pollock created engaging, complex paintings by dripping paint onto canvas, as well Mark Rothko who largely created works of large coloured blocks on coloured grounds.

Here is a work entitled Excavation, by Willem de Kooning showing some of the characteristics of the style…

excavation-by-willem-de-kooning

Abstract Expressionism Isn’t Art

Of course, there are many critics, many of them armchair critics, who like to mock the expressionists for their apparent lack of talent, saying that abstract expressionism isn’t art.

It is perhaps easy to see why people would mock the expressionists, in that abstract expressionist artwork is not at all similar to typical realist paintings people have seen throughout history.

There are often no people, or things that are recognizable on the canvas, and this results in frustration, confusion, and anger.

Abstract expressionists often approach their work in a way that many have described as childish, or easy to imitate.

Detractors of abstract expressionism are quick to point out that even they could do this type of art.

In addition to all of this debate, Abstract Expressionists have proudly created art void of any notion that it was the artist’s job to interpret their art, which only serves to make matters worse for the viewing public.

They instead left interpretation to their viewer, and often that conclusion is a strong dislike for the work, as the viewer has no way “in”.

While Abstract Expressionism has been highly regarded for its merit within the art community, it may be inaccessible to a wider audience outside of the art community who may be seeking something tangible within art which they can relate to.

Watch this TED Talk which discusses the idea that even your cat could be an abstract expressionist, should they so desire to be.

What is Pop Art?

In contrast to this, Pop Art typically has a very clear subject in its works. In many ways, Pop Art was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism.

Rather than trying to create art that is a reflection of the medium, Pop Art typically used screen printing in order to mass produce its works.

You Can’t Talk About Pop Art And Not Mention Andy Warhol

While Abstract Expressionism created a void of interpretation; Pop Art had themes of consumerism and commentary on mass production deeply ingrained into nearly every piece to come out of the movement.

Pop Art draws on recognizable figures from mass media, and draws the audience in with the familiar but challenges them by having it presented in a new, novel fashion.

In fact, in his now famous studio simply called ‘the factory’, Andy Warhol had a production line of artists creating his now iconic art work.

With Andy, it didn’t stop at mass producing artwork and even getting others to do the work for him (while still calling it his own), he touched on other mediums such as film, of which he has several underground “classics” as well, such as his film about the Empire State Building, which literally watches the lofty structure for 485 minutes.

Another famous artist from the pop art movement, Roy Lichtenstein, combined hand painting with the mass production style of pop-art. He would create the initial image by hand, and then project it onto canvas in order to trace the image.

His art was in the style of mass-produced comic book style and never before seen within the art community.

Roy Lichtenstein - Live Ammo (Blang!), 1962

Pop Art Vs. Abstract Expressionism

While Abstract Expressionism works explored art in it’s purest form (authentic, expressive, void of meaning); Pop Art challenged what one can consider to be art by using images appropriated from our culture that exist all around us.

Because of this, some critics were enraged by the Pop Art movement as they did not feel that the image of a soup can, nor comic book images to have artistic merit.

So, while abstract expressionism seemed to really irritate people for one reason, pop art had a similar effect, but for entirely different reasons.

One reason we can isolate, perhaps, is that Andy Warhol had the gall to eat a burger and film it. The ending really is the best part here, as those of you with a healthy sense of irony and cynicism will no doubt realize.

Colors That Rankle The Serious Observer

The use of flat bold colours and sharp edge, caused additional criticism to pop art as it looked more like design than any recognizable art at the time. However, Pop Art was providing a much needed commentary on art.

Not only that, it was doing so in a very fun, light hearted way.

In addition to providing commentary, Pop Art moved away from Abstract Expressionism in that by using contemporary images that were familiar to people which in turn made it much more accessible than Abstract Expressionism.

1950s-pop-art

This is not to say that Abstract Expressionism was not without it’s critics, Abstract Expressionism was challenging artistic conventions in its own way, with many critics feeling that the works were overly simplistic, and that it strayed too far from what was what had been established as art.

While both are stylistically divergent, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism can be seen as providing similar artistic catharsis by challenging artistic norms and creating a dialogue.

It is fascinating that they are able to achieve this both while being stylistically and conceptually separate from one another.

We’ll leave you with this for now. Art about art. How postmodern!

Robert Rauschenberg – The Controversy of Being Yourself

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What Destiny Holds For Painter Ferdinand Hodler

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Ferdinand Hodler, one of the leading figures in modern European paintings, developed outside the mainstream of the so-called avant-garde, and his life and work bridged the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries. At the end of the XIX century, he was the one of the leading Symbolist painters.
 
Here is a self-portrait of the artist.

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Destiny

Born into a very modest craftsman’s family in Berne, 1853, and losing not only his parents but also his siblings very early (they were killed by tuberculosis), he fought hard in life. The eldest of six children, Hodler was then orphaned at the age of fourteen, but he was also very ambitious and determined to become an artist.
 
If you know anything about art, you might know that becoming an artist takes a certain special kind of determination, because unlike other trades, visual artists, in the context of history, are almost certainly doomed to poverty and mental illness – and that’s if they’re successful!

Moving to Geneva, then the main artistic center in Switzerland, Hodler was noticed by Barthelémy Mann, a student of Ingres, and teacher at the Geneva School of drawing. He studied with him between 1872 and 1877.
 
Mann completed Hodler’s visual and cultural education. He taught him to respect drawing and form and introduced him to French painting.

Here is Ferdinand Hodler’s Thunersee mit Stockhornkette

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Hodler’s early paintings were marked by harsh, powerful realism which resembled Courbet; it disconcerted the critics of Geneva who were divided into two opposing sites- one censured his indulgence of ugliness, other praise the originality of his artwork.

In the mid 1880s, Hodler met poets, critics and journalists, the admirers of Wagner, Mallarme and Verlaine, who formed the first Symbolist circle in Geneva, in which Hodler was closely involved. His art developed towards a style of realism coupled with idealism and symbolism.

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His portraits of the artisans at work and of the destitute were the starting point for a wider reflection on man’s destiny. A Glimpse into Eternity – an old man is making a child’s coffin; this rigorous composition and the powerful light was the significant development.
 
Recreating the details of the carpenter’s work very carefully, Hodler links the scene to a superior order through the old man’s attitude of prayer. Here is the work itself, albeit small.

glimpse-into-eternity

In a gradual way, divested of any reference to everyday life or specific social environment, the theme develops towards a radical portrayal of our inexorable march towards death. In this period at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1990s, death had become an obsession for Hodler who, since his childhood, has been faced with the loss of his family.

The Night

It was triumphed in (1889/1890) The Night, a capital large format of strong expression and dramatic tension, when the author faced the phantom of death. It is a manifesto of Hodlerian Symbolism. The realism of the nudes and the poses of these couples in The Night cause a scandal in Geneva in February 1891.
 
The painting was not accepted for the Beaux-Arts exhibition in Geneva.

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In The Night, the painter portrays himself as having been rudely awakened by the figure of death. Around him are entwined men and women asleep; with self-portraits slipped in along with the portraits of the two women with whom Hodler shared his life: Augustine Dupain, his companion since the early days and the mother of his son, and Bertha Stuckie, his wife from a tempestuous and brief marriage.

The artist presented a period of his life in an autobiographical picture at the scale of a history painting, just as Courbet did in The Studio. The meaning of the work is universal for it is symbolic: it doesn’t represent any particular moment, but evokes the essence of death and night.
 
In The Night, Hodler combines a heightened realism and a very strict decorative order to an extent which had never been equaled, and which became the trademark of Hodlerian Symbolism. The sequencing of the figures are according to Hodler’s own principle of symmetry, as well as the search for frontality, is one of the most stunning expressions of a parallelism- as the repetition of similar forms, a principle defined by Hodler.
 
Parallelism is more than a principle of formal composition, it is a moral and philosophical idea, relying on the premise that nature has an order, based on repetition, and that in the end all men resemble each other.

This piece overshadows the compositions of The Disappointed, Tired of Living and Eurhythmy, with the images of old men descending from the stage of life. There are, however, more sophisticated pieces, such as The Chosen One and Path of the Chosen Souls.

Here, below, is The Chosen One by Ferdinand Hodler

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In the meantime, Hodler abandoned the realism of the 1880s in favor of a realism of expression and color. He was inventing a specific and original form of Symbolism; drawing on the men’s lost harmony with nature.
 
It was a celebration of vital energy: a woman became the spiritual heroine and a child symbolized the innocence and the force of life; the emphatic gestures were inspired by modern dance and experimental ways of expressing emotion. These compositions, harmonizing with each other in the spirit of great Symbolist themes, brought him success in Europe, especially in the newly formed Secessions in Vienna, and Jugendstil in Berlin.

Take a look at Ferdinand Hodler’s Aufstieg I

ferdinand-hodler-aufstieg-i

Quarrel Of The Frescoes

As early as in 1880s, and from 1900 onward, Hodler was regarded as one of the great decorators and history painters. He was elaborating topics from the history of Switzerland and Germany. His first two works in Switzerland in this field were the subject of a great controversy.
 
The first was the decoration in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, for the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, 1896, and the second was for a painting of The Retreat at Marignano for the Swiss National Museum in Zurich.

The commission resulted in what would become known in Switzerland as the ‘’quarrel of the Frescoes’’ and continued for almost two years (1898-1900). Hodler was reproached for not keeping closer to the historical and for not expressing the heroism normally extolled in more descriptive and narrative history paintings.

The Retreat at Marignano (below)

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Nonetheless, he had to wait more than ten years for his mural on the opposite wall to The Retreat at Marignano to be confirmed. It was The Battle of Morat, and it was the last artist’s historical panel on which he worked on from the summer of 1915 in France, then left unfinished in 1917.
 
However, this episode was the end of Hodler’s radical attempt at simplifying the genre. He regenerated it profoundly by his own choice of bright colors, applied without depth, and by the power of his expression.

Of his excellent historical compositions The Battle of Fraubrunnen, Wilhelm Tell, The Battle of Näfels: only The Retreat at Marignano was chosen as a final work ( Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zürich). Hodler became a significant mural painter at the turn of a century: he later produced Iena for the Iena University (1909) and Unanimity for the Hannover Town Hall (1912/13).

Wilhelm Tell by Ferdinand Hodler (below):

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Monumentalism

Hodler is considered to be the greatest representative of monumentalism, defined by German historiography as one of the important trends of Stilkunst um 1900, art of style around 1900. At the same time, he successfully accepted the nervous, elegant and refined lines of Jugendstil (Dream, Poetry).
 
In addition, he was considered a herald of German expressionism.

His fame in Europe was contributed to the most by the XIX exhibition of Viennese secession in 1904, where he had a separate hall. At the time, he was admired by the best: Klimt, Hoffman, Liebermann Jr.
 
Kokoschka, Kandinsky interpreted musical features of painting by his work.

Young Man Admired by Women (below):

youth-admired-by-women

Famous and rich, Hodler turn to worldly joys, as testified by his monumental allegoric compositions (Days, Emotions, the Young Man Admired by Women, Love, etc), which emphasized his sense of beauty and sacredness of life.
 
They are full of young women placed before shallow floral background – in the apse or in the frieze; the composition rests on a firm architectural and rhythmic analysis of surface, with a rich linear play on top of it.

 

Hard To Resist

This is the time when the beautiful and young Jean-Charles entered Hodler’s life. In 1901-1916, she was to be his favorite model: she posed not only for all the compositions listed, but also for the Swiss fifty franc note- her face did appear on it, for a sequence of individual portraits.
 
This is visible in her collection which covers over four decades (1873-1914) and gives a considerable insight into the artist’s opus, especially the intimate part of it.

jeanne-charles

While posing for Hodler, Jeanne married the musician A Cerani (1905) and became a widow (1914), which never disturbed her relationship with the painter, a polygamist. He was never reluctant to maintain relationships with several women while married to Berthe Jacques, with whom he spent 20 years, until he died, and to whom he referred as ‘’his elegant half’’.
 
Thus, for instance, in 1910/11, he was with Jeanne and the Italian Giulia Leonardi, the Parisienne Valentine Godé-Darel, who was, in a way, the woman of his life, and who later became the mother of his daughter Paulette.
 
The most important women in Hodler’s life have lived in his artworks- the oldest commoner Augustine Dupin, the mother of his son Hector, the ones listed, and Gertrud Müler, a rich collector and a dear friend.

Hodler was not just an irresistible man, but also- more importantly – he was a man of strong character and integrity, a fearless fighter for justice, equality, unity, which was, from 1881 onwards, reflected in his doctrine of parallelism based on rhythmic repetition of similar shapes in symmetry, with an aesthetic, social and metaphysical dimension.
 
It is therefore not surprising that Switzerland recognized the idea of its national identity in his work: independence, love for freedom, democracy persistence, etc.

spring-ferdinand-holder-1901

When the Germans bombed The Reims cathedral at the beginning of World War I, Hodler signed a protest of artists and intellectuals of Geneva (where he lived from 1872 until his death in 1918), against this ‘’barbaric act’’.
 
In Germany, a campaign was launched immediately against the artist praised until not long before that: They threw his paintings out of public places; they attacked him, everywhere, at occasion. His friends advised him to remove his signature from the ‘’ Geneva protest’’: he refused.

These unfortunate events coincided with the slow and painful death of his dearest Valentine to cancer. He truthfully expressed his feelings in almost two hundred paintings and drawings, considered by some to be ‘’the most dramatic series on the entire history of art’’. With an almost unbearable documentary brutality, he records the inexorable progress of her illness and suffering.
 
This exceptional series, was not only an escape from pain and grief, but it was part of his much wider reflection on death which, with its ghostly appearance in The Night, and as the common destiny for all in Eurhythmy and Tired of Life became with Valentine, the great stylizer, exposing the truth about the body and the face.

the-dying-valentine-gode-darel

The discovery of this series, Ein Maler von Liebe und Tot / A Painter before Love and Death,1976/1977, as well as the discovery of incredible expression and versatility of his portraits- Selbstbildnisse als Selbstbiographie / Self-portraits and Autobiography, Bern, 1979, for both again we owe gratitude to Jura Brüschweiler.
 
A historiographer of such format and such dedication is Hodler’s posthumous reward for his life.

ferdinand-hodler-selbstbildnisse-als-selbstbiographie-hodler-publikation-german-edition

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After Valentine had died, Hodler found peace in painting large horizontal of death flattening all the differences: it was the body of the beloved woman, and landscape including Earth and Heaven – the entire Universe.
 
For Hodler, landscape painting had a philosophical dimension. He thought that the painter had to reveal the laws of nature and of the world through a patient structured study of location. This order relies on parallelism, repetition and symmetry.
 
According to this artist landscape painting should ‘’show us nature made greater and simpler, pared of all insignificant details’’. The Hodlerian landscape is known for the elimination of all that is irregular and incidental and characterized by the suppression of aerial and chromatic perspective.

view-to-infinity

During the remaining three years of his life, Hodler painted his master-pieces, and he reached his peak in the last ten landscapes, made just before he died, with Mont Blanc at dusk and dawn.
 
These burning, cosmic landscapes lead Dieter Honisch to a daring conclusion that Hodler heralded the radicalism of Rhotko and Newmann: an image becomes “pure contemplation’’.

Beauty and celebration of light, which chased away the forces of darkness, goes beyond any individual destiny.

Let us recall the ancient teaching that only separate existence means suffering, and the return to the source, “the great unity’’ liberates us from the pain of confinement in the individual, the interim, and the transient.
 
Thus the drop returns to the Ocean, in order to free itself from its tiny I, and to immerse into the great Self.