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Ferdinand Hodler



Ferdinand Hodler
Bern 1853 – Geneva 1918






Oil on canvas


327 x 108.3 cm


Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, inv. 2005.175


Western Art

Although best known for his Symbolist work, Hodler was also a great history painter. Switzerland organized ambitious national exhibitions. In 1896, a vast and palatial fine arts pavilion was built in Geneva to house two immense retrospectives of Swiss art. For the decoration of each exterior pylons of the building, monumental figures of Swiss men and women were commissioned. Hodler received the commission for 13 halberdiers, 7 warriors, 5 artisans and a shepherd. Hodler wrote: “I must work fast. The figures are executed so as to be seen from a great distance, that is to say, with clearly defined outlines.” Against all expectations, the organizing committee rejected 8 of the artist’s paintings and required him to rework 7 more. Hodler spoke publicly: confronting the officials, he defended the cause of contemporary Swiss art. These figures mark a turning point in the artist’s style, which became balanced and even simplistic. The Symbolist abstraction of the background landscape contrasts with the violent colour. This painting was raised like a flag to become a true emblem of Swiss national pride. The critics hastened to proclaim Hodler the Swiss painter par excellence. This “Helvetic” interpretation reflects the new Switzerland, joined together by the unification of 1848 and still proud of its ancient Republic. With their costumes and attributes going back to the nation’s earliest days, these proud halberdiers, all strongly individualized, express the feeling of patriotism. They also reflect the rise of history painting at the turn of the century, revived by the resurgence of nationalist sentiments in Europe.

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