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Ferdinand Hodler

Halberdier

Artist

Ferdinand Hodler
Bern 1853 – Geneva 1918

Title

Halberdier

Date

1895

Materials

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

327 x 108.3 cm

Credits

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

Collection

Western Art

Although best known for his Symbolist work, Ferdinand Hodler was also a great history painter. 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 pylon of the building, monumental painted figures of Swiss men and women were commissioned. Hodler received the commission for thirteen halberdiers, seven warriors, five artisans and a shepherd. Against all expectations, the organizing committee rejected eight of the artist’s paintings and required him to rework seven 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. This painting was raised like a flag to become a true emblem of Swiss national pride. With their costumes and attributes going back to the nation’s earliest days, these proud halberdiers 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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