BUDAPEST.- Budapest hosts an exhibition of the works of the Swiss symbolist painter Ferdinand Hodler for the first time. The exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts displays some 170 canvases and drawings that present an overall picture of the artists oeuvre who was active at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. An exhibition on Hodler equalling the scale of the one staged by the Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Kunstmuseum in Berne was last organised in Switzerland twenty-five years ago. No other Western European artist had had an oeuvre exhibition as comprehensive as the one on Hodler in the history of Hungarian museums.
The idea to stage an oeuvre exhibition on Hodler arose in Budapest and Berne gladly joined the project. The concept of the Museum of Fine Arts was to introduce Hodler who although lesser known in Hungary is revered in Europe as a pioneer of modernism by providing an overview of his oeuvre. The two museums undertook the joint task of presenting an analytical picture integrating the various aspects of Hodlers oeuvre and of adding new facets to the scientific research conducted on the artists oeuvre by including works that had not been seen for a long time. The exhibition in Budapest displays Hodlers most important figural compositions and most beautiful landscapes to illustrate the essence of his art, i.e. the creation of a vision of cosmic unity, and his unmistakably individual style.
A Symbolist Vision forms part of a series of exhibitions presenting great artist figures of Europe, such as Monet and Van Gogh, which the Museum of Fine Arts launched a few years ago. The next part of the series will be the Cézanne exhibition in 2011.
Ferdinand Hodler was born in 1853 in Berne and settled in Geneva in 1872, where he lived until his death. His subjects such as landscapes of the snow-capped Alps dotted with lakes, his portraits and his historical pictures made on commission established him as one of the leading artists of his country and one who attracted some loyal supporters at an early stage in his career. To this day by far the greater part of his extensive oeuvre is preserved in prominent Swiss museums and important private collections. In the early days of his career Hodler followed a realist approach but his landscapes and genre scenes soon revealed his desire to render ideals and the spiritual aspect of what he depicted rather than to create merely atmospheric compositions. It was primarily thanks to his friends in Geneva including some members of the literati associated with the symbolists of Paris that his art developed in the above direction and that his talent was eventually manifested in large figural monumental painting.
Hodler tried to provide a theoretical framework for his painting imbued with pantheism. Being enchanted with geometry and the newly emerged natural sciences he relied on the principle of parallelism derived from Nature which he applied in his compositions with increasing consistency, by applying techniques such as co-ordination, mirroring and symmetry.
Hodlers landscapes always met with great success; however, his monumental, symbolic figural canvases manifesting his individual style defined by his own choice of subjects, strict lines, forms and composition as well as arbitrarily applied colours won acclaim only when his painting entitled Night was exhibited first in Paris in 1891 and shortly after that in Munich, Venice, Berlin and Vienna. From the 1904 exhibition of the Vienna Secession which earned Hodler not only artistic but also financial recognition he was recognised as being one of the leading figures of the European Secession. From this time he was regularly invited to prominent exhibitions and received many awards. His artistic vision and unmistakably individual style exerted influence on Hungarian modernism.
He worked in seclusion in Geneva from 1914 until his death, mainly on his Gaze into Infinity, on an unfinished monumental figural composition entitled Blooming and his planetary landscapes. His last paintings depicting Lake Geneva and the Mont-Blanc Range at sunrise and in twilight markedly express his vision of Natures grand and joyous harmony.
The exhibition includes more than 120 paintings (many of which have been restored for this occasion), which are complemented by about forty drawings from the most prominent museums and private collections in Switzerland as well as by some canvases from German museums. A selection of the highest standard has been assembled by the curators in order to provide an overview of Hodlers oeuvre that places emphasis on the symbolist dimension of his art, culminating in masterpieces such as Night, Day, Emotion, Truth, Love, The Sacred Hour and Gaze into Infinity. Until now many of these works had not left the museums they had been preserved in for over fifty years. The exhibition devotes a special section to works with love and death as their central, symbolic theme, which Hodler rendered in an individual way in his paintings and drawings of his dying love Valérie Godé-Darel depicted in the successive stages of illness, agony and death.
All the above facilitate a better understanding of the path travelled by this pre-eminent artist, who was greatly influenced by the developments of the last quarter of the 19th century and those of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and whose unmistakable style and significance have been placed in a new light thanks to the new approach to symbolism and modern art, as well as to the revival of interest in the portrayal of man.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Katharina Schmidt, who was the director of Kunstmuseum Basel and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Basel from 1992 to 2001. For many years she worked as a museum director and curator. She has organised 19th-century classical Avant-garde and contemporary art exhibitions since 1972 on a regular basis.