GENEVA, SITZERLAND.- Sotheby's Zurich Spring sale of Swiss art, to be held on Tuesday May 31, 2005, will include Paysage près de Château-d'Oex, a masterpiece by the internationally renowned Swiss artist, Ferdinand Hodler. Urs Lanter, Sotheby's expert in charge of the sale said: "Painted around 1905 when Hodler was at the pinnacle of his career, Paysage près de Château-d'Oex is one of the artist's finest landscape paintings. We are proud to offer this Hodler landscape, the most important to come up for sale at Sotheby's since 1998. What is more, having been in the ownership of a private Swiss collection for three generations, the painting has not been seen in public for more than 50 years." The public will have a unique opportunity to view and admire this marvellous landscape - estimated to fetch between 1.8 and 2.5 million Swiss francs* - as it travels to Zurich, St Moritz, Basel and Geneva during the pre-sale exhibition.
Landscapes were a recurring theme throughout Ferdinand Hodler's artistic career. He was born in 1853 in a poor quarter of Bern and at the age of 14, having lost both his parents, became an apprentice painter on the shores of Lake Thun. This close-up view of the mountains introduced him to nature, a theme that was to remain a fascination and inspiration for the rest of his life. In 1871, he moved to Geneva to copy the paintings of Alexandre Calame, François Diday and Charles Humbert, immersing himself in their romantic representation of nature. It was during this period that he met and started studying under Barthélemy Menn, to whom he declared his eternal gratitude. As the years progressed, Hodler refined his technique and developed his own more stylised, less realist means of expression. In 1900, he won a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris with three works: Le Jour, La Nuit and L'Eurythmie. In 1904, he was guest of honour at the XIX exhibition of the Vienna Secession, which he had joined in 1900. The event, showing 31 of his works, established Hodler as a major force in European painting. In 1917, a huge retrospective of his painting was organised by the Zurich Kunsthaus. One year later, Hodler was named an honorary citizen of Geneva, where he died on May 19, 1918. In the twilight of his life, Hodler painted a series of landscapes of Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc in the background, as seen from his window.
Paysage près de Château-d'Oex was executed circa 1905 when Hodler was at the peak of his career. With nature as his model, his application of layer upon layer of paint gave his landscapes a unique style. His continual search for simplicity and clarity is particularly evident in the relatively sober surface of his canvases. Renouncing figurative allegory, he attempted to depict nature in its purest state as a means of capturing and reproducing its "immortality" and "eternal beauty". The majestic silhouetted mountains symbolise the immensity of nature in its most sublime form. In this sense, Hodler was attempting the same in his landscape painting as Paul Cézanne, the father of modern painting, in works such as Mont St-Victoire, painted in 1904. Other Ferdinand Hodler paintings similar to Paysage près de Château-d'Oex include Les Vierges de Isenfluh, dated 1902 and now in the public collection of the Basel Kunstmuseum, and Vue du Blüemlisalp, which was completed around 1902-1903 and is on loan to the St Gallen Art Museum from the Gottfried Keller Foundation.
Certain landscapes filled Hodler with a cosmic sense. In 1897, he wrote "The only true work of art is that which germinates in the mind and the heart. It is the highest vision. The person with this gift has a premonition of a harmony he cannot define. He has opened his eyes to see what he loved. All he needs now is an opportunity to translate this harmony in a way that can be understood by others."