Ferdinand Hodler embraced self-portraiture with a particular intensity in his final years. In these late self-portraits, nothing remains to distract from the artist’s face: Hodler has arrived at a masterly fusion of realism and introspection. The painter models his own furrowed and often serious visage in the manner of an Alpine landscape, employing an increasingly visible brush stroke.
With his panoramic vistas of soaring peaks and mountain ranges, Ferdinand Hodler succeeded like no other artist in capturing the essence of the Swiss Alpine landscape. In his late works, Hodler took up and developed many of the motifs found in his earlier oeuvre, including Lake Thun and the Stockhorn mountains, the Dents du Midi, the Grammont and the Jungfrau. But his repertoire also included cropped and detail views, as in his series of pictures of mountain streams near Champéry. Hodler also chose a close-up view in his painting of the imposing Jungfrau massif with the Schwarzmönch in the foreground, seen as if magnified with binoculars. The two peaks are rendered all the more majestic by the breath-taking immediacy of their presence.
Hodler’s mountain views have often been interpreted as self-portraits: the solitary peak as an allegory of human vitality and steadfastness, but also as a symbol of the solitude of the individual.
In the last months of his life, Ferdinand Hodler devoted himself almost exclusively to capturing the view of Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc at different times of the day. His poor state of health meant that he could rarely leave his Geneva apartment, and so he painted what he could see from his window. The result was his famous series of over 20 canvases, in which he explores the interplay of mountains, water and sky in changing light conditions.
An important model for many of his figural portraits, Valentine Godé-Darel was also Ferdinand Hodler’s lover and the mother of his daughter Paulette. When she gave birth to their child on 13 October 1913, she had already been diagnosed with cancer. She died on 25 January 1915. Hodler visually chronicled this conjunction of birth, illness and death more extensively than any other chapter in his life, in a series of drawings and paintings in which he recorded and in so doing processed the inexorable progress of Valentine Godé-Darel’s terminal illness. This now famous cycle has lost none of its disturbing character. What moved Hodler to make these intimate pictures, observed with such relentless accuracy, of the suffering and death of someone so dear to him, is a question that can probably never be answered.
The monumental View to Infinity, which measures over 14 ½ feet high and almost 30 feet long, is seen here for the first time in many years. The work was originally planned as a wall painting for the stairwell of the Kunsthaus Zürich. It turned out to be too big, however, and eventually found its way into the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung in Basel. View to Infinity represents a fascinating constellation of two of Hodler’s major themes: woman and death. For Hodler saw a close association between infinity and death: “[Death] is terrible and yet beautiful, because it connects the individual to the whole; because it is at once the mystery and the infinite; and because it exists.”