Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)
Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)

Thunersee mit Niesen

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)
Thunersee mit Niesen
signed and dated 'F. Hodler 1910' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23¾ x 43½ in. (60.3 x 110.5 cm.)
Painted in 1910
Ernst Flersheim, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (by 1911).
Spoliated as a result of Nazi Persecution 1937-1939.
Private collection, Germany.
Galerie Nathan, Zurich.
Private collection, New York (acquired from the above, 1981).
A Charitable Trust, USA (by descent from the above and sold in cooperation with the heirs of Ernst Flersheim).
C.A. Loosli, Ferdinand Hodler. Leben, Werk und Nachlass, Bern, 1924, vol. 4, no. 2090.
W.Y. Müller, Die Kunst Ferdinand Hodlers: Gesamtdarstellung, vol. II, Reife und Spätwerk 1895-1918, Zurich, 1941, p. 441, no. 409.
J. Brüschweiler, "Lo vivido y lo creado. Ensayo sobre algunas fuentes existenciales de la pintura hodleriana," in exh. cat. Ferdinand Hodler, Madrid, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación "la Caixa," 2001 (illustrated p. 15).
J. Brüschweiler, "Genèse du style dans le paysage," in O. Bätschmann et al, Ferdinand Hodler. Le paysage, Paris, 2003 (illustrated in color p. 26).
Frankfurt, Kunstverein, Ferdinand Hodler. Ein Überblick über das gesamte bisherige Schaffen Ferdinand Hodlers in ausgewählten Werken seiner Hand, 1911, no. 69.

Lot Essay

*This lot may be exempt from sales tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice in the back of the catalogue.

The present work will be included in the forthcoming Hodler catalogue raisonné prepared by the Swiss Institute for Art Research. The painting is registered as no. 81781 with the Institute as a genuine work by Ferdinand Hodler.

The present painting takes as its subject the mountain of the Niesen which stands over Lake Thun in the Swiss Alps at a height of over two thousand three hundred meters. The striking pyramidal form of the Niesen has inspired many artists since the beginning of the seventeenth-century, amongst them Hodler's fellow native of Bern, Paul Klee, whose watercolor of the subject is today housed in the Kunstmuseum in Bern. Hodler, twenty-six years Klee's senior and at the time of the present work's execution the preeminent Swiss artist, made a series of paintings of the Niesen around 1910.

Hodler had first treated the imposing form of the Niesen from as early as 1870, but between 1909 and 1911 it became his focus in a series of eleven paintings. In the present work Hodler reaches a degree of stylization that exceeds the celebrated versions in the museums of Basel and Aarau. Here the strong horizontal of the shoreline, echoed by the reflections in the water, divides the painting in two and establishes a resolute contrast between the two sections. The strict symmetry of the composition is only slightly softened by the chain of hills at the foot of the mountain. With a dramatically lit background the pyramidal Niesen rises above the immobilized water surface like a symbol of elementary power. Hodler described his notion of Art (Kunstauffassung) with his own term of "Parallelismus," meaning the practice of repeating forms in order to increase the impact of the image and the intensity of the visualization of the inherent laws of nature. The present painting illustrates wonderfully the role of symmetry as a feature of Parallelismus, and in an exemplary way Hodler has managed to transcribe universally and long-admired triangular form of a mountain--the real form--into an unmistakable vision of his own art.

Hodler's strongest initial influence came from the Barbizon tradition in France, introduced to him through his teacher Barthélemy Menn, a friend of Corot. His early subjects were country dwellers and workers of rural Switzerland, infusing the paintings with a deep sense of Swiss tradition and history. However, paintings like Die Nacht of 1889-1890 witnessed a shift away from the realist, anecdotal approach towards his more mature Symbolist-inspired idiom. It was this new style which won Hodler an international audience and his first success in Paris. Through such monumental works as Eurhytmie (Kunstmuseum, Berne), Der Tag ( Kunstmuseum, Basel), Heilige Stunde (Kunstmuseum, Kiel) , Empfindung (Switzerland, Private collection), Blick in die Unendlichkeit (Kunstmuseum, Basel), Hodler grew into a hugely important contributor to the Symbolist movement, with his metaphysical aspirations considered by many as important to the fin-de-siècle avant-garde as the psychological insights of Munch. Following Gustav Klimt's invitation to the Vienna Secession in 1904, Hodler's position among the foremost artists of his generation was secured, with his popularity spreading rapidly, particularly in German-speaking Europe. Important commissions for, amongst other projects, major murals in Hanover and Jena, reflected the esteem in which he was held by German collectors in particular. Another version of the Niesen was sent by Hodler as his submission to the Armory Show in 1913.

Only a year after its execution, the present painting, Thunersee mit Niesen, was included in the 1911 Hodler retrospective staged by the Frankfurter Kunstverein im Städel. The lenders to the exhibition were given as the Frankfurt collector brothers Martin and Ernst Flersheim, although the picture was in fact owned by Ernst alone. It hung in the family home at 32 Myliusstrasse, which in the nineteenth-century had been the home of Clara Schumann from 1878-1896. This was the last time the present work was seen in public until today.

Paul Müller, Projektleiter Oeuvrekatalog Ferdinand Hodler.

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