His Most Famous Painting (The Woodcutter Or Der Holzfaller) – Ferdinand Hodler


Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) was a renowned Swiss painter and a lithographer. Lithography is a technique of producing paintings through chemical processes. In lithography, the printing is usually done via a stone or a metal plate with a smooth surface. Born to Jean Hodler, a carpenter, and Marguerite, Ferdinand belonged to a poor family. He had an unpalatable childhood, as his father and siblings died from tuberculosis. Later his mother also died, when he was still very young. The pain of this dispiriting and melancholic tragedy can be contemplated in Ferdinand’s paintings. The creator of “The Woodcutter,” Ferdinand Hodler received his first training on painting from Ferdinand Sommer (1822-1901), a painter from Thun, who specialized in portraying landscapes and mountains.

Ferdinand Hodler developed his own style of painting called ‘Parallelism,’ a combination of ‘Symbolism’ and ‘Art Nouveau.’ ‘Parallelism’ illustrated paintings in rhythmic patterns and linear structures, while in ‘Symbolism,’ the pictures were demonstrated in the form of symbols and characters. ‘Art Nouveau’ represented pictures in natural forms via leaves and flowers. Hodler had a great influence of ‘Realism’ and ‘Impressionism’ in his paintings, which unveiled strong human emotions. He often painted a single human being in audaciously colored background, as evident in “The Woodcutter.”

Ferdinand created his most famous painting “The Woodcutter (Der Holzfaller)” in 1908, when Banque Nationale Suisse (Swiss National Bank) commissioned him for illustrating the 50 and 100 Swiss Franc notes with some rural subject. This painting was for the 50 Franc notes. Post publishing, the artist however, was disappointed to see the small size of print stunting the meticulous ‘Expressionist’ details of the illustration. He therefore, reproduced his most esteemed work in 1910, as an oil on canvas painting. The work was an instant success and its several copies were ordered. Of these, one of the best-reproduced copies, measuring 130 cm x 101 cm, is presently displayed at Musee d’Orsay, since 2005.

“The Woodcutter” portrays a man, the woodcutter actually, standing diagonally with an axe held upright, gripped tight, with his left hand clasped above the right one. The man powerfully stands in between the vertical tree trunks and ‘symbolizes’ a luminary figure. He is portrayed exhibiting an unmatched potency. The background of “The Woodcutter” is ashy and the skyline is quite low. This heightens the woodcutter’s notable personality. The blue and grey colored sky eases the onlookers. His most famous painting, “The Woodcutter” ‘symbolizes’ the style of Ferdinand Hodler, which he adopted towards the last phase of his career. This unmatched and excellent piece of art bridges ‘Symbolism’ and ‘Expressionism.’

Along with “The Woodcutter,” a few other paintings, such as ‘Veritable icons’ and ‘Reaper’ are Ferdinand’s easel paintings that have ten versions for the same theme. Hodler died on May 19, 1918, in Geneva.

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