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Ferdinand Hodler and Modernist Berlin

Ferdinand Hodler was Switzerland's most famous painter - and a significant figure in early modernism

Image for Ferdinand Hodler and Modernist Berlin

Photo: The Day / Kustmuseum Bern

Switzerland’s most famous painter was a significant figure in the early days of modernism and a mainstay in the galleries of Berlin from 1880 until his death in 1918.

Up until now, little research has gone into his popularity in the city – something that this exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie intends to rectify. In more than 50 paintings, we see the painter move towards what he termed ‘parallelism’. Many of his paintings are noticeably symmetrical, emphasising the balance and rhythm which he believed formed the basis of human society. His landscapes, made around his home on Lake Geneva, are stark and beautiful.

In his own words, they “reveal nature magnified and simplified, liberated from detail”. Yet it is the vividness of the portraits that are most impactful. Their lithe female forms, alive with movement and dance, reveal his almost reverential enthusiasm for his subject matter.

The show has been well put together: directly opposite ‘The Night’, with its strange mixture of eroticism and nightmare, hangs ‘Day’, which features the painter’s own wife and radiates a near psychedelic lustre.