Hodler and Fin-de-siècle art

Swiss art first achieved international recognition at the turn of the century with Ferdinand Hodler (1853–1918). His oeuvre, represented by an important work group, is located at the threshold to modernism. Also belonging to this heyday of international art, are the works by Augusto Giacometti (1877–1947), Cuno Amiet (1868–1961), and Giovanni Giacometti (1868–1933). They are supplemented in the St. Gallen collection through cross references with the European avant-garde; Edvard Munch (1863–1944), Max Liebermann (1847–1935), and Lovis Corinth (1858–1925).

Ferdinand Hodler rose to fame mainly through his symbolist figure compositions, which are well represented with the first version of Lied aus der Ferne (1906)—as well as the early genre depictions, landscapes, portraits, and self-portraits and the moving paintings of his beloved, the dying Valentine Godé-Darel. In the monumental figure compositions, the decorative arabesque is connected with an idealization in terms of content. Influenced by Jugendstil, Hodler shaped the depthless picture surface with ornamental patterns and allowed the severe play of lines, defined by eurhythmics, to become the conclusive bearer of emotion and allegorical meaning. 

The late landscapes, such as the well-known Lauterbrunner Breithorn, appear reduced in terms of form. In St. Gallen, an impressive first version of this work from 1911 is found together with an exquisite group of landscapes. The tectonics of the rock massif emerges with powerful brush strokes and come to a climax in a powerful ridge overarched by a radiant blue sky: the mountain as symbol of the sublime Alpine landscape, the sky as symbol of the universe.

The piercing self-inquiry, which Hodler confronts us with in a late self-portrait (1917), is also present in a German masterpiece, Selbstbildnis mit schwarzem Hut und Stock by Lovis Corinth from 1911. In this work, the artist is depicted at the peak of his creation in the year that he overtook the chair of the Berlin Secession. He presents himself self-confidently with a walking stick, portraying himself more as a man of independent means than artist.  The face is modeled with powerful brush strokes, whereas clothing and background are painted flatly, directing the attention of the beholder to the countenance. Hodler, Corinth, and Munch, who is included in the collection with his portrait of Wilhelm Wartmann from St. Gallen, present us with art poised at the beginning of a new epoch—the modern era.