Portrait to the grave: Ferdinand Hodler painted his beloved until the last day of her life
Portrait to the grave: Ferdinand Hodler painted his beloved until the last day of her life
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Hodler F. Portraits Valentin Gode-Darel

Few painters dared to depict the agony of loved ones. One of them, Monet, blamed himself for acting like an artist, admiring the light and shades of the beloved person's face. Looks like a Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler did not share the feelings of a colleague. He immortalized the fading of a young lover Valentin Gode-Darel, dying of cancer in the prime of life.

The Swiss artist was a realist and a mystic at the same time. On his canvases, the pose, gesture, lines are significant, the figures are symbolic. Hodler is changeable. In the later period of his work, the study of emotions reaches a particular height. What made him record the gradual and painful extinction of human life?

Ferdinand knew death from a young age. Tuberculosis took over almost his entire family when he was still a child. However, according to art critics, his paintings are "optimistic", and love and life are their main pathos. But death and life go hand in hand. Thus, Hodler's model and beloved Valentin Gode-Darel, from a series of paintings about a "having fun" woman, entered a completely different series.

Hodler F. Splendor of Lines (1908)

Frenchwoman Valentin Gode-Darel was much younger than Hodler. A porcelain artist and singer, in 1908 she became the artist's muse. A few years later, they had a daughter, Paulette, and Valentin learned her terrible diagnosis.

Hodler F. Portrait of Valentin Godet-Darel (1912) Hodler F. Portrait of Valentin Godet-Darel (1914)

At the end of 1914, Valentin realizes that her time is numbered. Ferdinand visits her every day and makes sketches of his former mistress almost every day. Her pale face, sunken eyes, open mouth speak of her suffering, decay.

Hodler F. Self-portrait (1914)

However, at the same time, he tries to strike up a relationship with Gertrude Müller and sends her a self-portrait with roses and a sly look, which is immediately returned to the author.

Hodler F. Portrait of Gertrude Müller (1911)

Gertrude was a freedom-loving and gifted woman. The irony is that it is she who will photograph the last hours of Hodler's life, playing the same role that the artist once did in Valentine's life.

Hodler F. Portrait of the dying Valentin Gode-Darel, January 24, 1915

Hodler created 18 portraits of the dying Valentine. Looking at these pictures, one gets the impression that while studying and displaying the last moments of a woman's life, he is actually not painting Valentine, but death, which is getting closer every day.

Portrait of the deceased Valentin Gode-Darel, January 26, 1915

Valentine died on January 24, 1915. And this moment was also artistically documented. Her posthumous portrait (created on January 26, the day after death) combined features of realism (even oncologists who analyzed Hodler's paintings recognized the "clinical" accuracy of details) and symbolism (composition of horizontal lines). If in other works the space was organized vertically (the female figures seem to freeze, rushing upward), then here is a completely different, contrasting principle, symbolizing death.

Hodler F. Portrait of Bert, wife (1894)

Ferdinand will outlive Valentine by only three years. He will die at the age of 65 in 1918. And his beloved daughter Paulette will be adopted and raised by his wife, Bert is one of the first models, whom he married in 1898.

Models suffering from a terrible ailment today strive to help and support those with whom trouble has happened. The job got social approval and popularity 17 year old girl with cancer.

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