While his early work bore opulent testimony to realism, in the 1890s Ferdinand Hodler took a turn towards Symbolism, a reaction to naturalism and materialism that was in the process of discovering its own mystico-spiritual motifs. Symbols served it in this pursuit as a means of expression and allowed it to create contexts in which it could represent the higher laws of the cosmos. Hodler developed his own theory, called ‘parallelism’, derived from the idea that the entire world was animated by one and the same organizing spirit. He saw the expression of such pantheism in the symmetrical structures of mountains, plants and living creatures.
In his painting The Day Hodler strove to represent, through this symmetrical composition, the entire existence of all things – mineral, organic and spiritual. Day as it dawns is symbolized by five young women, whom the artist has arranged on his monumental, landscape-format canvas in conformity with a strict central symmetry. They embody the individual phases of daybreak, from its first gleam to full daylight. The increasing brightness is mirrored in the posture of the various figures, their limbs unfolding like the petals of a blossom. The curve of the horizon and bright band of clouds reflects the course of their movement, which reaches its climax in the central figure, representing spirituality.
Opened in 1910, the Kunsthaus was dominated by Hodler’s modern painting until after the First World War. Today it houses an impressive collection of work by this outstanding Swiss artist, with a mural, historical paintings, portraits and many of his popular landscapes featuring mountains and lakes.
Hodler enjoyed international esteem during his lifetime.