Peasant on the road
Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)

Peasant on the road, Ca. 1881.

Oil on canvas, H. 0.33 m; W. 0.40 m

Signed lower left: F. Hodler.
Inscription in pencil on the stretcher: appartient à F. Laem[…]

Three labels on the back:

  • the number 822
  • F. HODLER exposition commémorative 1918-1938 / catalogue no. : 45/1890 / titre : Le paysan sur la route / Propriétaire : M. Alfred Dimier / Galerie Moos – Genève – Mai-Juin 1938
  • Kunstverein Oberaargau / Hodler und der Oberaargau / Langenthal, 1992 / Katalog Nr. 108 / Titel: Blick gegen Kirche / Langenthal, 2. Fassung

Provenance: Collection F. Laem[…], Geneva
Mr. Bastard, Geneva
Acquired in 1923 by Alfred Dimier (died in 1952), Geneva; in an inventory of his collection, completed in the 1930s, our painting is listed under no. 822: « Paysage avec église et paysan Berne »
Subsequently by descendance.


Oskar Bätschmann, Paul Müller, Ferdinand Hodler. Catalogue raisonné der Gemälde. Band 1, Die Landschaften, Zurich, 2008, t. 1, p. 138-139, no. 97 [SIK 71007] (ill.).

An orphan at 14 years old, Ferdinand Hodler started as a painter of signs, and later a painter of “Swiss panoramas” for tourists in Thun. Having come to Geneva in 1872, he studied under Barthélemy Menn (1815-1893) for five years, an artist who had studied with Ingres and was a friend of Corot’s. In five years, Menn made Hodler into an artist who quickly affirmed his own personality in landscape painting, portraiture, and large-scale compositions. He was inspired by the common people, had a drawing style that was both rigorous and strong; his compositions were clean and balanced, with tones that were dark and low-key in his early works. A trip to Madrid helped lighten his palette and confirmed his liberation as an artist.

Landscapes allowed Hodler to channel his powerful temperament, while satisfying his need for harmony. Trees and rivers, mountains and lakes, were his favorite motifs, which he endlessly revisited and transformed. A classical sense of balance determined how he framed his compositions and how he arranged the shapes of his lakes from a horizontal point of view, so as to reflect the mountain ranges crowned with clouds.

With his frank vision, free of all illusionist rendering of space, he brought about a formal new order. Although very isolated, Hodler stimulated a generation of German and Austrian expressionists and is counted among the precursors of 20th century by his contribution to the dawning “1900s style”, and moreover by a component that was entirely his own: monumentality.

The composition of our painting is firmly structured, and its symmetry reveals Hodler’s “parallelism”, as early as 1881. This principle of composition consists in repeating similar shapes to give the piece an architectonic and decorative unity. A lightly plunging horizontal line cuts the painting in two equal parts. On practically the entire length of this line, Langenthal houses are arranged, scattered with trees, leading to the bell tower, which ends the composition on the right. The country road upon which the old man walks towards the viewer creates a powerful effect of perspective. The vanishing point is the end of the road, at which the lines converge. The two vertical figures – the peasant and the bell tower – naturally echo one another.

Langenthal is a village in the canton of Bern where Hodler’s uncle, Friedrich Neukomm (1832-1895), resided. The brother of his mother, Neukomm took in Hodler’s brothers and sisters following the death of their parents. Although far from a portrait, the figure of the peasant might have been inspired by this uncle.