Ferdinand Hodler - Giulia Leonardi, 1910-1911
Oil on canvas
45 x 50.8 cm
Hodler depicts his model from the front, displaying the upper torso with her head turned in profile. Her dark, full hair falls onto her bare shoulders and because of her turned head becomes the eye-catcher of the painting. The liveliness of the painting seems to come from two things: her, seemingly abrupt, head-turning motion, as well as her gaze that seems to look at something outside and to the left of the painting. Several asymmetrical elements add to the dynamic of this painting: her hand, her drooping shoulder on one side as well as the background. A brown vertical strip on the left side, as well as a slanted line that seems to cut out a red triangular form are the only indicators of what the interior looks like. A protruding muscle in her neck, situated in the middle of the painting, stands out and forms a vertical shadow that seems to divide the painting. From the left, the light shines onto the incarnate, accentuating it with yellow and green tones, while the face is kept in red.
The woman depicted is Angela Giulia Leonardi (born as Gallo, 1878-1942) an Italian woman from Alessandria. Hodler met her in 1910 in Geneva, where she was part of a guitar quartet together with her husband. She was his favorite model and it is said that Hodler paid her five Swiss francs per day regardless if she was modeling or not that day. Leonardi served as a model for a lot of different compositions of figures in Hodler’s more symbolic paintings; examples such as "Schreitendes Weib" and "La Romanichelle". Besides these two, he painted seventeen "Modelbildnisse" like the one presented here, between the years 1910 and 1911. Some of the works served as inspiration for later paintings, but they are primarily independent artworks, not studies. In these portraits of Giulia Leonardi, Hodler experimented with different formal possibilities that occur by shifting, turning and tilting the head in regards to the square of the painting.
Hodler altered many of his paintings after finishing and even framing them. Small traces of paint on the left edge of the painting indicate that this was also the case in this painting. More traces can be found on her right shoulder, where he added green paint to deepen the shadow. He accidentally overpainted the “F.” in his signature, which today can only be seen with infrared light.
This and other artworks by Ferdinand Hodler are currently on view in our showroom at Rämistrasse 3 in Zurich.