Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Box

Copyright, Jim Lane
Wright's Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, ca. 1935-55. At first glance,                 
it would that there are no "boxes" here; but if one looks closely,                
they're present, just heavily disguised.             
Fallingwater, a good place to begin.
One of the goals in our recent cross-country jaunt this spring was to see this country at something less than 30,000 feet (at times we got almost that high, though). For me personally, it was to immerse myself in the work of my favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Before, I'd only seen his Fallingwater on Bear Run in southwestern Pennsylvania, and that had been thirty-some years ago (probably time to go back and see if it's still there). Although his 1935-37 architectural masterpiece was an excellent place to start in the pursuit of Wright and his theories, it was, nonetheless, only a beginning. My son is stationed in the U.S. Air Force just outside Phoenix, which is just outside Scottsdale, which is just outside Wright's winter home, Taliesin West. I bored him to death as he accompanied me on a two or three hour exploration of the place. Then, passing through Wisconsin on the way home a few weeks later, I spent most of another day getting to know the original Taliesin just outside Spring Green in the southeastern quadrant of that state. And finally a few days later amid Wright's old "stomping ground" in Chicago's Oak Park, I toured the iconic Robie House.
The  Winslow House floor plan,
1893, arranging boxes.
The Winslow House, Oak Park,
Illinois, rectangles upon rectangles.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than a thousand structures during his career spanning more than seventy years, of which some some 532 were built. Of those, about 480 still survive in one form or another; so I have my work cut out for me in any future exploration of Wright's work. I hesitate to call myself an "expert" on Wright, but I've gotten to the point of sometimes adding commentary to the memorized spiel of tour guides, sometimes even almost to the point of correcting them (or wishing to). I guess it could be said I've reached the level of being able to ask intelligent questions of the tour guides, ones they very often are unprepared to answer.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Hillside House, Spring Green, Wisconsin, ca. 1902, at best, a compromise with the "box."
The drafting studio is on the upper level to the left, the dining hall and
auditorium are on the lower level on the right.
My most persistent question in touring Wright's architectural artifacts was this: "Why did it take Wright so long to discover the curve?" As early as 1902, with his design for what's come to be known as "Hillside House" (or home or school) Wright claimed to have "broken free of the box." While at Taliesin I visited Hillside House (below). It's currently the home of the Taliesin Fellowship when they're in town during the summer. It now featuress a large drafting hall, a dining room, kitchen, and small auditorium. It is an important Wright structure, much modified and enlarged since 1902; and one can easily see how Wright might have considered himself liberated from the proverbial "box" when one compares it to his 1890 vintage Winslow House (above). Yet despite his boast, any "freedom" Wright may have felt in escaping the box was more on the order of a compromise rather than an escape. In looking over the vast array of Wright's structures from that time on, until shortly after WW II when the Guggenheim first began taking shape in Wright's fertile mind, he shows little or no evidence of "box rejection" in any of his designs.

The origin of Wright's captivity within the box? Taliesin West suggests it may
have started in his childhood with a set of toy blocks like these.
I used the word "compromise" above with respect to the fact that Wright, with his love of diagonals and soaring interior spaces, could easily be said to have very much modified the traditional architectural box, for the most part making it longer, lower, and flatter, emphasizing the horizontal over the vertical. However, outright rejection or "escape" was more a figment of Wright's massive imagination and ego than reality. It's hard to escape from a mindset embedded in one's psyche from childhood when Wright's mother is said to have provided him with a set of toy building blocks (virtually all cubical in shape). Taliesin West displays a set of such blocks (above) from the 1870s, suggesting the seminal influence they played in Wright's decision to study architecture.

The Robie House, 1912, Oak Park, Illinois, the creative use of cubes.
It's little wonder their gift shop sells a Lego version of the house.
The "box" has been a mainstay of human habitation for so many thousands of years for one overriding reason. It is the most stable, the most economical, the most practical interior space known to man. The human mind (if not the human feet as well) prefer a flat, level surface upon which to walk. Likewise, the human mind, gravity, and that flat walking surface, indeed the basic human anatomy, tends to prefer vertical walls. That pretty much eliminates all shapes besides cubes and cylinders. However, cylinders have no corners and thus tend to waste space needed for out-of-the-way storage of the "stuff" human beings build structures to protect in the first place. So, the box it is. As it evolved, architecture became the art and science of arranging, stacking, lighting, waterproofing, fireproofing, and decorating structurally sound amalgamations of varying numbers of cubes--boxes.

The Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, Tempe, Arizona,
designed, 1959, completed 1962-64. Freedom from the box, the luxury of  the curve.
The Guggenheim Museum, 1959, New York,
Wright's cyclonic escape from the box.
That's not to say architects never thought "outside the box," as indeed, Wright finally did during the last decade or so of his career. But before Wright, seldom were such mental meanderings much more than attempts to break the monotony of the cube or provide a much-needed pivotal center of interest. Such shapes included the aforementioned cylinder, the dome, the pyramid, and the cone, all of which have had brief supporting or decorative roles in the history of architecture. Yet they only serve to underline what a startling departure New York's Guggenheim Museum (left) was for Wright personally and modern architecture in general. From that point on, Wright began to employ curves of varying degrees of "radicality" in structures such as Milwaukee's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (below), the Marin County Civic Center, Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas, the Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium (above), Tempe, Arizona, and the Monona Terrace Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin. All were completed shortly before and some well after Wright's death in 1959. However in all my travels, in all my intimate explorations of Wright's persistent boxes, I've never once come upon anyone who could explain why Wright took so long to discover the curve.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
designed 1956, built, 1959-61. Hardly a box in sight.

Goodbye Bauhaus, goodbye FLW; hello Frank Gehry.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Villard de Honnecourt

Copyright, Jim Lane
Self-portrait Using Mirror, 1963,
Jim Lane, from sketchbook.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The Artist's Sister, 1963,
Jim Lane, from sketchbook.
I don't imagine there's an artist alive today, or for that matter, any artist who ever lived, who didn't keep a sketchbook in some form. When I use the word "keep," I mean it in a dual sense, first of all in creating the sketchy contents of such a volume, and secondly, in literally keeping it. Artists are very reluctant to destroy their work. I happens sometimes...and has happened, especially when an artist wants too make a complete break with his or her past. But by and large, keeping a sketchbook has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. Doing so allows the artist to reminisce, to see where they came from, how they started, and how far they've come. My own first sketchbook dates from about 1963 (above left and right). I was not quite eighteen at the time. It's mostly filled with pencil drawings (too "finished" to be considered sketches) based upon wallet-size school pictures of my friends, or young movie stars from fan magazines (the photos were larger and more professional).

The Villard de Honnecourt Sketchbook, 1220-40--evidence of an inquiring mind.
Villard de Honnecourt
Sketchbook. Image 48
My sketchbook just turned fifty-one. The French artist, Villard de Honnecourt's sketchbook is approaching eight-hundred years of age. It dates from a period about 1220 to 1240. I don't usually write about artists of whom so little is known. In fact, what little we do know about this artist derives almost exclusively from his 33-page sketchbook and its 250 individual images (above). As medieval sketchbooks go, that's really quite a tome, but, except for some marginal notes written in (very old) French or Latin, there's really not much in the archives of traditional art history about the man. We do know he was from Picardy in northern France. His sketchbook was discovered around 1850 and quite frankly, many of the annotations raise far more questions than they answer. We can gather from his sketches and drawings that he seemed to be quite intelligent, with broad interests in all the arts and sciences, particularly mechanics and architecture. However the book also contains animal drawings of everything from lions to a snail.

"Green Man" or anthropomorphic images from Honnecourt's sketchbook.
Villard de Honnecourt Sketchbook,
Image 04. Medieval crucifixions
were often grossly contorted.
Some have suggested de Honnecourt was an itinerant architect, others an engineer or sculptor. I'm thinking maybe he was little more than a medieval tourist badly in need of a camera to conveniently record what he encountered. Actually, except for the part about needing a camera, there's little, other than his sketchbook, to add validity to any of these conjectures. He seems to have been intensely curious, fairly adept at observational drawing, and a better-than-average draughtsman. As seen in his cruicifixion (left) he also seems to have been a man in desperate need of some anatomy lessons (below, right). We can probably assume him to be relatively young and rather robust in that distant travel during the 13th-century was not for those weak in body, mind, or spirit. In short, it would seem he was cut from the same cloth as Leonardo da Vinci minus the benefits of the Italian Renaissance.

A trebuchet is a war machine, in this case some kind of medieval catapult.
Although most of de Honnecourt's sketchbook
drawings tend toward the mechanical, he did seem
to have and interst in learning anatomy as well
Among de Honnecourt's numerous mechanical engineering drawings we find a perpetual motion machine (we're still working on that one), a water-driven saw, a number of automata (crude robotic toys), lifting devices, war engines, even a drawing of an early escapement mechanism (vital to clockworks). None of these were necessarily "firsts," and there's no indication any of them ever reached the stage of working models, but suffice to say the man had a working knowlege of mechanics far beyond that which was common for his time. Whether he designed (invented) any of these thinsd, or simply recorded having encountered them in his travels. is uncertain, and largely irrelevant in any case.

Plan of the choir of the cathedral of Meaux, de Honnecourt Sketchbook, ca. 1230
Transverse section  of Reims Cathedral
illustrating the flying buttress,
de Honnecourt Sketchbook 1230
Honnecourt's familaritiy with Gothic architecture seems to go well beyond simple observation. His notes refer to words (in ancient French) like ligement (plan), montee (elevation), cretiaus (crenulation) suggesting he may, in fact, have coined some of them. If nothing else, this suggests the state of the art in achitecture during the 13th-century, when architects very often were literally builders (journeymen carpenters, masons, and stonecutters) who also happened to have the knack of rendering their ideas on paper (parchment in the case of Honnecourt). Though most of Honnecourt's travels seem to have involved eclesiastical venues in France, he boasts having traveled to Hungary, though once more we're left wondering "why." I wonder if, perhaps, someday some art historian will stumble upon my enigmatic sketchbooks and ask the same question.

Villard de Honnecourt Sketchbook, Image 27, ca. 1230

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Worst Movie Ever?

Hollywood at its best.
About three months ago, on our 42-day cross-country jaunt as we set out to "See the USA in our Chevrolet Toyota" we spent three days in Los Angeles--two in visiting LACMA and the Getty Center. The third day we visited that great cultural icon, Universal City. Inasmuch as my wife's legs (she's had two knee replacements) aren't what they ought to be, we cringed and paid the outrageous sum of $350 each for the VIP tour. After the fact, we decided it was money well spent (my own legs ain't what they used to be either). There was little or no standing in line at attractions, we got a peek at behind-the-scene movie making, had a wonderful buffet lunch, and best of all, got to ride instead of walk all over the hilly, 415-acre amusement park. It was a 90-degree day, California sunny, and probably neither of us would have made it though the ordeal otherwise.
A Hollywood screamer--the worst movie ever made?
One of the most interesting highlights of our tour was our guide, Lary (one "R"). If you read this, Lary, sorry I can't recall your last name. The group we were in numbered about twelve so I got to talk with him extensively. He was around fifty and had been in the entertainment industry for thirty years or more. He knew Universal and the movies from the inside out and was a treasure trove of movie trivia, far overshadowing my own considerable stash of worthless motion picture tidbits. I asked him if he'd ever been in a movie (virtually everyone in Hollywood has been in at least one picture at some point in the life). He smiled rather sheepishly and admitted, perhaps with a bit of improvised embarrassment, that he'd once had a bit part (meaning a speaking role) in what is, arguably, the worst movie ever made, the infamous 1977, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
A musical comedy, more unintentionally comical than musical.
I asked, but I can't recall now what part Lary (one "R") played. I've searched the cast and can find no "Lary" (one "R"), so like half the people in Hollywood, my guess is he's probably changed his name (and not without good reason if you've ever seen the movie). I've seen it three or four times. At one point I "taught" it as part of an Introduction to Film course at our local community college. It was part of a unit on cult films. It's right up there with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. Strangelove, and Casablanca (though well beneath them). It's more in the same class with The Blob, Creature from the Dark Lagoon, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and Glen or Glenda, all of which some might argue deserve the designation "worst movie ever made." I disagree. Killer Tomatoes is in a class by itself. All the others mentioned were, admittedly, low-budget travesties, but the difference in them and Tomatoes is that John DeBello's Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was born and raised to deliberately be flat-out AWFUL.

The Victims--no bloodshed, not even tomato juice.
The critics echoed the words
at the top of the showbill.
First of all, the premise was simply silly. Though once thought to be poisonous, so far as I know, tomatoes have never been guilty of killing anyone (a little heartburn, maybe). Second, the movie is billed as a musical comedy, which may be the most comedic aspect of the film. What little music there might be, beyond any reasonable doubt, is the absolutely WORST music ever written for a motion picture. The theme song during the opening credits is laughable, the movie's other "big hit," Puberty Love, is simply painful. To spread the blame around, besides writing, producing, and directing (aided and abetted by Costa Dillon and Stephen Peace), DeBello also "composed" the music, and served as film editor. The film starred David Miller, George Wilson, and the aforementioned Costa Dillon, as well as my good friend, (one "R") Lary.
The Killer Tomato stars, Mason Dixon
played by David Miller and Lt. Finletter
played by "Rock" Peace.
I could get involved at this point in discussing the plot, but suffice to say it was as silly stupid as everything else about the movie. The title, in fact, pretty much says it all as the President of the United States (played by Ernie Myers) appoints an ex-CIA operative named Mason Dixon (yes, Mason Dixon) to stop the vegetable scourge (tomatoes are really a fruit, you know). Parodies abound, some intended to be funny, some unintentionally funnier). One of Mason Dixon's assistants is a black master of disguise who appears at various times in the movie as George Washington, Adolph Hitler, and Abraham Lincoln. I recall first seeing the film shortly after it came out in 1978, for me the most memorable scene being a conference with five or six men sitting around a table in a room so small they had to crawl over the table in order to get in and out. I'm talking really low budget here, folks.
The killer tomatoes take another round. The accident that tripled the budget.
Although I don't personally recall the incident, the scene often cited as being most memorable was not part of the original screenplay (using the term very loosely). A light helicopter was suppose to land in a tomato field (who cares why) but during shooting, its tail rotor accidentally struck the ground, causing it to spin out of control, crash, and burn. The pilot escaped injury; the whole thing caught on film. The crash was written into the script as the tomatoes fighting back a human invasion of their homeland. The cost of the aircraft added $60,000 to the film's $90,000 budget. By the way, the picture earned $567,000 at the box office and has spawned three movie sequels and a TV series, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon series. Someone once defined "kitsch" as art so bad it's good. The film's most famous line: "Say, will someone please pass the ketchup?"

Gary Smith as Sam Smith in the movie infiltrates the tomato patch in disguise.
His cover is blown when he utter's the movie's most memorable line,
"Say, will somone please pass the ketchup?"

For what it's worth, the movie's trailer:


Monday, July 28, 2014

Itshak Holtz

Shopping for Sukkot, Itshak Holtz           
Autumn Glory, Itshak Holtz
Some cultures, some nations, some nationalities are rife with art. The Dutch, the French, the Italians, and of course, Americans have a long, rich, illustrious tradition in the fine arts. The Hebrew culture is not one of these, especially in the area of painting. That's not to say there is no art associated with Israel, the Jewish faith, or the Hebrew culture, it's just that it's not at all what you'd call "front and center." The arts, insofar as Hebrew culture is concerned, tend to center around literature and music rather than visual images, architecture, or sculpture (which, for religious reasons, is virtually non-existent). Other Semitic cultures in the Middle-East are quite similar to Judaism in this respect, their art being more decorative than illustrative in a narrative sense. Moreover this is most notably true as it applies to the conservative Orthodox sects, such as the Hasidic Jews.
Torah Study, Itshak Holtz
Itshak Holtz, Self-portrait, 1975
With that in mind, take a look at the work of Itshak Holtz, a member of the American Orthodox Jewish religion. He was born in 1925 in Poland, near Warsaw, one of four children, the son of a hat maker. In 1935, prior to WW II, the family left Poland and moved to Jerusalem. As a young boy in Israel (before there even was an Israel in the modern sense) young Itshak loved to draw. His enthusiasm for art apparently having come from his Polish ancestry. In 1945, he began his formal study of art at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, mostly commercial art. Once on his own, his true interest in painting caused him to move to New York where he studied at the Art Students League and later to the National Academy of Design. It was not an easy life. Not only did he struggle financially, but at the time, he spoke only Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew.
Evening Street Scene, 1961, Itzhak Holtz
Keeping up with the News,
Itshak Holtz.
One of his instructors at the National Academy, Robert Philipp, helped Holtz make friends, learn English, and obtain portrait commissions. Though such work helped pay the bills, Itshak Holtz was Jewish through and through. His painting style might be thoroughly American leaning toward genre, but it was Jewish genre and more and more, Jewish Orthodox genre painting that formed the broad basis of his work. He married, started a family, and took up residence in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. He painted local color, with the emphasis very much on the "color" part of that area and that type of art. His street scenes are a vital and seldom seen glimpse into the Jewish Orthodox street life and lifestyle. He works in oils as well as watercolor and several different drawing media. His work routinely sells in the five-figure range.
Jerusalem Shul, Itshak Holtz
Deep in Thought, Itshak Holtz
Holtz and his wife also maintain a home in Jerusalem where he often returns to his Jewish roots to paint vibrant street scenes far removed from those of New York City. In more recent years, many of his faces and figures have not been portraits but simple figural studies as seen in his Keeping up with the News (above, right), or of aging Jewish religious figures such as his Deep in Thought (right). Most of these works and his Jerusalem street scenes are in watercolor, though his Jerusalem Wedding (bottom) from 2010 sparkles with the rich vibrancy only oils can evoke in his work. Still painting as he approaches ninety years of age, Itshak Holtz can easily be deemed the preeminent Jewish Orthodox painter today, if for no other reason than the fact there are so few of them.
Jerusalem Wedding, 2010, Itshak Holtz


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wenceslaus Hollar

The Coronation of Charles II, 1662, etching by Wenceslaus Hollar.
When we think about art, painting and drawing seem to be the first things to come to mind. Only secondarily do we consider areas of art such a sculpture, architecture, product design and any number of literary and "performing arts." Even in considering drawing as one of the two "primary" forms of art (very little in the way of art can be accomplished without drawing skills), we tend to think almost exclusively of the old No. 2 pencil on some kind of snow white paper. Yet such drawings, using whatever form of carbon is handy, are thought of mostly as a means to an end--an intermediate stage necessary for evolving and firming up the artist's ideas. However, drawings are also an end product. I've undoubtedly sold more drawings (portraits) than I've ever sold paintings. And, during the past several hundred years since the invention and perfecting of intaglio printing techniques, far more etched drawings have been printed and sold than all the other two-dimensional forms of art combined. Just ask any art dealer.
Christ before Pilate, 1650, etching by Wenceslaus Hollar.
Self-portrait, ca. 1635-40
Wenceslaus Hollar was a Czech etcher born in 1607. As an artist precisely in the middle of the Dutch Golden age, he is perhaps unique in the fact that, so far as I know, he never touched a paint brush in his entire life. Even his etched self-portrait (left) was copied from a painting of him by another artist. Does that make him any less of an artist? Of course not; perhaps even more of an artist, in fact. How many other artist of that era could boast over 2,700 works of art created over a forty-year span in their careers? That, by the way, counts only etched plates, not the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of prints each plate generated.
A Hollar etching from 1645 based upon
Albrecht Durer's 1498 self-portrait.
Hollar was a great admirer of Durer.
So, what did this super-prolific artist/etcher/publisher put out to make him so popular with the the northern European masses? Well, just about everything and anything he thought might turn a pound, mark, guilder, or any other form of legal tender his way. Literally, he produced everything from maps (bottom) to caps and hogs to dogs. You name it, Hollar, at one time or another, created or copied it (in the days before copyright laws). Pictures of high-fashion ladies were quite popular. So were exotic zoo animals (like an elephant), bugs and butterflies, roads and toads, portraits, religious scenes, landmarks, current events, livestock, pets, and virtually any illustration any publisher had need for.
Pigs and Donkeys, 1632, Wenceslaus Hollar
African Boy,
Wenceslaus Hollar
Though born in Prague, Hollar left the Bohemian area at age twenty and traveled all over Germany, soaking up wherever he went painting, sculpture, the landscape, and the technical demands of the German-invented, but Italian-named art of Intaglio (pronounced in-TAL-eo). In 1635, Hollar went to England the protege and employee of Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel who had a very extensive art collection. He wanted Wenceslaus Hollar to document and catalogue each painting with an etching. The Earl had hundreds of pieces so, of course, the task was never completed. But the portion of the English nobleman's noble collection Hollar was able to document has been a unique and highly valuable asset for art historians in the centuries since. They are the only surviving images of some works.

Five butterflies, a moth, and two beetles, 1646, Wenceslaus Hollar
--anything that would sell.

High fashion in the 40s
(the 1640s, that is).
Hollar was wise enough, or lucky enough, to have left England around 1642 (some sources say 1644) before the just months before the little tiff between Charles I and Parliament erupted into all out civil war, but not before publishing a book of fashion plates titled: The Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus, or The Severall Habits of English Women and the /Seasons (1640). Hollar settled in Antwerp where he continued doing etchings and illustrations for book publishers. Around 1652, Hollar returned to England, but it was not the same England he'd left. The war had changed things. So tied to the "old" England were his fortunes as an artist that the war left him devastated financially. Wenceslaus Hollar died a pauper in 1667. His last words were a plea for the authorities not to carry away the bed he was dying on.

Map of London, 1633, Wenceslaus Hollar--before the underground.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ferdinand Hodler

Lake Thun Symetric Reflection, 1905, Ferdinand Hodler                        
--more than just painting technique.                         
Marshland by Lake of Thun,
Ferdinand Hodler
For some reason, landscape painters are seldom very good at painting much of anything else. I've mentioned this fact again and again in discussing Dutch Golden Age artists (where specialization was taken to ridiculous extremes). But that was neither the beginning nor the end of this phenomena. One artist I mentioned recently even paid an artist friend of his to paint figures into his urban landscapes (pretty hard to do urban landscapes without people). If I had to account for this state of affairs, which abides, even today, I'd have to accentuate the major difference between painting landscapes and other content areas. Simply put, landscapes are more about handling paint than anything else. They're about skilled brushwork and a sharp eye for color. Yes some drawing skill helps a little but in general, landscapes seldom demand much more than some practice drawing trees, some rudimentary perspective, and a general understanding of good composition. Otherwise, it's all about what you do with the paint.
The Good Samaritan, 1886, Ferdinand Hodler. An earlier version is below, right.
Self-portrait with Roses, 1914,
Ferdinand Hodler
Contrast that with still-lifes, which are quite drawing intensive; figures, which demand extreme powers of observation (above); and portraits, which are basically figure painting with an even more rigorous exactitude involving a particular figure's particular likeness and (hopefully) personality. I notice this dichotomy probably more than most since, in highlighting the life and times of various artists, the first thing I look for is a self-portrait (left). And if that artist paints mostly landscapes, then doing so is usually a lost cause. Moreover, any artist who can handle other content areas with any degree of skill, likely finds little enjoyment is simply painting landscapes. Thus, while most painters can handle landscapes, few landscape painters can handle much else.
Merciful Samaritan, 1875, Ferdinand Hodler
Thus it's refreshing to find an outstanding landscape artist that, not only could paint excellent landscapes but painted nudes and portraits (especially of himself) with a surprising flair and depth of understanding rivaling anything any other artist (regardless of specialty) was doing at the time. His name was Ferdinand Hodler. He was a Swiss painter, so naturally, coming from an area of exquisite Alpine beauty, he knew his way round mountain tops, lakes, babbling brooks and flowing streams lined with vividly gnarled trees and picturesque peasants inside and outside their rustic abodes.
Today, artists would recoil at the thought of painting portraits of the dead and dying.
A hundred years ago, artists such as Hodler found death a constant presence
 in their lives and their work. This may be the artist's mother.
Deadwood, after 1910, Ferdinand Hodler
However, such landscapes are merely an appetizer served up before the main course when perusing the work of this turn of the 20th-century painter. Ferdinand Hodler was born in 1853 into a peasant family, his father eking out a meager existence as a carpenter. By the time he was eight, his father and two younger brothers had died of tuberculosis. His mother remarried (a decorative painter) but she too succumbed to the disease by the time young Ferdinand was twelve. He had five brothers and sisters. Every last one of them also died of the disease. As the sole survivor in his family, it's little wonder that the figure of death hovers over a great many of Hodler's paintings (above and below) or that he saw landscapes as far more than just empty backgrounds (left) in a struggle simply to breathe (tuberculosis being a lung disease).
La Noche, 1891, Ferdinand Hodler
--a landscape of figures harassed by the "ghost of death."
Perhaps the most striking work Hodler ever painted he titled La Noche (the night). At first glance it would appear to verge on some kind of orgy aftermath. Far from it.  Here's what Hodler himself had to say about the work:
"It is not one night, but a combination of night impressions. The ghost of death is there not to suggest that many men are surprised by death in the middle of the night, ...but it is there as a most intense phenomenon of the night. The coloring is symbolic: these sleeping beings are draped in black; the lighting is similar to an evening effect after sunset, showing the approach of night, but the effect is completed by those black drapes which partially cover the figures everywhere; they are the low, muffled notes of an austere harmony, which is merely a transcription of the effects of night. But the most striking feather is the ghost of death and the way – both harmonious and sinister – in which this ghost is represented, hinting at the unknown, the invisible."
A Troubled Soul, 1889, Ferdinand Hodler
Jungfrau vue de Mürre , 1914, Ferdinand Hodler
Ferdinand Hodler died in 1918 at the age of sixty-five. Perhaps what seems most amazing about his work is the progression of painting styles demonstrated over the course of his career. His earliest work could easily be classed as Romantic. Much of his work is pure Realism, but there's also Impressionism, Post-impressionism, symbolism, and Art Nouveau. And, while his life's work is heavily populated with undeniably "Swiss" landscapes, there is such a broad versatility to his content as to do him a grave injustice as an artist in labeling him a "landscape painter." He was very much a painter of life...and death.

Las de la vie (Tired of Life),1892, Ferdinand Hodler