Symbolism was a truly European movement. Although its most influential critical champions were in Paris, many of its best artists came from elsewhere. Ferdinand Hodler was the star of late-19th-century Swiss art. Here a vision of grief and melancholy is created, with the departed souls of the miserable shown in an eternal limbo. This distillation of feeling was taken to the darkest of extremes by Edvard Munch in Norway and the young Pablo Picasso in Barcelona
...Nearby is another ambitious canvas, “The Disappointed Souls,” by the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler, who was probably the most prominent of the artists to exhibit at the Salon Rose+Croix. Neither the shape nor the subject for the cover of a book or album (though its long and narrow format might go well wrapped around a coffee mug), it also taps into a different, more desperate mood than the other works. If part of fin-de-siècle anxiety yields from uncertainty about the future (Paul Gaugin’s painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” dates to 1897) part of our interest in it has to do with our awareness of how events actually turned out. By the last of the Salons Rose+Croix in 1897, the ascendance of Modernism was less than ten years away, with World War I not far on its heels. The Hodler, with the flat, mottled color of its landscape not unlike the Cubist earth tones of Picasso and Braque, and the tragic expressions of the black-robed, refugee-like figures, seems the most prescient.
“The Disappointed Souls,” a Hodler canvas included in the Guggenheim show, is a study in male dejection: five weathered, barefoot men stare downward, two with their heads buried in their hands, the middle one with his emaciated upper body exposed. The hieratic manner and pale color scheme recall Puvis de Chavannes, yet the imagery is rougher and starker, hinting at the interior desolation of Expressionism.
….depicts five old men seated next to one another on a long white bench. Dressed in similar black robes, each is presented in a different attitude or gesture; yet all express the same resigned despair. Though seated next to one another and united by virture of their attire, expressive demeanor, and the frieze-like arrangement of their figures, there is no interaction between them. As Sharon L. Hirsh notes in her study of Hodler's symbolist works: "Having lost all hope of life, they await death together, but without communication."
[From: Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890-1918 by Emily D. Bilski, found on Google Books]