Juliet Simpson, ‘Cosmopolitan Monuments : Ferdinand Hodler, Mallarmé, La Revue de Gèneve –‘Correspondances’, Nation and Creation’

In 1885, the French writer and cosmopolite, Paul Bourget, suggestively defined ‘cosmopolitanism’ as a new psychological mood, a state of multiple being as of travel and community. To experience the ‘cosmopolitan’ in art, literature and culture, is for Bourget, to adopt a ‘double’ view in which ‘foreign-ness’ of country, culture and voice, becomes as much about enlarging boundaries of self/creation, as of communities and nations. This short paper takes Bourget’s cosmopolitan position as a starting-point for exploring a neglected Franco-Swiss cosmopolitan connection and cultural projection. It examines Ferdinand Hodler’s close, yet overlooked involvement between 1885-6 with a Geneva-based avant-garde literary circle and periodical, La Revue de Gèneve, as conduits for a new art and literature, cosmopolitan in ambitions, developing, via an an innovative synthesis of naturalism and Mallarméan poetic ideas, an expanded vision of national and cultural dialogue. Looking at Hodler’s turn to external contacts beyond his milieu following hostile public response to his first one-man exhibition in Geneva in 1885, discussion concentrates on the particular salience of Hodler’s and Revue group’s close network of Mallarméan ‘correspondances’ and relations (by 1890, the poet Morhardt and Mallarmé were regularly corresponding) in their common aims to promote a Swiss-inflected mystical aesthetics and politics, with resonances beyond its Genèvois contexts. But the paper also explores the extent to which such ideas, and Hodler’s engagement with them, become major catalysts for his art. As suggested, for example, by his 1885 View into Eternity and his later Night (1890 : critically acclaimed at the 1891 Paris Société Nationale), Hodler’s cosmopolitanism provides the stimulus for his art’s mystic turn, in which, in a further Mallarméan synthesis and act of re-creation, his ‘naturalism’ becomes a touchstone for projecting an idea of the artistic self/subject – and its possible ‘multiple’ (Mallarméan ) identities, as emblematic of a more evolved, expansive model of ‘community’. This is: as an impersonally universal unity of perception and art. The paper’s conclusions thus propose Hodler’s cosmopolitan exchanges and their broader international networks, as marking a potent episode in an emerging, if perturbing, fin-de-siècle art and politics of universal mysticism, further elaborated in the Parisian L’Idée libre and Viennese Ver Sacrum. Indeed, it highlights the potential and tensions of a ‘universalist’ ambition and vision of art projected as a ‘total-work’ – a ‘monument’ of artistic system, that subsumes and recasts both individual and national identity.


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