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The Swiss Symbolist painter Ferdinand Hodler, a key figure as the nexus between nineteenth-century Naturalism and twentiethcentury Expressionism, is represented in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza by this work entitled The Reader, painted around 1885. It is a version of an oil painting dating from the same year, Old Man Reading, showing an eighty-year-old man reading a newspaper amid a room decorated with prints. Here the closer view of the figure affords it greater symbolism and monumentality.
Between 1875 and 1890 Hodler chiefly painted idealised pictures of craftsmen, such as Carpenter at his Workbench, as a means of recalling his own origins as an artisan. In all these compositions the artist attempts to concentrate on the expressive potential of the human figures. His reverential interest in elderly men, such as the one in this composition, led him to use as sitters some of the eighty-year olds who frequented the café near his Geneva home: “they confided in me and I listened to them while they posed. None of them any longer expected anything of life... They were all characterised by a desperate submission to an inevitable and inconsolable destiny... that is why I painted them.” The sitter used in The Reader is also found in The Philosophical Worker, executed in 1884, and in A Glimpse into Eternity of 1885.