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Hodler masterpiece smashes sale record

Hodler's idyllic 1901 view of Lake Geneva and the French Alps from a St-Prex meadow - now somebody's back garden

A Ferdinand Hodler oil painting of Lake Geneva has been sold for SFr10.9 million ($8.9 million) at an auction in Zurich, a record price for the artist.

"Lac Léman vu de Saint-Prex" (Lake Geneva from Saint-Prex), painted in 1901, was sold to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby's on Tuesday evening.

The painting had been expected to fetch SFr4-6 million. The previous record for a Hodler painting was SFr5.7 million, set by "Thunersee mit Stockhornkette" also in Zurich in December 2006.

"Ferdinand Hodler's work, Lake Geneva from Saint-Prex, has become the most expensive work from this artist that has ever been auctioned," said Urs Lanter, the auction house's Swiss art expert, in a statement.

The landscape is thought to be the only painting of Lake Geneva and the French Alps he completed from St-Prex in French-speaking Switzerland and is said to be a homage to the eternity of nature.

The Hodler masterpiece came under the hammer as part of a huge sale of Swiss art, which covered 170 paintings, drawings, photographs and installation works – from the 18th century up to the beginning of the 21st century.

Among the works were pieces by Félix Vallotton, Giovanni Giacometti, Giovanni Segantini, Ernest Biéler, Albert Müller, François Bocion, Cuno Amiet and Jean Tinguely.

Sotheby's said that it was overwhelmed by the result of the auction, which fetched SFr25 million in total. It has held dedicated auctions of Swiss art since 1979.

"This is the best result for the fourth time in a row at Sotheby's in Zurich," said Lanter.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Jackson Pollock's "No.5, 1948" was sold for SFr175 million in November 2006, becoming the most expensive artwork in the world.
Before that the record had been held by "Adele Bloch-Bauer" by Gustav Klimt, which fetched SFr135 million.
In Swiss art, the most expensive painting sold was "Grande Femme" by Alberto Giacometti, bought in New York in 2000 for SFr25 million.

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In brief

Ferdinand Hodler was born in 1853 in the Swiss capital, Bern and started his career in an artists' studio in Thun which produced pictures for tourists.

He then attended the Academy of Art in Geneva, a city where he spent a large part of his life.

He built up a reputation for his canvases on historical or mythical themes as well as for his depictions of the countryside.

Hodler's favourite subjects included the mountains of the Bernese Oberland, Lake Thun and Lake Geneva.

The artist died in Geneva in 1918.

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