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Process of Dying in 6 Paintings [EOL in Art 45]

A Swiss Oncologist shares six paintings by the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2002; 20:7: 1948-50).

Hodler painted his wife before, during, and after her illness. He documented her wasting and eventual extinction without mercy and yet with intense sympathy. He created a series of paintings that force the viewer to face the process of dying.

  • Figure 1, the youth. This portrait in shades of red shows her as a beautiful, healthy young woman.
  • Figure 2, the illness. His wife is a bedridden patient. 
  • Figure 3, the exhaustion. Now, the eyes have closed. The head is hanging loose off the neck. The patient is sleeping. Her traits are becoming sharper, angular, bony.  
  • Figure 4, the pain. The dying patient is in the last days of her life.  This
  • gruesome sketch shows her tormented face; her head has fallen deep into the pillow.
  • Figure 5, the agony. One day before her death, the patient has lost consciousness. The mouth is wide open; one imagines hearing a loud rattle. 
  • Figure 6, 1 day after death.

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