Born in Switzerland in 1853, Ferdinand Hodler is considered one of the top Symbolist painters, although his early works primarily focused on genre paintings, landscapes, and portraits. He began his artistic training with his stepfather at home before training with a local landscape painter, Ferdinand Sommer. In 1871, he moved to Geneva with the hope of finding more formal training. In 1876, he began to study with Bathelemy Menn while also studying the works of the Great Masters in the Museo del Prado. He, then, returned to Switzerland where Louis Duchosal, a poet, introduced him to the Symbolist trends that were being seen in French paintings.
His work leaned toward expressionism during the later part of his career. His paintings, particularly those that included landscapes, became very simplistic while using strong, bold colors, figures in awkward poses, and geometrical figures. Several of his paintings began to feature historical and mythological scenes. Although he was married, he began an affair with Valentine Gode Darel, who died of cancer in 1915. Throughout the next year, he created a series of 20 meditative self portraits. At the time of his death, in 1918, he left behind numerous unfinished paintings portraying the city of Geneva. Some of his most famous paintings include The Student, a self portrait (1874), The Night (1891), and Woodcutter which was featured on the Swiss 50 Franc note.