Arnold Böcklin  

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"And only a slight alteration in the truths of nature has sufficed him for the creation of such chimerical beings. As a landscape-painter he stands with all his fibers rooted in the earth, although he seems quite alienated from this world of ours, and his fabulous creatures make the same convincing impression because they have been created with all the inner logical congruity of nature, and delineated under close relationship to actual fact with the same numerous details as the real animals of the earth. For his tritons, sirens, and mermaids, with their prominent eyes and their awkward bodies covered with bristly hair, he may have made studies from seals and walruses. His obese and short-winded tritons, with shining red faces and flaxen hair dripping with moisture, are good-humored old men with a quantity of warm blood in their veins, who love and laugh and drink new wine. His fauns may be met with amongst the shepherds of the Campagna, swarthy, strapping fellows dressed in goatskin after the fashion of Pan. It is chiefly the color lavished upon them which turns them into children of an unearthly world, where other suns are shining, and other stars."--The History of Modern Painting (1893/94) Richard Muther

Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin: "Basel" version, 1880
Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin: "Basel" version, 1880

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Arnold Böcklin (1827- 1901) was a Swiss painter, best known for his painting The Isle of the Dead.


Life and art

He studied at Düsseldorf where he became a friend of Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. Originally a landscape painter, his travels through Brussels, Zurich, Geneva and Rome, exposed him to classical and Renaissance art, and the Mediterranean landscape. These new influences brought allegorical and mythological figures into his compositions. In 1866 he resided at Bâle, in 1871 in Munich, in 1885 in Hottingen (Switzerland) and at the end of his life in Fiesole.

Influenced by Romanticism his painting is symbolist within the Art Nouveau style. His pictures portray mythological, fantastical figures along classical architecture constructions (revealing often an obsession with death) creating a strange, fantasy world.

Böcklin is best known for his five versions of The Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.


Böcklin exercised an influence on Surrealist painters like Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí, and on Giorgio de Chirico.

Otto Weisert designed an Art Nouveau typeface in 1904 and named it “Arnold Böcklin” in his honor. The design uses tendrils hanging from many of the capital letters and across the top of the minuscule letters v through y.

The Böcklin typeface was later appropriated by the hippy movement and its influence can also be seen in the work of Seventies illustrators such as Roger Dean. The Stuckist artist Paul Harvey has also used the typeface in his work.

Böcklin's paintings, especially The Isle of the Dead, inspired several late-Romantic composers. Rachmaninov and Heinrich Schülz-Beuthen both composed symphonic poems after it, and in 1913 Max Reger composed a set of Four Tone Poems after Böcklin of which the third movement is The Isle of the Dead (The others are The Hermit playing the Violin, At play in the waves and Bacchanal).

List of works

See also

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