Although very popular in his time, Arnold Böcklin is now something of an acquired taste. He became associated with the Germanic side of Symbolism and had a strong influence on many artistic fields, not just that of painting, his influence carrying on after his death into the next century with the work of the early surrealists.
Arnold Böcklin was born in Basel Switzerland in 1827 and received his first teaching in drawing in the same city and from there went on to study landscape painting at The Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf, where he studied under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer. In 1850, on the strong advice of the historian Jacob Burckhardt he traveled to Italy and soon after married a young Italian woman named Angela Pascucci. He appears to have spent the rest of his life in Italy, dying at The Villa Bellagio in San Domenico di Fiesole in 1901.
|Nessus and Deianeira by Arnold Böcklin (1827 - 1901) |
Böcklin was often accused of bad taste, this is the type of painting they meant. Wikipedia Commons.
Böcklin painted five different versions starting in 1880 (my favourite) the last being completed in 1886. They're all slightly different, but only slightly. The main difference is colour and the use of light. I think the first is the most successful with its late afteroon storm light effect, as if a low sun had just come from behind dark cloud and lit the figures in a shaft of light. The painting depicts a small island with two squarish crags of rock framing a stand of cypress trees which fill the centre of the isle. It is surrounded by sea, and in the foreground a small boat can be seen in which are a rower and a standing figure draped in white. In the boat before the standing figure is an object also covered in white which is usually identified as a coffin, but is actually quite indistinct.
|The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin. 1880 version. Wikipedia Commons|
|Self Portrait with Death Playing the Violin by Arnold Böcklin 1872 Wikipedia Commons|
Böcklin's work became grimmer as he moved into old age, whether this might have been the result of the deaths of about five of his children or a general outlook on the world at large I'm not sure, certainly works such as War, painted in 1896 seem more violent, angry and grotesque than the previous gentle Grecian themes. But, seeing the title of that late painting, maybe he'd read the future.