Isle of the Dead painting

painting - Isle of the Dead  painting
Photograph by oddharmonicon Flickr.

In April 1880, while still working on it, Böcklin s Florence studio had been visited by Marie Berna (widow of Isle of the Dead painting financier Dr.Georg von Berna (Sometimes the Basel version is credited as the first one, sometimes the painting New York .) The third version was painted in 1883 for Isle of the Dead painting Böcklin’s dealer Fritz Gurlitt. (Another, less likely candidate is the island of Ponza in the Tyrrhenian Sea.) Böcklin painted five versions of Isle of the Dead from 1880 to 1886.

It is now at the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.) Financial imperatives resulted in a fourth version in 1884, which was ultimately Isle of the Dead painting acquired by the entrepreneur and art collector Baron Heinrich Thyssen and hung at his Berliner Bank subsidiary. A small rowboat is just arriving at a water gate and seawall on shore.

The cemetery was close to Böcklin s studio and was also where his infant daughter Maria was Isle of the Dead painting buried. The overall impression conveyed by the imagery is one of both hopeless desolation and tense expectation. Böcklin himself provided no public explanation as to the meaning of the painting, though he did describe it as “a dream picture: it must produce such a stillness that one would be awed by Isle of the Dead painting a knock on the door.” Not knowing the history of the early versions of the painting (see below), many observers have interpreted the oarsman as representing the boatman Charon who conducted souls to the underworld in Greek mythology.

(In 1933, this version was put up for sale and a noted Böcklin admirer, Adolf Hitler, acquired it. In the bow, facing the gate, is a standing figure clad entirely in white.

Prints of the work were very popular in central Europe in the early 20th century — Vladimir Nabokov observed that they were to be found in every Berlin home. Freud, Lenin, and Clemenceau all had prints of it in their offices. Böcklin produced several different versions of the mysterious painting between 1880 and 1886. All versions of Isle of the Dead depict a desolate and rocky islet seen across an expanse of dark water. An oarsman maneuvers the boat from the stern.

The versions become progressively more developed with a lightening sky in the background. Böcklin completed the first version of the painting in May 1880 for his patron Alexander Günther, but kept it himself. Together with the first version of the Isle of the Dead, this painting is part of the collection of the Kunstmuseum Basel. .

The tiny islet is dominated by a dense grove of tall, dark cypress trees — associated by long-standing tradition with cemeteries and mourning — which is closely hemmed in by precipitous cliffs. Just behind the figure is a white, festooned object commonly interpreted as a coffin.

Probably intended as an antipole to the Isle of the Dead, it also shows a small island, but with all signs of joy and life. The water would then be either the River Styx or the River Acheron and his white-clad passenger a recently deceased soul transiting to the afterlife. Isle of the Dead evokes, in part, the English Cemetery in Florence, Italy, where the first three versions were painted.

He hung it first at the Berghof in Obersalzberg and, then after 1940, in the New Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Isle of the Dead (German: Die Toteninsel) is the best known painting of Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901).

Furthering the funerary theme are what appear to be sepulchral portals and windows penetrating the rock faces. (In all, Böcklin lost 8 of his 14 children.) The model for the rocky islet was likely Pondikonisi, a small island near Corfu which is adorned with a small chapel amid a cypress grove.

It was burned after a bomb attack during World War II and survives only as a black-and-white photograph. A fifth version was commissioned in 1886 by the Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig, where it still hangs. In 1888, Böcklin created a painting called Die Lebensinsel ( Isle of Life ). Beginning with this version, one of the burial chambers in the rocks on the right bears Böcklin s own initials: A.B. .