Arnold Böcklin( 1827 - 1901): Island of the Dead, 1880, Oil

Arnold Böcklin( 1827 - 1901): Island of the Dead, 1880, Oil

11/11/2021, 1:50:59 PM
Arnold Böcklin( 1827 - 1901): Island of the Dead, 1880, Oil on wood panel, 73.7 x 121.9 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 'The Island of the Dead' is one of the most famous compositions by Arnold Böcklin. Beginning in 1880, he painted five modified versions, four of which have survived. Each version of the painting shows a magically illuminated island rising from the sea against a gloomy night sky. Burial chambers have been carved into the rocky cliffs around the natural harbour, with dark cypresses rising above them. A boat with a coffin, a statuesque figure swathed in white like a mummy and gazing away from the viewer, and an oarsman glides slowly across the water towards the island. Although we can almost hear the soft splashing of the oars, this only heightens the incredible silence that pervades the scene underscored by the equilibrium of horizontals and verticals. The sparingness of the composition is matched by the palette: reddish rocks reflecting the last evening sunlight, the eerie white of the figure in the boat, the deep blue and violet of water and sky and the dark, nearly blackish green of the cypresses. Besides the cemetery on the island of San Michele in Venice, Italy to which coffins were brought by gondola, Swiss-owned 'English Cemetery' in Florence was one of the main inspirations for the work. Böcklin buried his infant daughter, Maria Anna, here in 1877. In 1880 Marie Berna, the American-born widow of a German diplomat, visited Böcklin in Florence, where she saw an unfinished first version of this painting (now in Basel) on his easel. She commissioned the present work in Metropolitan Museum of Art as a memorial to her husband, requesting the additions of the draped coffin and the shrouded female figure.

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