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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 Basel, in 1871 in Munich, in 1885 in Hottingen (Switzerland) and at the end of his life in Fiesole near Florence.
Influenced by Romanticism his painting is symbolist with mythological subjects often overlapping with the Pre-Raphaelites. 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 Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried. An early version of the painting was commissioned by a Madame Berna, a widow who wanted a painting with a dream-like atmosphere.
Clement Greenberg wrote in 1947 that Böcklin's work "is one of the most consummate expressions of all that was now disliked about the latter half of the nineteenth century."
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.
Böcklin's paintings, especially The Isle of the Dead, inspired several late-Romantic composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff 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). Hans Huber's second symphony is entitled "Böcklin-Sinfonie", after the artist and his paintings.
Rachmaninoff was also inspired by Böcklin’s painting The Return when writing his Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10.
Adolf Hitler was fond of Böcklin’s work, at one time owning 11 of his paintings.
When asked who was his favorite painter, Marcel Duchamp controversially named Arnold Böcklin as having a major influence on his art. Whether Duchamp was serious in this assertion is still debated.
H. R. Giger has a picture called "Hommage to Boecklin", based upon "Isle of the Dead."
Cinema & TV Legacy
In Mark Robson's film Isle of the Dead (1945), Disney composer Leigh Harline's somber score makes use of another work inspired by Böcklin's painting, Sergei Rachmaninoff's tone poem, Isle of the Dead. Harline borrows themes and copies their orchestration, taking about as much as he can without violating copyright.
In the series finale of Lost, a driver from Oceanic Airways wears a uniform with the name tag 'Bocklin,' presumably referencing the artist's Isle of the Dead.
1. ^ Burroughs, Bryson. "The Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 21, No. 6 (Jun., 1926), pp. 146–148.
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