Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Swiss Symbolism of Arnold Böcklin

Delanira and Nessus by Arnold Böcklin, 1898

I've long been a fan of Bocklin's paintings, despite not knowing his name or anything else about him - probably because symbolist painters, along with the pre-modern figurative painters are given short shrift in art history classes.

Arnold Böcklin, Swiss Symbolist painter, 1827-1906.

In the later 19th century, he was one of the most celebrated and influential artists in central Europe, particularly Germany and Switzerland, notable for his imaginative and idiosyncratic interpretation of themes from Classical mythology.

Plague by Arnold Böcklin, 1898
Arnold Böcklin's allegorical and fantastical paintings, many based on mythical creatures, anticipated 20th-century surrealism. His early style consisted of idealized classical landscapes. In the 1870s, he turned to fantastic scenes from German legends, paralleling the use by Richard Wagner of similar subjects in opera.

Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin, 1883
His later works, such as The Island of the Dead (in five versions, from 1880), became increasingly dreamlike and nightmarish.
The Bocklin paintings which have resonated the most with me are his Isle of the Dead series, especially the one shown above. I recommend listening to Rachmaninoff while viewing the image (often used on the composer's album covers).

Click to read about Arnold Böcklin and to view more of his extraordinary paintings.

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