I think the sole purpose of this painting is to haunt you, it’s so visionary and melancholic that it surely has haunted me ever since I’ve first laid eyes on it. Both the motifs and the general atmosphere are awe-inspiring. One would expect an island with trees to be battered by the wind rolling in from the sea, but here there seems to be a lull. The lofty cypress trees stand almost still in the cove. But they are laden with meaning : something solemn is to befall. The inauspicious sky against the immovable isle cast a gloom. The dolorous gloaming light of the background suffuse a sense of enigmatic threat but the calm vertical and horizontal lights, the circular pine grove surrounded by rock walls enhanced by some sort of magic golden light conjure up a feeling of peaceful rapture. It makes you long being on that boat, guided by a pall bearer, heading right to the shore. (Being a mythology freak, I like to think that it’s Charon rowing.), finishing the solitary journey.
I love how this painting makes you gaze beyond. Beyond reality and every day life, beyond the simple beautiful to search for an uncanny and surreal vision immersed in the gloomy depths of fantastic melancholy, charged with profound trauma, and immeasurable nature, so symbolic of Dark Romanticism (even though this painting is by a Symbolist and considered as so).
Detailed view : https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/the-isle-of-the-dead/0wFgMTIQ3kZCpg?hl=en
Further reading :
Arnold Böcklin, exh. Musée d’Orsay, 2001-2002 (French)
Le Symbolisme en Belgique (French)
I’ve selected a few painting by Böcklin that I particularly appreciate :
|Sapho II, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Musuem of Art|
|Villa en bord de mer, oil, 1871-74, Städel Museum|
|The Sacred Grove, oil on panel, 1886, Hamburger Kuntshalle