Favoring unnatural, jarring colors, his works are fraught with tension in their disconcerting realism and discordant synthesis of emotions, subjects, references and genres — foreshadowing the joke of a Dadaist montage. Drawing upon a repertoire of nymphs, Christ, death, sea-serpents, forest, murders, saints, tritons, meadows, Greek gods, and a hybrid bestiary verging on the bizarre, Böcklin’s paintings typically show a dark, mystical primeval force of nature, counterbalanced in some cases, by his farcical wry humor. While his artistic and aesthetic references were anchored in the Germanic world, Böcklin uniquely grafted the Teutonic spirit onto the Mediterranean ideal of Classical antiquity. In his finest works one sees a profound metaphysical dimension; indeed, Sigmund Freud, whose seminal theses on the ‘unconscious’ were a key influence on Symbolism and Surrealism, had a print of Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead in his waiting room alongside another of Fuseli’s Nightmare.
From our journal
Books on Arnold Böcklin
Pamela Kort, ed., Comic Grotesque: Wit and Mockery in German Art, 1870-1940, Munich and London, 2004.
Katharina Schmidt, Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann and Birgitta Coers, eds., Arnold Böcklin, exh. cat., Heidelberg, 2001.
Ingrid Ehrhardt and Simon Reynolds, eds., Seelen Reich: Symbolist Art in Germany, 1870–1920, exh. cat., Munich, 2000.
Guido Magnaguagno and Juri Steiner Arnold, eds., Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst: Eine Reise ins Ungewisse, exh. cat., Bern, 1997.
Rolf Andree, Arnold Böcklin: Beiträge zur Analyse seiner Bildgestalltung, Düsseldorf, 1962.
Giorgio de Chirico, ‘Arnold Boecklin’, Il Convegno, 4, Milan, 1920, pp. 47–53.
Fritz von Ostini, Böcklin, Leipzig and Bielefeld, 1913.
Heinrich Alfred Schmid, Arnold Böcklin: Eine Auswahl der hervoragendsten Werke des Künstlers in Photogravüre, 4 vols, Munich, 1892–1901.