The Isle of the Dead (second version, 1880), Kunstmuseum, Basel.
In the sudden flares of light over the water, reflected off the sharp points of his cheeks and jaw, a harder profile for a moment showed itself. Conscious of Sanders’s critical eye, Father Balthus added as an afterthought, to reassure the doctor: “The light at Port Matarre is always like this, very heavy and penumbral – do you know Böcklin’s painting, ‘Island of the Dead’, where the cypresses stand guard above a cliff pierced by a hypogeum, while a storm hovers over the sea? It’s in the Kunstmuseum in my native Basel –”
The Crystal World (1966) by JG Ballard.
A 1982 recording.
Today’s post is another guest piece over at Tor.com where I run through a history of some of the works in different media inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead (1880–1886). The four versions of Böcklin’s painting are favourites of mine so I’ve touched on this subject a couple of times before but this is the first time I’ve gone into any detail examining their influence. Many artworks have become highly visible in the past century via copies, parodies and imitations: think of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, or Michelangelo’s David and The Creation of Adam. What’s fascinating about The Isle of the Dead is that it’s not one picture but four versions of the same scene, and they’ve all been very influential not as parodies but as direct inspirations for other artworks—musical compositions, feature films, a novel—yet few people would recognise the artist’s name. My post only scratches the surface by running through some of the more well-known works but there’s a whole website devoted to the subject for anyone wishing to investigate further.
The Call of Cthulhu (1988).
Modesty prevented me from mentioning my own work in the Tor post but I’ll do so here. Among the many references ladled into my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu there’s the 1886 Leipzig version of Böcklin’s painting in the background of a panel. A prefiguring of the end of the story and also an excuse to add to the list of works acknowledging one of the great Symbolist paintings.