The Isle of the Dead in detail


More from the Google Art Project where a couple of paintings by Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) may be explored, one of them an 1883 version of cult favourite The Isle of the Dead. No need to repeat the history of that work when I’ve already written about it. The version here is from the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and is the one I’ve seen reproduced in books the least so it’s good to find it in high-quality.



Böcklin painted five versions of this scene, one of which was lost during the Second World War. A couple of them, this one included, have his initials placed over the doorway of a tomb, a detail which isn’t always visible in reproductions.


In the same collection is another gloomy Böcklin work, Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle (1872), and I hadn’t noticed before that the fiddle only has one string, the lowest, which would no doubt create a suitably dolorous melody.

For more on The Isle of the Dead see, a site dedicated to the many works in different media derived from the paintings. If you need a musical accompaniment whilst browsing, Rachmaninoff wrote the ideal piece.

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Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead

Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead


Another favourite painting for many years and Böcklin’s most well-known work.

Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) produced several different versions of the painting. All versions depict an oarsman and a standing white-clad figure in a small boat crossing an expanse of dark water towards a rocky island. In the boat is an object usually taken to be a coffin. The white-clad figure is often taken to be Charon, and the water analogous to the Acheron. Böcklin himself provided neither public explanation as to the meaning of the painting nor the title, which was conferred upon it by the art dealer Fritz Gurlitt in 1883. The first version of the painting, which is currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, was created in 1880 on a request by Marie Berna, whose husband had recently died.

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