Quantcast

Back to the search results

Island of the Dead

Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, Basel 1827–1901 San Domenico, Italy)

Date:
1880
Medium:
Oil on wood
Dimensions:
29 x 48 in. (73.7 x 121.9 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Reisinger Fund, 1926
Accession Number:
26.90
  • Gallery Label

    A widow shrouded in white accompanies her husband's draped coffin in a rowboat to a rocky island whose cliffs are carved with tomb chambers. Böcklin painted five versions of "Island of the Dead" between 1880 and 1886. The image became one of the most beloved motifs in late nineteenth-century Germany, widely known through poor color reproductions and a freely adapted etching of the 1890s.

    The Metropolitan Museum owns the second version of "Island of the Dead," which was commissioned by Marie Berna when she visited Böcklin in his Florence studio in April 1880. She was struck by the first version (Kunstmuseum Basel), which sat half completed on the easel, so Böcklin painted this smaller version on wood for her. At her request, he added the coffin and female figure, in allusion to her husband's death years earlier. His dealer, Fritz Gurlitt, prodded Böcklin to paint three more versions, all with a lighter sky. One is in Berlin (1883, Alte Nationalgalerie), one is in Leipzig (1886, Museum der Bildenden Künste), and the third (1884) was destroyed in World War II.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower right, on rock): A B

  • Provenance

    Marie Berna, later Maria Anna Gräfin von Oriola, Büdesheim, near Frankfurt (1880–d. 1915); her heirs, Josephine von Buttlar and Marie Sommerhoff (née Leisler), Büdesheim (1915–24; sold for Swiss Fr 90,000 to Fischer); [Galerie Fischer, Lucerne, 1924–26; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    Brooklyn Museum. "Landscape," November 8, 1945–January 1, 1946, no. 42.

    Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Classical Contribution to Western Civilization," December 15, 1948–January 31, 1949, not in catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Classical Contribution to Western Civilization," April 21–September 5, 1949, not in catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "German Drawings: Masterpieces from Five Centuries," May 10–June 10, 1956, suppl. no. 202.

    Cambridge, Mass. Busch-Reisinger Museum. "Rivers and Seas: Changing Attitudes Toward Landscape, 1700–1962," April 26–June 16, 1962, no. 26.

    London. Hayward Gallery. "Arnold Böcklin, 1827–1901," May 20–June 27, 1971, no. 38.

    Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf. "Arnold Boecklin, 1827–1901," June 21–August 11, 1974, no. 46.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "German Masters of the Nineteenth Century: Paintings and Drawings from the Federal Republic of Germany," May 2–July 5, 1981, no. 9.

  • References

    Arnold Böcklin. Letter to Marie Berna. June 29, 1880 [published in Ref. Schmid 1921, p. 28 and Ref. Vielsmeier 1981, p. 120], calls it "die Gräberinsel" ["Island of the Graves"] and states that it was sent to Berna on June 23.

    Arnold Böcklin. Letter to Marie Berna. October 24, 1880 [published in Ref. Schmid 1921, pp. 28–29 and Ref. Vielsmeier 1981, p. 121], conveys his thanks that she is pleased with this picture.

    Arnold Böcklin. Letter to Alexander Günther. May 19, 1880 [excerpt translated in French in Ref. Holenweg, "Hommage à L'Ile des Morts," 2001, p. 12], states that he is now working on the smaller version of "Island of the Dead" (MMA).

    Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Arnold Böcklin: Eine Auswahl der hervorragendsten Werke des Künstlers. 2, Munich, [1895], p. 21, no. 300b, pl. 19, dates it in the first half of 1880; notes that Böcklin stopped working on the first version (now Kunstmuseum Basel) to complete this picture.

    Max Lehrs. Arnold Böcklin: Ein Leitfaden zum Verständnis Seiner Kunst. Munich, 1897, p. 43, no. 25.

    Franz Hermann Meissner. Arnold Böcklin. Berlin, 1899, pp. 91–92 [1901 ed., pp. 94–95].

    Gustav Floerke. Zehn Jahre mit Böcklin: Aufzeichnungen und Entwürfe. Munich, 1902, pp. 26, 38, 86, ill. after p. 36, calls it the first repetition after the original; illustrates all five versions.

    Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Arnold Böcklin: Eine Auswahl der hervorragendsten Werke des Künstlers. 4, Munich, [1902], p. 61, states that it was painted in April–May 1880 for Gräfin Oriola, who had requested "ein Bild zu Träumen".

    Julius Vogel. Toteninsel und Frühlingshymne: Zwei Gemälde Boecklins im Leipziger Museum. Leipzig, 1902, pp. 14–17, 22, 38 n. 2, p. 39 n. 3, ill. opp. p. 8.

    Fritz v[on]. Ostini. Böcklin. Bielefeld, 1904, pp. 102–3, pl. 63 [1923 ed., pp. 96–99, pl. 63].

    Alfred Julius Meier-Graefe. Der Fall Böcklin und die Lehre von den Einheiten. Stuttgart, 1905, p. 243.

    Ernst Berger. Böcklins Technik. Munich, 1906, pp. 4, 14, 113.

    Adolf Grabowsky. Der Kampf um Böcklin. Berlin, 1906, pp. 73–75.

    Adolf Rosenberg. Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte. 2nd ed. Bielefeld, 1908, p. 625, pl. 845.

    Berthold Daun. Die Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts und der Gegenwart. Berlin, 1909, pp. 768–69, pl. 564.

    Neben meiner Kunst: Flugstudien, Briefe und Persönliches von und ûber Arnold Böcklin. Berlin, 1909, p. 60, state that the artist identified the Aragonese Castle on the island of Ischia, visited in July 1880, as the inspiration for this motif [see Refs. Magyar 1976, Zelger 1991]; refute the theory that the Ponticonissi island near Corfu was used as a model.

    Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Arnold Böcklin. Munich, 1919, pp. 34–35, pl. 58.

    Marie Sommerhoff. Letter to Heinrich Alfred Schmid. October 4, 1920 [excerpt published in French in Ref. Holenweg 2001, "Hommage à l'Ile des Morts d'Arnold Böcklin," p. 12], recalls that this painting was almost completed eight days after Berna's commission.

    H[einrich]. A[lfred]. Schmid. "Die neuerworbenen Gemälde Arnold Böcklins." Jahresbericht der Oeffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, 1920, n.s., 17 (1921), pp. 26–29, fig. 5, notes that Böcklin had already begun the first version of this painting for the collector Alexander Günther when Berna visited his studio in Florence in 1880; comments that the boat with the coffin and figure in white were added to both versions following Berna's commission.

    H[einrich]. A[lfred]. Schmid and J. Sarafin-Schlumberger. "Jahresbericht der oeffentlichen Kunstsammlung über das Jahr 1920." Jahresbericht der Oeffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, 1920 17 (1921), pp. 5–6, note that this picture has been on longterm loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel.

    H[einrich]. A[lfred]. Schmid. Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Kleine Führer Nummer 1: Arnold Böcklin. [Basel], 1922, pp. 19–20, under no. 1055.

    Bryson Burroughs. "The Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21 (June 1926), pp. 146–48, ill., notes that Böcklin painted the motif of a villa by the sea as early as 1864; states that he worked on the MMA and Kunstmuseum Basel versions simultaneously, following Berna's commission.

    "Notes on Current Art." International Studio 84 (August 1926), pp. 85–86, ill., repeats Burroughs' [Ref. 1926] assertion that the first two versions were painted following Berna's commission.

    Hanns Floerke. Böcklin und das Wesen der Kunst. Munich, 1927, pp. 37–42.

    Georg Jacob Wolf. Arnold Böcklin: Aus Leben und Schaffen. Munich, 1927, p. 42, ill. p. 36.

    Wilhelm Barth. Arnold Böcklin. Frauenfeld, 1928, pp. 9–13, 91.

    Rolf Andree Freie Universität, Berlin. Arnold Böcklin: Beiträge zur Analyse seiner Bildgestaltung. Düsseldorf, 1962, pp. 44–46, 48, 55, 57–58, 75 n. 112, p. 77 n. 126, p. 79 n. 154, p. 86 n. 239, p. 87 n. 258.

    Rudolf Zeitler. Die Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1966, pp. 116–17.

    Rolf Andree. Arnold Böcklin, 1827–1901. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery. London, 1971, pp. 8, 11, 31, no. 38, refers to it as the first finished one of the five versions and elsewhere in the text as the second version; dates it April–May 1880; remarks that Carlo Böcklin's identification of the castle of Alfonso of Aragon as the model for this picture [see Ref. Runkel and Böcklin 1909] shows "how irrelevant the original locations are with Böcklin, and how fruitless it is to try to track them down"; states that the dealer Fritz Gurlitt invented the title "Island of the Dead" [see Ref. Holenweg 2001].

    Keith Roberts. "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: London." Burlington Magazine 113 (July 1971), p. 419.

    Michael Webber. "London Galleries: Peace and War." Apollo 93 (June 1971), p. 510, states that it was painted in the Bay of Kotor near Dubrovnik, and that it inspired Rachmaninov.

    Rolf Andree in Arnold Böcklin, 1827–1901. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf, 1974, p. 60, no. 46.

    Zoltan Magyar. "Die Toteninsel." Das Münster 29 (1976), pp. 204–7, argues that the Aragonese Castle has no similarity with this composition, and that Böcklin's recollection of seeing it in July 1880 conflicts with our painting's date of April–May of that year [see Refs. Runkel and Böcklin 1909, Zelger 1991]; suggests that Böcklin's inspiration was the cemetery island of St. Juraj, south of Dubrovnik.

    Susanne Burger et al. in Arnold Böcklin, 1827–1901. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Basel, 1977, p. 201, under no. 154, notes that the Basel version was begun first and then set aside to be finished after the completion of the second (MMA) version.

    Brigitte Rechberg in A. Böcklin, 1827–1901. Exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe. 2, Darmstadt, 1977, pp. 130–31, under no. 55, ill., notes that Böcklin began the first version in May 1880 for Berna, but left it unfinished and sold her the smaller, second version (MMA).

    Norbert Schneider in A. Böcklin, 1827–1901. Exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe. 1, Darmstadt, 1977, p. 106, states that the first version (Basel) was commissioned by Berna.

    Hans Günther Sperlich in A. Böcklin, 1827–1901. Exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe. 1, Darmstadt, 1977, p. 127.

    Arnold Böcklin: Leben und Werk in Daten und Bildern. Frankfurt, 1977, p. 136, calls it the first completed version.

    Dieter Honisch. "Neuerwerbungen der Nationalgalerie 1980." Jahrbuch Preussischer Kulturbesitz 17 (1980), p. 247.

    Alison de Lima Greene et al. in German Masters of the Nineteenth Century: Paintings and Drawings from the Federal Republic of Germany. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1981, pp. 62–64, no. 9, ill. (color), note that Böcklin called this painting "A Still Place," "A Silent Island," and later, "Island of the Graves"; erroneously state that Max Klinger made an 1885 etching after the first version, rather than the third; mention Dali's "The True Picture of Arnold Böcklin's Island of the Dead at the Hour of the Angelus (1932; Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal) and Ernst Fuchs's 1971 etching "Island of the Dead"; note that it also inspired Rachmaninoff's symphonic poem "The Isle of the Dead" (1907) and the third movement of Max Reger's "Böcklin Suite" (1913, Opus 128).

    Sharon Latchaw Hirsh. "Arnold Böcklin: Death Talks to the Painter." Arts Magazine 55 (February 1981), p. 87.

    Gert Schiff in German Masters of the Nineteenth Century: Paintings and Drawings from the Federal Republic of Germany. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1981, p. 29.

    Bernd Vielsmeier. "Böcklin - Berna - Büdesheim. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der 'Toteninsel' von Arnold Böcklin." Wetterauer Geschichtsblätter 30 (1981), pp. 117–22, ill., describes Berna's visit to Böcklin's studio in April 1880 when she saw the Basel version in progress on his easel and requested a similar picture; reproduces Böcklin's letters to Berna [see Refs. Böcklin, June and October 1880]; states that the MMA picture was lent to the Kunstmuseum Basel for a short time in the beginning of the 1920s.

    Haruo Arikawa in Arnold Böcklin: Werke aus dem Kunstmuseum Basel. Exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art. Tokyo, 1987, pp. 124–25, ill.

    Ann Dumas in Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin. Courbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, p. 157, relates this work to Courbet's "The Source of the Loue" (1864; National Gallery of Art, Washington).

    Dorothea Christ in Dorothea Christ and Christian Geelhaar. Arnold Böcklin: Die Gemälde im Kunstmuseum Basel. Basel, 1990, p. 122, fig. 123, dates it 1883.

    Andrea Linnebach Universität Tübingen. Arnold Böcklin und die Antike: Mythos, Geschichte, Gegenwart. Munich, 1991, pp. 101–3.

    Franz Zelger. Arnold Böcklin: Die Toteninsel. Frankfurt, 1991, pp. 8, 11, 16, fig. 1, locates the third version (1883) in the Nationalgalerie, Berlin and the fifth version (1886) in the Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig, noting that the fourth version (1884) was supposedly destroyed during World War II; remarks that Böcklin first visited Ischia in September 1879 and was never in St. Juraj or Pontikonissi [see Refs. Runkel and Böcklin 1909, Magyar 1976].

    Mario Erdheim and Agathe Blaser in Arnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Zürich, 1997, pp. 195–96.

    László F. Földényi in Arnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Zürich, 1997, p. 185.

    Robin Lenman. Artists and Society in Germany, 1850–1914. Manchester, 1997, pp. 94–95.

    Greil Marcus in Arnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Zürich, 1997, p. 250.

    Rolf Andree. Arnold Böcklin: Die Gemälde. 2nd, supplemented and revised ed. Basel, 1998, pp. 28, 418–20, 564–65, 568, 577, 579, 581–82, no. 344, ill. [1st ed. Basel, 1977].

    Hans Holenweg in Rolf Andree. Arnold Böcklin: Die Gemälde. 2nd, supplemented and revised ed. Basel, 1998, pp. 96, 101 [1st ed. Basel, 1977].

    Georg Schmidt in Rolf Andree. Arnold Böcklin: Die Gemälde. 2nd, supplemented and revised ed. Basel, 1998, p. 60 [1st ed. Basel, 1977].

    Anita-Maria von Winterfeld Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel. Arnold Böcklin: Bildidee und Kunstverständnis im Wandel seiner künstlerischen Entwicklung. Basel, 1999, p. 178.

    Hans Henrik Brummer in Kingdom of the Soul: Symbolist Art in Germany 1870–1920. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Munich, 2000, pp. 30–31.

    Hortense von Heppe. "Die Toteninsel." Deutsche Italomanie in Kunst, Wissenschaft und Politik. Munich, 2000, pp. 101–3, 108–12, 115–17.

    William Vaughan in Kingdom of the Soul: Symbolist Art in Germany 1870–1920. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Munich, 2000, pp. 79, 88.

    Petra Bosetti. "Ein später Gast im Reich der Mythen." Art no. 5 (May 2001), pp. 82–83, 85–86, ill. (color).

    Elizabeth Clegg. "Böcklin, Basel, Paris and Munich." Burlington Magazine 143 (August 2001), pp. 509–10 n. 3.

    Roger Dadoun. L'Île des Morts, de Böcklin: Psychanalysis. Paris, 2001, pp. 27, 71.

    Christoph Heilmann in Arnold Böcklin. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Heidelberg, 2001, p. 41.

    Hans Holenweg in Hommage à l'Ile des Morts d'Arnold Böcklin. Exh. cat., Musée Bossuet, Meaux. Paris, 2001, pp. 12–13, 18–19, ill. pp. 16–17 (color), notes that Böcklin added the figure in silhouette for Marie Berna; cites Ref. Sommerhoff 1920, in which Berna's cousin recalls that our painting was already in an advanced state of completion eight days after its commission; cites Ref. Böcklin, May 1880, referring to the first version as "The Island of the Dead," as proof that the artist, not Fritz Gurlitt, gave this title to the pictures; considers it likely that this motif was inspired by the Aragonese castle in Ischia.

    Hans Holenweg. "Die Toteninsel. Arnold Böcklins popülares Landschaftsbild und seine Ausstrahlung bis in die heutige Zeit." Das Münster 54, no. 3 (2001), pp. 235–37, 239, fig. 2 (color).

    Katharina Schmidt in Arnold Böcklin. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Heidelberg, 2001, p. 17, fig. 4.

    Franz Zelger in Arnold Böcklin. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Heidelberg, 2001, p. 260.

    Matthew Gurewitsch. "A Visual Requiem That Inspired Rachmaninoff." New York Times (January 6, 2002), pp. 31, 37.

    Rodolphe Rapetti. Symbolism. Paris, 2005, p. 8.

    Sabine Rewald in Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 78, 212, no. 72, ill. (color and black and white).



  • Notes

    This is the second of five versions of this composition [see gallery label]. Max Klinger made an etching of the third version in 1885. The theme is treated in Salvador Dali's "The True Picture of Arnold Böcklin's Island of the Dead at the Hour of the Angelus" (1932; Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal) and Ernest Fuchs's etching "Island of the Dead" (1971). The picture also inspired Rachmaninoff's symphonic poem "The Isle of the Dead" (1907) and the third movement of Max Reger's "Böcklin Suite" (1913; Opus 128).

  • See also
    Who
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
435683

Close