In 1880 Marie Berna, the American-born widow of a German diplomat, visited Böcklin in Florence, where she saw an unfinished first version of this painting (now Kunstmuseum Basel) on his easel. She commissioned the present canvas as a memorial to her husband, requesting the additions of the draped coffin and the shrouded female figure. Prodded by his dealer, Böcklin painted three other versions by 1886. This romantic image would become one of Germany's most beloved, widely circulated through poor reproductions as well as a related etching of 1890 by Max Klinger (1857–1901).
Inscription: Signed (lower right, on rock): A B
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]
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.
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.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklański Selects from the Met Collection," March 17–June 14, 2015, no catalogue.
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 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).
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.
Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Arnold Böcklin: Eine Auswahl der hervorragendsten Werke des Künstlers. Vol. 2, Munich, , 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.
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.
Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Arnold Böcklin: Eine Auswahl der hervorragendsten Werke des Künstlers. Vol. 4, Munich, , p. 61, states that it was painted in April–May 1880 for Gräfin Oriola, who had requested "ein Bild zu Träumen".
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.
Ferdinand Runkel and Carlo Böcklin, ed. 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. Arnold Böcklin: Beiträge zur Analyse seiner Bildgestaltung. PhD diss., Freie Universität, Berlin. 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.
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. 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].
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. inArnold 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.
Lutz Tittel, ed. Arnold Böcklin: Leben und Werk in Daten und Bildern. Frankfurt, 1977, p. 136, calls it the first completed version.
Brigitte Rechberg inA. Böcklin, 1827–1901. Ed. Bernd Krimmel. Exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe. Vol. 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 inA. Böcklin, 1827–1901. Ed. Bernd Krimmel. Exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe. Vol. 1, Darmstadt, 1977, p. 106, states that the first version (Basel) was commissioned by Berna.
Hans Günther Sperlich inA. Böcklin, 1827–1901. Ed. Bernd Krimmel. Exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe. Vol. 1, Darmstadt, 1977, p. 127.
Dieter Honisch. "Neuerwerbungen der Nationalgalerie 1980." Jahrbuch Preussischer Kulturbesitz 17 (1980), p. 247.
Gert Schiff inGerman 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.
Sharon Latchaw Hirsh. "Arnold Böcklin: Death Talks to the Painter." Arts Magazine 55 (February 1981), p. 87.
Alison de Lima Greene et al. inGerman 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 states that Max Klinger's etching is based on the first version (rather than the third) and misdates the etching 1885; 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).
Haruo Arikawa inArnold 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.
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].
Andrea Linnebach. Arnold Böcklin und die Antike: Mythos, Geschichte, Gegenwart. PhD diss., Universität Tübingen. Munich, 1991, pp. 101–3.
László F. Földényi inArnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst. Ed. Juri Steiner et al. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Zürich, 1997, p. 185.
Mario Erdheim and Agathe Blaser inArnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst. Ed. Juri Steiner et al. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Zürich, 1997, pp. 195–96.
Greil Marcus inArnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst. Ed. Juri Steiner et al. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Zürich, 1997, p. 250.
Robin Lenman. Artists and Society in Germany, 1850–1914. Manchester, 1997, pp. 94–95.
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].
Georg Schmidt in Rolf Andree. Arnold Böcklin: Die Gemälde. 2nd, supplemented and revised ed. Basel, 1998, p. 60 [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].
Anita-Maria von Winterfeld. Arnold Böcklin: Bildidee und Kunstverständnis im Wandel seiner künstlerischen Entwicklung. PhD diss., Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel. Basel, 1999, p. 178.
Hans Henrik Brummer inKingdom of the Soul: Symbolist Art in Germany 1870–1920. Ed. Ingrid Ehrhardt and Simon Reynolds. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Munich, 2000, pp. 30–31.
William Vaughan inKingdom of the Soul: Symbolist Art in Germany 1870–1920. Ed. Ingrid Ehrhardt and Simon Reynolds. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Munich, 2000, pp. 79, 88.
Hortense von Heppe. "Die Toteninsel." Deutsche Italomanie in Kunst, Wissenschaft und Politik. Ed. Wolfgang Lange and Norbert Schnitzler. Munich, 2000, pp. 101–3, 108–12, 115–17.
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).
Hans Holenweg inHommage 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.
Katharina Schmidt inArnold Böcklin. Ed. Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann and Katharina Schmidt. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Heidelberg, 2001, p. 17, fig. 4.
Christoph Heilmann inArnold Böcklin. Ed. Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann and Katharina Schmidt. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Heidelberg, 2001, p. 41.
Franz Zelger inArnold Böcklin. Ed. Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann and Katharina Schmidt. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel. Heidelberg, 2001, p. 260.
Petra Bosetti. "Ein später Gast im Reich der Mythen." Art no. 5 (May 2001), pp. 82–83, 85–86, ill. (color).
Roger Dadoun. L'Île des Morts, de Böcklin: Psychanalysis. Paris, 2001, pp. 27, 71.
Elizabeth Clegg. "Böcklin, Basel, Paris and Munich." Burlington Magazine 143 (August 2001), pp. 509–10 n. 3.
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 inMasterpieces 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).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 443, no. 378, ill. pp. 383, 443 (color).
Böcklin painted five versions of this subject; the composition is essentially the same in each, with variations in the details:  1880; oil on canvas, 43 7/8 x 61 in. (111 x 155 cm), Kunstmuseum Basel; Andree 1998, no. 343;  MMA;  1883; oil on wood, 31 1/2 x 59 1/8 in. (80 x 150 cm); Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie; Andree no. 345;  1884; oil on zinc, 31 7/8 x 59 1/2 in. (81 x 151 cm); destroyed in 1945; Andree no. 346;  1886; oil on wood, 31 1/2 x 59 1/8 in. (80 x 150 cm); Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig; Andree no. 347.
In 1890 Max Klinger (1857–1920) made an etching whose composition corresponds most closely to the 1883 version. There is some confusion on this point in the related literature, however, stemming from Hans Wolfgang Singer's statement implying that the etching is based on the first version (Max Klinger: Radierungen, Stiche, und Steindrucke / Etchings, Engravings, and Lithographs, 1878–1903, first published Berlin, 1909; bilingual ed., trans. Bernd K. Estabrook, San Francisco, 1991, p. 307, under no. 327).
The theme is treated in Salvador Dali's The True Painting 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).