Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827–1901)
Oil on wood
29 x 48 in. (73.7 x 121.9 cm)
Signed (lower right, on rock): A B
Reisinger Fund, 1926 (26.90)
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, an 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.