The Isle of the Dead

The Isle of the Dead, by the swiss born painter Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), is an extremely provocative piece of work. Known for his dramatic depictions of scenes and figures Arnold many times brought up death and mortality in his pieces. This painting is a stunning example of these themes. The isolated island, reminiscent of skull rock far off the coast of Neverland in Peter Pan, towers over the figures in the boat approaching. A small forest nestled in the rocks, reaching just as high, shrouds the landing in darkness drawing the eye to the center of the painting making the viewer question the depth and purpose of this place. Speckled amongst the faces of the rocks are tomb like entrances further suggesting the reason the shrouded figures are there. The two figures in the boat are gravitating towards the island, one of them blanketed in white, is standing upright before an alter, while the other steadily rows onward. The combined presence of the alter, figures, and the island suggests a spiritual agenda as if we were seeing the place where the dead and living realms connect.


1881, Oil on panel, 31 x 59in (80 x 150cm), Staatliche Museum, Berlin