Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bocklin, Arnold

Isle of the Dead (third version)
oil on panel
80 × 150 cm
Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Berlin, Germany

Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) was a Swiss symbolist painter. He is best known for his five versions (painted in 1880-1886) of Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.

He exercised an influence on Surrealist painters like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, and on Giorgio de Chirico. His paintings, especially The Isle of the Dead, inspired several late-Romantic composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen both composed symphonic poems after it, Max Reger composed a set of Four Tone Poems after Bocklin. Hans Huber's second symphony is entitled "Bocklin-Sinfonie". Rachmaninoff was also inspired by Bocklin’s painting The Return when writing his Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10.. Adolf Hitler was fond of Bocklin’s work, at one time owning 11 of his paintings. When asked who was his favorite painter, Marcel Duchamp controversially named Arnold Bocklin as having a major influence on his art.

He was born in Basel. His father was descended from an old family of Schaffhausen, and engaged in the silk trade. He attended the Dusseldorf Academy from 1845 to 1847. At this time he painted scenes of the Swiss Alps, using light effects and dramatic views subjectively to project emotional moods into the landscape. In 1848 this romantic introspection gave way to plein air objectivity after he was influenced by Camille Corot, Eugene Delacroix, and the painters of the Barbizon school while on a trip to Paris. But after the February and June revolutions he returned to Basel with a lasting hatred and disgust for contemporary France, and he resumed painting gloomy mountain scenes.

In 1850 he found his mecca in Rome, and immediately his paintings were flooded by the warm Italian sunlight. He populated the lush southern vegetation, the bright light of the Roman Campagna, and the ancient ruins with lonely shepherds, cavorting nymphs, and lusty centaurs. These mythological figures rather than the landscapes became his primary concern, and he used themes to express the polarities of life: warm sunshine contrasts with cool, moist shade, and the brightness of woman's spirituality contrasts with man's dark sensuality.

When he returned to Basel with his Italian wife, he completed the painting Pan among the Reeds which brought him fame when the king of Bavaria purchased it in 1858. He taught at the Academy of Art in Weimar from 1860 to 1862, when he returned to Rome. Called to Basel in 1866, he painted the frescoes and modeled the grotesque masks for the facade of the Basel Museum. He resided in Florence from 1874 until 1885, and this was his most active period. He continued to explore the male-female antithesis and painted religious scenes, allegories of Nature's powers, and moody studies of man's fate. He ceased working with oils and began experimenting with tempera and other media to obtain a pictorial surface free of brushstrokes. He spent the next 7 years mostly in Switzerland, with occasional trips to Italy. Following a stroke in 1892, he returned to Italy, bought a villa in Fiesole, and died there. Many of his late works became increasingly subjective often depicting fabulous creatures, nightmares of war, plague, and death.

Bocklin was an original, proud, somewhat eccentric painter who, like Da Vinci, experimented in his garden with human flight, designing an airplane. He disliked giving titles to his pictures and declared that he painted in order to make people dream. "Just as it is poetry's task to express feelings, painting must provoke them too. A picture must give the spectator as much food for thought as a poem and must make the same kind of impression as a piece of music..." (Arnold Bocklin)