Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead (Alte Nationalgalerie version)

Isle of the Dead, Arnold Bocklin, five versions plus etching by Max Klinger
Isle of the Dead, Arnold Böcklin

Today is Halloween, or Hallow’een, short for “All Hallows’ Evening” — the evening before a day dedicated to remembrance of the dead (and marked by costumery and other activities meant to mock death itself).

With the theme of the dead in mind, here is one of five different versions of a famous painting by Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin, each titled Isle of the Dead (“Die Toteninsel” in German), and differentiated in their titles by the museum or gallery in which they currently hang.

The version shown here, now in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin (and at one time owned by Adolf Hitler), was the third version painted, and the most famous — partly due do an etching based on it by Max Klinger (images above, bottom), and widely reproduced versions of lower quality.

The link I’ve given for the painting is to the Google Art Project zoomable image. There is a high resolution downloadable file of that image on Wikimedia Commons, along with images of the other versions of the painting (images above, bottom, above Klinger’s etching). The fourth version was destroyed in WW II, and only a black and white photo remains.

Isle of the Dead was extraordinarily popular and influential, inspiring numerous artists, including other Symbolists, the Surrealists and subsequent generations of fantasy painters.

There is an entry on the five paintings on Wikipedia, and another about them on In the latter article, John Coulthart explores some of the pop culture references to the painting, including the notion that it was the inspiration for the views of the approach to Skull Island in the original King Kong.

See also my post on Arnold Böcklin.

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