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The Isle of the Dead
October 31, 2008 10:49 AM   Subscribe

The picture of a boat approaching a wooded island held a strange sway over the early twentieth century imagination. Strindberg closes The Ghost Sonata with the image; Rachmaninoff brought forth a symphonic poem from it; Freud, Lenin, and Clemenceau all owned prints, while Hitler hung one of the original five paintings on his wall. The work's creator, a Swiss Symbolist painter named Arnold Böcklin, never cared to give it a name. It was an art dealer who first called it Die Toteninsel"The Isle of the Dead."
posted by Iridic (27 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
You cannot be interested simultaneously in the art of past and present.

Well, fuck you too, man.
posted by Citizen Premier at 11:08 AM on October 31, 2008


I have to wonder if this was part of the inspiration for the Lord of the Rings, too; certainly Rivendell looks similar.
posted by Citizen Premier at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2008


Nice post, thanks Iridic.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2008


Here's what appears to be an H.R. Giger version.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:14 AM on October 31, 2008


Citizen Premier: I don't know whether Tolkien was inspired by it (although it seems plausible), but Roger Zelazny certainly was.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 11:15 AM on October 31, 2008


Strindberg's hot tonight! Strindberg's hot tonight!

/helium

Nice painting. Don't think I've seen that before.
posted by Manhasset at 11:16 AM on October 31, 2008


Can't believe I haven't seen this before.

Thanks for a great post, Iridic.
posted by codswallop at 11:34 AM on October 31, 2008


Citizen Premier, read 2nd and 3rd paragraphs of the article, where the author calls the statement a "tedious cliché" and "rubbish."
posted by exogenous at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2008


The fifth version of The Isle of the Dead is currently lost;
it may have disappeared or been destroyed during the World Wars.


Coooooooooool. Hello novel idea!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:58 AM on October 31, 2008


reminds me that I am due to visit my in-laws soon.
posted by Postroad at 12:01 PM on October 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nice post. I was listening to the Rachmaninoff piece recently and started looking into this. Thanks, Iridic.
posted by homunculus at 12:21 PM on October 31, 2008


<stupid nitpick>I like the painting, but I don't think the boat is approaching, since the rower in the boat is facing the island.</stupid nitpick>
posted by hanoixan at 12:22 PM on October 31, 2008


Actually, I think I see an Evinrude hanging off the back end of that boat.
posted by echo target at 12:25 PM on October 31, 2008


Very cool.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2008


This maybe a dumb thing to say but i this modeled after a real place? The reason I ask is I have this vague childhood memory of a trip my parents and I took to Greece in the early 1970's. We did this little tour of some of the islands in a tiny little boat. I remember the guide didn't really speak much English and was this older scruffy man who took off his shirt and had gray back hair. The memories are very vivid of the colors and shapes of these islands. I recall one in particular one that looked much like this paining in a way. There were ruins - one of an ancient small amphitheater that opened right up to the water. Most of it was underwater. I remember the guy just dove off off the boat and my dad shrugged and we followed him. Swimming into these little caves that I guess were tombs. Some you had to go underwater to get to. I'm sure you can't do any of that stuff now.

Anyway. Probably lots of places like that in those islands.
posted by tkchrist at 12:39 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


According to Wikipedia, the painting was based on the English Cemetery in Florence where the Last Descendants of Shakespeare are buried.

I swear if any of you jerks steals the brilliant thriller plot device of the Shakespeare Codex™ I'm gonna be livid. DIBS. OFFICIALLY.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:41 PM on October 31, 2008


Oh but according to this, apparently, it was modeled after the Island of Ponza, or, more likely, Pondikisi. So, very possible you saw this. Spooky.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:49 PM on October 31, 2008


Pondikonisi I meant. Not too threatening here. Crazy old painters and their pathetic fallacies. I guess that's what happens when you lose a child.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:53 PM on October 31, 2008


I don't think the boat is approaching, since the rower in the boat is facing the island.

I believe he's push-rowing.
posted by pracowity at 12:58 PM on October 31, 2008


read 2nd and 3rd paragraphs of the article, where the author calls the statement a "tedious cliché" and "rubbish."

Ah, my bad. I did read them, but I guess they didn't register since the hook put me off.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:57 PM on October 31, 2008


So are you telling me that whoever did the background artwork for Baldur's Gate was channeling Arnold Böcklin?
posted by sneebler at 2:20 PM on October 31, 2008


This odd little treatise references a theory that the Faraglioni formations off of Capri were the models for the island, but it quickly rejects the idea in favor of a landlocked cave near Gubbio:
Those who said that Böcklin was inspired by the Faraglioni of Capri have never seen that area of Monte Ingino. If they had, they would have been left astounded, as we were that afternoon at the end of summer. The rock, the cypresses, the anxiety generated by the silence of the Umbrian locality, send us back to The Island of the Dead surrounded by a liquid presence that isn’t sea, but crystallised silence, total standstill.
Then the authors attempt to link Böcklin to Arianism, a gnostic Magdalene cult, Nicolas Poussin's Bergers d’Arcadie, and "anomalies in the earth’s magnetic field."
posted by Iridic at 2:21 PM on October 31, 2008


This reminds me of Hergé's cover for The Black Island.
posted by LVdB at 3:56 PM on October 31, 2008


The painting also had an influence on the Val Lewton horror films of the forties. One of which was indeed called Isle of the Dead, the painting itself appears in I Walked with a Zombie in the room of the woman suspected of having possibly been zombified. Beautiful films. (Here's a dull screencap I took with the painting in the background.)
The Pre-Raphaelites in general, I believe, exerted a strong influence on cinema, David Lynch for one seems to draw quite a bit of inspiration from their works.
posted by mr.grum at 4:25 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, sloppily I lumped the symbolists and Pre-Raphaelites together out of ease of habit, when that isn't entirely accurate. Sorry.
posted by mr.grum at 4:27 PM on October 31, 2008


Lovely.... What a great painting. It actually reminds me of Beksinski.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:53 PM on November 1, 2008


There appears to be wake between the viewer and the boat. I see it as approaching the island.

*stupid rehashing of nitpicking over*
posted by joemax at 3:07 PM on November 3, 2008


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