What a weird painting.
I believe it was J.G. Ballard who introduced me to Böcklin’s “Isle of the Dead” (1880-1888) for the first time four years ago.
A reference buried somewhere in his notes to “The Atrocity Exhibition”, his seminal literary work, my own discovery of this symbolist masterpiece was only one Google Image Search away.
I usually hate dreamy surreal stuff, but somehow this got to me. Using the landscape to reflect emotional and psychological states of mind is akin to the romantic tradition, but I believe this here goes one step further.
There is no overpowering nature like in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, leaving the protagonist helpless and small. Alltogether its language seems more tempered and contained than the language of its romanticist counterparts. More “mature” in a way, I would like to say.
From the sepulchral portals similar to the english cemetary in Florence, to the fact that he buried 8 of his 14 children, it’s a collage of various facets of Böcklins life.
But that’s not important, nor do you have to know about it. Citing Böcklin, the painting is supposed to “produce such a stillness that one would be awed by a knock on the door”. I don’t know about the stillness, but it definitely stuck in my head since that first time I saw it four years ago.