Arnold Böcklin, a Swiss symbolist artist, produced five versions of the iconic painting, The Isle of the Dead. The painting was created between 1880 and 1886 and does not depict an explicit story. Instead, it is an allegory that is mainly characterized by its obsession with death and decay.
The picture became exceedingly popular in central Europe during the early twentieth century and has since played a significant role in inspiring various classical compositions such as Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead and the third movement of Max Reger’s Böcklin Suite.
While there were several different versions of this painting over the years, one common element across all variations is that they all depict a desolate island with tall trees where boats are docked near shorelines. Although there is no consensus on what this strange island means to many interpreters, it might serve as an entrance to Hades (the realm of the dead). This interpretation shows Böcklin’s preoccupation with death more explicitly.
Böcklin spent some time at Castello Alfonso off Ischia Island’s coast in Southern Italy in autumn 1879, later causing him to create his work about death after being inspired by location imagery. A chance visit from Marie Berna to his studio Florence studio led to her asking for a “picture to dream by,” ultimately resulting in The Isle Of The Dead artwork creation.