Minor Masters: Arnold Boecklin  cover

Minor Masters: Arnold Boecklin

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Arnold Boecklin is a minor master in the greater scheme of things, and, to some, he is an aesthetic atrocity (Clement Greenberg wrote that Böcklin’s work “is one of the most consummate expressions of all that was now disliked about the latter half of the nineteenth century”). Boecklin has a gift for devising extremely unflattering poses and capturing awkward moments, like the intervention of the incensed blowfish on behalf of a mildly abducted Meerkuh. The Alte Pinakothek in Munich, a comprehensive museum dedicated to the art of the Germanic countries before 1900, has one large Boecklin picture on display.





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Where in the World?

Where in the World?

One encounters the work of the Symbolist and academic painter, Arnold Boecklin (Swiss, 1827-1901), mainly in the smaller, regional museums of Germany and Switzerland.

The Alte Pinakothek in Munich, a comprehensive museum dedicated to the art of the Germanic countries before 1900, has one large Boecklin picture on display. Boecklin was, nevertheless, was a successful, admired artist in the odd, provincial world of German and Swiss 19th-century art.

Image: The Wake-Up Spring

The Silence of the Forest

The Silence of the Forest

The Silence of the Forest

Loony, Well-fed Jolliness

Loony, Well-fed Jolliness

His 20th-century admirers included the Surrealists, who claimed him as a their forebear.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, who based his Prelude in B Minor (Op. 32, No. 10) on Boecklin’s most famous painting, The Isle of the Dead; and Adolf Hitler (himself an artist as well), who owned 11 Boecklin paintings. When asked to name his favorite artist, Marcel Duchamp replied that he greatly admired Arnold Boecklin. Unlike the heavy-breathing and perfumed gloom of French Symbolist paintings, Boecklin’s fauns, sea-nymphs, mythological creatures and fish exhibit a loony, well-fed, jolliness.

Arnold Boecklin, Wellenspielen, 1888, Munich, Alte Pinakothek

Die Kapelle

Die Kapelle

Oil on canvas. Painting by Arnold Boecklin (1827-1901).

Public Domain

The Downside of Being Human

The Downside of Being Human

Like Brueghel, Boecklin has a gift for devising extremely unflattering poses and capturing awkward moments, like the intervention of the incensed blowfish on behalf of a mildly abducted Meerkuh.

He depicts centaurs, tritons and other hybrid creatures not in the idealized manner of classicizing art, but in an excruciating naturalistic style that draws attention to the downside of being half human, half horse/goat/fish. Although his paintings often depict bumbling nude figures, Boecklin’s cast of characters is at once too ridiculous and too revolting to be sexual (and his representation of the carnality of fauns is too sickening to be ridiculous).

Image: Nessus and Deianeira

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Oil on canvas. Painting by Arnold Boecklin (1827-1901).

Public Domain

Images Unfamiliar

Images Unfamiliar

Boecklin’s endless capacity for uniquely repellent imagery means that each work has its own instance of baffling, offensive badness.

The clumps of sea-slime that clings to the underside of the triton’s the beer gut; the hostess kaftan worn by the pederastical God, the sheer stupidity of painting a chapel ruined by the pounding surf in which it was constructed; a pious shark praying with folded fins, while hearing a Franciscan sermon; and the cracked-out gleam in the eye of an itchy donkey trying to pass as a unicorn.

Image Im Meere

Playing Naiades

Playing Naiades

Oil on canvas. Painting by Arnold Boecklin (1827-1901).

Public Domain

Plague

Plague

Plague

Article courtesy of False Start

(CC BY 4.0)