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Arnold Bocklin was born in October 1827, in Basel, Switzerland. He attended the Dusseldorf Academy under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, where he also became friends with Anselm Feuerbach, who was a Dusseldorf school of painting’s associate. Schirmer saw in Bocklin an exceptional potential and sent him to Brussels and Antwerp, to copy artworks by Dutch and Flemish masters.
Bocklin moved to Paris, where he painted several landscapes and worked at the Louvre, where he could study paintings by many artists. Arnold Bocklin would join the army and serve for a time, before setting out for Rome in 1850. This period in Rome would prove a new stimulus to his artwork, bringing them as mythological and allegorical figures into the composition.
Bocklin’s earliest paintings show a keen interest in ancient mythology. Among these pieces are Great Park, Heroic Landscape, Nymph and Satyr, and Sappho. For these paintings, together with Franz Lenbach’s recommendation, Bocklin was appointed as a professor at the Bauhaus-Universitat Weimar. Bocklin would occupy this position for two years, the period in which he painted the Venus and Love, Saint Catherine, and a Portrait of Lenbach.
From around 1865 forward, Bocklin spent most of his time in Rome, where he became increasingly fascinated and absorbed in ancient mythology. According to Rudolf Shick, one of the artist’s students, Bocklin studied thoroughly Pompeian wall paintings and Raphael’s murals in the Vatican.
Soon, Bocklin began to execute his artworks inspired by works of Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist artists. He became increasingly interested in retelling mythological themes in an idiosyncratic and unconventional manner. According to art historians, these artworks were initially not well received, primarily because many viewers found Bocklin’s depictions of mythological themes quite vulgar, representing them through a personal and sometimes comic lens.
During the 1880s, the artist began to be praised by German art critics for said artworks. According to them, Bocklin created art that resonated with the German people.
Although Bocklin’s most prolific period began between the 1860s and 80s, the artist continued to produce until the final years of his life. During his later career, Bocklin executed several unique and powerful compositions, such as The Plague, War, Ulysse et Polypheme.
In 1880, Bocklin also created The Isle of Death, a picture an intriguing composition that he executed in different manners until the very end of his life, as the last of its versions was finished in 1901. This picture became one of the artists’ best know artworks.
Arnold Bocklin died in January 1901, In Fiesole, Italy.