Arnold Bocklin was born on Oct. 16, 1827, in Basel. He attended the Dusseldorf Academy (1845-1847). At this time he painted scenes of the Swiss Alps, using light effects and dramatic views subjectively to project emotional moods into the landscape. In 1848 this romantic introspection gave way to plein air (open-air) objectivity after he was influenced by Camille Corot, Eugene Delacroix, and the painters of the Barbizon school while on a trip to Paris. But after the February and June revolutions Bocklin returned to Basel with a lasting hatred and disgust for contemporary France, and he resumed painting gloomy mountain scenes.
In 1850 Bocklin found his mecca in Rome, and immediately his paintings were flooded by the warm Italian sunlight. He populated the lush southern vegetation, the bright light of the Roman Campagna, and the ancient ruins with lonely shepherds, cavorting nymphs, and lusty centaurs. These mythological figures rather than the landscapes became Bocklin's primary concern, and he used such themes as Pan Pursuing Syrinx (1857) to express the polarities of life: warm sunshine contrasts with cool, moist shade, and the brightness of woman's spirituality contrasts with man's dark sensuality.
When Bocklin returned to Basel with his Italian wife, he completed the painting which brought him fame when the king of Bavaria purchased it in 1858: Pan among the Reeds, a depiction of the Greek phallic god with whom the artist identified. He taught at the Academy of Art in Weimar from 1860 to 1862, when he returned to Rome. Called to Basel in 1866, he painted the frescoes and modeled the grotesque masks for the facade of the Basel Museum.
Bocklin resided in Florence from 1874 until 1885, and this was his most active period. He continued to explore the male-female antithesis and painted religious scenes, allegories of Nature's powers, and moody studies of man's fate. He ceased working with oils and began experimenting with tempera and other media to obtain a pictorial surface free of brushstrokes.
Bocklin spent the next 7 years mostly in Switzerland, with occasional trips to Italy, he devoted much of his energy to designing an airplane. Following a stroke in 1892, he returned to Italy, bought a villa in Fiesole, and died there on Jan. 16, 1901. Many of his late works depict nightmares of war, plague, and death.
Bocklin exercised an influence on Surrealist painters like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, and on Giorgio de Chirico. Otto Weisert designed an Art Nouveau typeface in 1904 and named it â€œArnold Bocklinâ€ in his honor. Bocklin's paintings, especially The Isle of the Dead, inspired several late-Romantic composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen both composed symphonic poems after it, and in 1913 Max Reger composed a set of Four Tone Poems after Bocklin of which the third movement is The Isle of the Dead (The others are The Hermit playing the Violin, At play in the waves and Bacchanal). Hans Huber's second symphony is entitled "Bocklin-Sinfonie", after the artist and his paintings. Rachmaninoff was also inspired by Bocklin's painting The Return when writing his Prelude in B Minor. Adolf Hitler was fond of Bocklin's work, at one time owning 11 of his paintings. When asked who was his favorite painter, Marcel Duchamp controversially named Arnold Bocklin as having a major influence on his art. Whether Duchamp was serious in this assertion is still debated. H. R. Giger has a picture called "Hommage to Boecklin", based upon "Isle of the Dead" .