Artists that inspire writers and musicians – in fact, they inspire everybody

I have just recently come across the delightful works of Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901)  and for those of you who have not yet done so, I thought that you might like to learn something about him as I think that his works are extraordinary.  He was a Swiss symbolist painter born at Basel and as he grew up, he became involved with the Düsseldorf school of painting and then worked for a time Antwerp and Brussels, where he copied the works of Flemish and Dutch masters. He then spent some time working in the Louvre in Paris, where he painted several landscapes

But it is after he had completed his time in army and headed for Rome 1850,that his works (at least to me) got really interesting as they were influenced by allegorical and mythological figures and of course, as a fantasy writer and general fan of mythology and classical legends, this inevitably had a natural appeal for me.

arnold bocklin self portrait 1872

Arnold Böcklin (1873) Myself, with Death playing a Violin

His Portrait of Myself, with Death playing a violin (1873) is a little macabre, but incredibly well executed and reminds us all about our own mortality.  It was painted after he produced a number of brilliant paintings including, Battle of the Centaurs, Landscape with Moorish Horsemen and A Farm (1875) and between 1876 to 1885 he also painted a Pietà, Ulysses and Calypso, Prometheus, and the Sacred Grove.  Other wonderful works include Naiads at Play, A Sea Idyll, and War which are all influenced by elements of both Romanticism and Mythology.

One of his most famous paintings is the Isle of the Dead. It was influenced (many believe) by the death of his wife and baby daughter.  This painting (among others) inspired musical composers, such as Rachmaninoff and Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen, who both composed symphonic poems as a result of it.

bocklin isle of the dead 1883

Arnold Böcklin (1883) Isle of the Dead

His impact is ongoing.  In Mark Robson’s film Isle of the Dead (1945), Disney composer Harline’s score uses Rachmaninoff’s music. In 1913 Max Reger composed a set of Four Tone Poems, of which the third movement is ‘The Isle of the Dead’ . Zelazny entitled one of his books ‘Isle of the Dead’ and the Ace books edition featured a cover painting by Dean Ellis that mirrored much of Böcklin’s work.

Rachmaninoff was also inspired by Böcklin’s painting Die Heimkehr (‘The Homecoming’) when writing his Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10. Hans Huber’s second symphony is entitled Böcklin-Sinfonie and his work also influenced artists such as like Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. For what it’s worth, I think that his work is superb and now that I have found out about him, it will most likely inspire my writing too.  It is incredible how much of an ongoing impact that his work has (and continues to have) in so many ways.  Such talent is always inspiring and I am looking forward to learning and seeing much more of his work.


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