2/8/13: A Mystery
Isle of the Dead, (1886, fifth version) Arnold Bocklin
This work is probably one of my favorites all year. The painting depicts a boatman (often depicted as Charon, the boatsman who ferried dead souls) ferrying what looks like a coffin and a figure clad in white. They are crossing what is assumed to be the river Styx, onto an island where the deceased go to cross over into the afterlife. What make the painting so awesome are the trees in the middle of the painting. They are so dark and obscure the main portion of the island, not allowing you to see in, meaning that anything and everything could be just behind the trees. It’s cool because as the living, we always wonder what’s on the other side, and by painting this painting, Bocklin has basically said that only the deceased can find out. I was surprised to learn that copies of this painting were in the offices of Sigmund Freud and Vladimir Lenin, as well as being Hitler’s favorite painting. The artist never actually commented on the meaning of the painting, so most of it is up to interpretation, which may have been one of the reasons why the three of them enjoyed the work itself so much.