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Arty Fact

wbillingsley's picture

Contributor

Arnold Böcklin is famous for his fantastic and mythical depictions because such illustrations are rare and because, most of the time, they are kind of weird looking.

For example, in a self-portrait he once drew himself along with death playing a fiddle. He has also painted a centaur trying to get new shoes from a blacksmith, spooky islands, and even mermaids.

These are not the only mermaids Böcklin painted. In fact, his love of mermaids was so strong that he even featured them in some of his more “serious” landscapes. And all of this is significant because Böcklin depicts mermaids in a unique way. If you notice, these aquatic fish/women don’t exactly embody traditional depictions of mermaids; you probably noticed they do not exactly look super slender, and I know you noticed the unibrow. They are splashing around a hirsute, rotund Triton playing the harp, and they can't seem to get enough of him. Their energy can only be described as lusty.

Traditionally, mermaids are beautiful women who would tempt sailors to crash their boats onto rocky shores. You can see this trend from Lord Frederick Leighton’s Fisherman and the Syren to, of course, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, where Ariel has more luxurious red hair than body fat. Böcklin’s rather more robust depictions of mermaids are a testimony to his own creative genius. The man had a classically informed artistic education and he studied in both Paris and Italy. This means he knew what typical academic nudes looked like, but he chose to cook up his own original fantasies anyway. Often depicting death or the world of myth, his eccentric, ominous paintings were not always popular, but they were an important contribution to the Symbolist movement. Later on, the Surrealists would rediscover his work and claim it as a source of inspiration.⁠

Sources

Sources

  1. Vinocur, John “The Burlesque, and Rigor, of Arnold Böcklin” New York Times 01/12/02 https://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/12/style/IHT-the-burlesque-and-rigor-of-...
  2. Web Contributor “ARNOLD BÖCKLIN” arnoldbocklin.org viewed on 11/29/2019 http://www.arnoldbocklin.org/
  3. Web Contributor “Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901)” ENCYCLOPEDIA OF VISUAL ARTISTS viewed on 11/29/2019 http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/arnold-bocklin.htm
  4. Web Contributor "mermaids." Oxford Reference. ; Accessed 30 Nov. 2019. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100151558 .