Sunday, 13 August 2017


I am currently working on a new painting that is partly based on Arnold Bocklin's
celebrated 'Isle of the Dead' (1880)

Arnold Bocklin's 'Isle of the Dead' - Basel version, 1880

Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) made at least five versions of this hauntingly evocative painting, basing it partly on the English Cemetery in Florence

English Cemetery, Florence

This place had enormous emotional significance for the artist for it was here that his young daughter Maria was buried. In fact, of his fourteen children, eight died - such was the child mortality rate at that time

Self portrait

The cemetery  itself was close to his studio in Florence and it is thought that the first three versions were painted in situ

Apart from his own variations on this theme, the work inspired a number of other important European artists

Ernst Fuchs

Ernst Fuchs (1930-2015) was particularly moved by Bocklin's disturbing yet ambiguous image and created two versions of the 'Isle of the Dead'

Ernst Fuchs - 1971

This later version (above) is called 'The Philosopher of the Isle of the Dead'

Bocklin's image seems to have interested a wide range of near contemporaries, For example, August Strindberg used it as the final image of his play 'Ghost Sonata', first performed in 1908

It is also said to have been the inspiration for a symphonic poem by Sergei Rachmanioff (1873-1943) - composed in 1908 after the composer had seen a black and white print of Bocklin's celebrated picture in Paris

Arnold Bocklin

Freud and Lenin both had a reproduction of Bocklin's 'Isle of the Dead' in their offices - but for different reasons perhaps!

My own favourite adaptation is by the creator of the savage creature in 'Alien' (1979) - Hans Ruedi Giger (1940-2014). His version captures beautifully the hidden menace of Bocklin's island, yet in a style that is uniquely his own

H.R Giger - 'Homage to Bocklin' (1977)

It was this version that I had in mind when I started work on my own adaptation, using bone black powder mixed with water as the medium of my choice

'Isle of the dead' - Mike Healey, 2017

There is very little brushwork involved in this painting, most of the plant and rock forms being created using only a palette knife 

The central figure in my painting is derived from the anatomical drawings (published in 1555) by Andreas Vesalius, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua 

For reasons about which I am not entirely sure I have clothed my figure in ivy leaves! He is gazing across a dark stretch of water (note the fish!) at the entrance to a tomb-like structure cut into the rock


No comments: