Arnold Böcklin was born in Basle, Switzerland on October 16th 1827. The son of a merchant, he overcame his father's opposition thanks to the poet Wilhelm Wackernagel and was able to devote himself to art. In 1845 he attended the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, where his teacher was Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, known for his heroic-panoramic style of painting.
Between 1847 and 1848 he travelled to Brussels, Antwerp, Switzerland and Paris. From the autumn of 1848 he worked in Basle, moving to Rome in 1850. In Rome he studied the work of the ancients and found the inspiration for many important works. In 1853 he married Angela Pascucci, a young Italian girl from Rome. There followed a somewhat obscure period, ending when he was appointed to the post of Professor at the Academy of Weimar in 1860. Two years later he returned to Rome to visit Naples and Pompeii and the frescos he discovered had a lasting influence on his technique and his future artistic production.
In autumn 1866 he started work on the fresco that was to decorate the main staircase of the Museum of Basle. The period that followed was particularly productive and his style improved enormously in terms of colour, form and inspiration.
From 1874-84 he lived in Florence, surrounded by disciples. During this period he produced his most controversial works, such as 'The Island of the Dead' and 'The Holy Wood'.
In 1895 he moved to his villa at San Domenico, near Fiesole. It was here that he lived the last years of his life, continuing to paint until his death on January 16th 1901.
Art historians have always found it difficult to classify this original, proud, somewhat eccentric painter who, like Da Vinci, experimented in his garden with human flight. He disliked giving titles to his pictures and declared that he painted in order to make people dream:
"Just as it is poetry's task to express feelings, painting must provoke them too. A picture must give the spectator as much food for thought as a poem and must make the same kind of impression as a piece of music..."
"Who would ever have been able to anticipate the effect of music before having heard it? Painting should pervade the soul in the same way, and as long as it does not do this it is nothing more than a brainless handicraft."
"There is no end to the poetry of the beautiful."