About This Artwork

Arnold Böcklin
Swiss, 1827-1901

In the Sea, 1883

Oil on panel
34 3/8 x 45 3/4 in. (86.5 x 115 cm)

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1990.443

Arnold Böcklin’s art had little in common with Impressionism or the academic art of his time. Instead, his depictions of demigods in naturalistic settings interpret themes from classical mythology in an idiosyncratic, often sensual manner. In the Sea, part of a series of paintings of mythological subjects, displays an unsettling, earthy realism. Mermaids and tritons frolic in the water with a lusty energy and abandon verging on coarseness. Occupying the center of the composition is a harp-playing triton. Three mermaids have attached themselves to his huge frame as if it were a raft; the one near his shoulder seems to thrust herself upon him. The work’s sense of boisterousness is tempered by the ominously shaped reflection of the triton and mermaids in the sea and by the oddness of the large-eared heads that emerge from the water at the right. In addition to imaginative, bizarre interpretations of the classical world, Böcklin painted mysterious landscapes punctuated by an occasional lone figure. These haunting later works made him an important contributor to the international Symbolist movement. They also appealed to some Surrealist artists, particularly Giorgio di Chirico, who declared, "Each of [Böcklin’s] works is a shock."

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 220.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Berlin, Kunsthandlung Fritz Gurlitt, 1884.

Basel, Kunsthalle, Basel Kunstverein, Katalog der Böcklin-Jubiläums-Ausstellung in der Kunsthalle zu Basel, 1897, no. 76.

Basel, Kunsthalle, Arnold Böcklin (1827-1927): Austellung zur Feier des 100. Geburtsjahres, 1927, no. 123a.

Basel, Kunsthalle, Arnold Böcklin: Ausstellung zum Gedächtinis an seinen 50. Todestag, 1951, no. 104.

Basel, Kunstmuseum, Arnold Böcklin 1827-1901: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Plastiken-Ausstellung zum 150. Geburtstag, 1977, p. 207, no. 169 (ill.).

Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Comic Grotesque: Wit and Mockery in German Art, 1870–1940, March 28–June 8, 2003, no. 4.

Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth, February 14–April 26, 2009, cat. 91 (ill.).

Publication History

Heinrich Alfred Schmid, Arnold Böcklin: Eine Auswahl der hervorragendsten Werke des Künstlers in Photogravüre (Munich, 1897), vol. III, pl. 14 (ill.).

K. Woermann, "Arnold Böcklin," Von Apelles zu Böcklin, Esslingen, vol. 2, 1912, p. 162.

Carl Neumann, "Zu Arnold Böcklins siebenzigsterm Geburtstag," Die Kunst für Alle, vol. 13, 1898, p. 9 (ill.).

Heinrich Wölfflin, "Die Böcklin-Ausstellung zu Basel," Kunstchronik 1898, p. 36.

Franz Hermann Meissner, Arnold Böcklin (Berlin, 1901), pp. 106-7.

Henriette Mendelsohn, Böcklin (Berlin, 1901), pp. 144, 182, 183.

Gustav Floerke, Zehn Jahre mit Böcklin (Munich, 1902), pp. 26, 82-3 (ill.).

Adolf Frey, Arnold Böcklin in Zürich (Zürich, 1902), p. 13.

Otto Lasius, Tagebücher (Berlin, 1903), p. 134.

Heinrich Alfred Schmid, Böcklin-Verzeichnis (Munich, 1903), no. 326.

Alfred Julius Meier-Graefe, Der Fall Böcklin und die Lehre von den Einheiten (Stuttgart, 1905), pp. 230, 255.

Kornel Jaskulski, Der Symbolismus Böcklins (Czernowitz, 1909), pp. 24, 26.

Fritz von Ostini, Böcklin (Bielefeld, 1925) pp. 80, 82, 103 (ill.).

Hanns Floerke, Arnold Böcklin (Munich, 1927), p. 57.

Rold Andree, Arnold Böcklin (dissertation, Freie University, Berlin, 1962), pp. 26-7.

Rof Andree, Arnold Böcklin: Die Gemälde (Zürich, 1977) p. 449, no. 376 (ill.).

"Arnold Böcklin: In the Sea (Im Meere), 1883," Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 20, 2 (1994), pp. 116-17.

Jay A. Clarke, “Neo-Idealism, Expressionism, and the Writing of Art History,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 28, 1 (2002), pp. 28-29.

Jay A. Clarke, Stephanie D’Alessandro, Carola Kupfer, Mark Pascale, Virginia Voedisch, “Portfolio,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 28, 1 (2002), pp. 85-86, cat. 4.

Ownership History

Kunsthandlung Fritz Gurlitt, 1884. Adalbert Mylius-Gemuseus, Basel, Switzerland, 1886 to at least 1927 [see Basel 1927]; by descent to Herr Simon-Mylius, Basel. Albert Vorster-Burckhardt, Basel from 1950, offered for sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 23, 1990, lot 127; bought in; sold by Vorster-Burckhardt through Sotheby's to the Art Institute, 1990.

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