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In the Sea

Painting of centaur with harp, in water, surrounded by mermaids and mermen.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Painting of centaur with harp, in water, surrounded by mermaids and mermen.




Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827–1901)

About this artwork

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 harpplaying 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 de Chirico, who declared, “Each of [Böcklin’s] works is a shock.”


On View, Gallery 245


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


Arnold Böcklin


In the Sea


Switzerland (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on panel


86.5 × 115 cm (34 3/8 × 45 3/4 in.); Framed: 130.8 × 158.8 × 17.8 cm (51 1/2 × 62 1/2 × 7 in.)

Credit Line

Joseph Winterbotham Collection

Reference Number


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