Villa by the Sea, 1871–1874

It must be fantastic to live here. A gorgeous villa right on the sea, surrounded by a dignified stock of old trees – are these not the ingredients of a wonderfully carefree existence? Yet Böcklin broke through the magic of the idyll and turned it inside out. He created a melancholy mood, pregnant with a silence that takes hold of the entire scene. The black figure on the beach, for example, seems tragically frozen. The house is in danger of being overgrown with trees and bushes. What is more, darkness is imminent behind the sky burning in the evening light. It was not just a melancholy feeling the artist was after, however: he strove to fill his compositions with ideas, to execute scenes in which things mean more than their appearances convey. Here, for example, he juxtaposed the unchanging and eternal sea with the works of man, which decay and disappear.

This painting echoes with a great sigh, making the viewer aware that nothing he achieves will last forever, that time washes away everything. The same applies to art, symbolised by the sculptures on the villa’s roof. They, too, are prey to the forces of destruction.

Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK


Oil on canvas
108 × 154 cm
Inv. No. 1260

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