11 March 2021

The Last Survivor of a Vanished Race

A note on Arnold Böcklin’s painting Villa am Meer, from the Bates and Guild Company Masters in Art Series of Illustrated Monographs, Part 75, No. 7 (March 1906) 38:

The Villa by the Sea, painted in Rome in 1864, after Böcklin's visit to Naples and Capri, is one of the artist's most beautiful renderings of nature in a minor key. Upon a rocky shore stands an old Italian villa, its marble walls and the statues which once adorned its garden almost hidden by dark cypress-trees whose tops are swayed by the wind. Lower down, upon the beach, stands a woman clad from head to foot in mourning garments, leaning against the rocks as she gazes sorrowfully over the water which breaks in waves at her feet. A leaden sky enhances the indescribable sadness which pervades the picture and imparts itself to the spectator. 

“In the measured beating of the waves upon the shore,” writes Henri Mendelsohn, “we seem to hear the swan-song of a mighty past. May not this mourning woman be some Iphigenia yearning for the lost land of Greece? Such a thought was in the artist's mind, for he says that in this melancholy figure he wished to represent the last survivor of a vanished race.”


Arnold Böcklin, Villa am Meer II (1865)

“Henri” Mendelsohn was the art historian Henriette Mendelsohn (1853-1928). The quote mentioned above can be found on pages 76-77 of her biography of Arnold Böcklin (Berlin: Ernst Hofmann & Co., 1901), which is the 40th volume in Hofmann's Geisteshelden series.