Arnold Böcklin - Play of the waves

by Alexandra Tuschka


Strange creatures cavort in this picture, which Böcklin called "play of the waves". These fantastic creatures represent the unruliness of the sea. The depths of the water could harbor unfathomable demonic forces.

In the front of the picture we see Triton, the Greek god of the sea with a naiad, a water nymph. With his flushed cheeks and broad grin, the rose-crowned Greek god personifies exuberant sensuality. The naiad in front, on the other hand, looks rather anxiously out of the left picture frame. Between them, a small fish head can be seen fluffing up its cheeks. Probably it represents a personification of the wind. On the upper, churning wave on the left, we see a sea centaur. On the right, two more nymphs can be seen, one swaying in the waves and the other diving into them.


Böcklin got the idea for this rather unconventional pictorial theme during a bathing vacation with his deep-sea explorer friend Anton Dohm. The latter is portrayed in the sea god in front. After a long dive, Dohm is said to have suddenly appeared unexpectedly next to some ladies. Their surprise fired Böcklin's imagination.


Arnold Böcklin - Play of the waves

Oil on canvas, 1883, 180 x 238 cm, Pinakothek in Munich