Odysseus and Polyphemus

Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827–1901)


66 x 150 cm (26 x 59 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil and tempera on panel

On View

Frances Vrachos Gallery (Gallery 144)





Böcklin’s original training as a landscape painter shines through in this unconventional interpretation of an episode from the ancient Greek epic poem the Odyssey. Crashing waves meet jagged rocks in a spray and scurry of foam. Escaping from the island of the Cyclopes—one-eyed, ill-tempered giants—the hero Odysseus calls back to the shore, taunting the Cyclops Polyphemus, who heaves a boulder after the boat. Unlike Academic colleagues who treated ancient mythology with reverence and solemnity, Böcklin often played up strange, grotesque, and even ridiculous elements of these stories, conjuring a pre-Classical world governed by violence and lust.


By 1897, Adolf von der Mühll-Bachofen (b. 1850 –d. 1909), Basel; by descent to his widow, Maria Von der Mühll-Bachofen (b. 1855 – d. 1925) and, until at least 1951, their daughter, Georgine Fürstenberger-Von der Mühll (b. 1884), Basel. 1968, sold by the Galerie Schulthess, Basel, to a private collection, Arlesheim (near Basel), Switzerland; until at least 1977, remained in this private collection. 1999, acquired in London by a private European collector; December 1, 2005, anonymous (European private collector) sale, Tajan, Paris, lot 7, bought in; June 11, 2012, anonymous (European private collector) sale, Sotheby’s, London, lot 8, bought in; 2012, sold from this private collection, through Sotheby’s, London, to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 24, 2012)

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds by exchange from the Gift of Laurence K. and Lorna J. Marshall