Arnold Böcklin was born in Basel on October 16, 1827 as the son of a salesman and the wealthy daughter of an old Basel family. Having attended secondary school, which he left in 1845 because of his great talent in drawing, Arnold Böcklin went to the art academy in Düsseldorf. There, Böcklin became a student of Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, who was dedicated to the classicist dramatic style of landscape painting. During this training, Arnold Böcklin regarded himself totally as a landscape painter.
When he traveled to France, he witnessed the events of the February revolution in 1848 and the bloody workers revolts of June 1849, which he depicted in a shocked manner considering his middle class upbringing. Before Arnold Böcklin traveled to Italy in 1850, he finished his studies in Basel under the Alpine landscape painter Alexandre Calame. In Italy Arnold Böcklin met Anselm Feuerbach. At the same time he was influenced by Italy's landscape - the sea, the landscapes flooded with sunlight and the cypress trees kept reappearing in Böcklin's later work. Another influence on Arnold Böcklin's future work was exercised by Heinrich Dreber and his mythological figures in mysterious landscapes.
In 1853 Böcklin married Angela Pascucci, with whom he had 4 children. As the family's financial situation was not good, Arnold Böcklin decided to return to Germany, where he received first orders in 1858 in Hanover and Basel. The family temporarily lived in Munich, where Arnold Böcklin and his two children contracted typhoid fever. Böcklin's financial situation only improved, when he accepted a 2 years' teaching position at the Weimar art school in 1860 and executed his first big commission for the Basel museum.
Arnold Böcklin spent most of the years after 1862 in Italy, where he lived in Rome and Florence and visited Naples and Pompeii. He was influenced by the Ancient World. His palette became stronger and brighter, human and semi-human figures became more important and the number of pure nature studies decreased even more. In spite of some success and some exhibitions, Arnold Böcklin continued to suffer from financial distress. On May 14, 1892, when he had returned to Florence after two years in Zurich, Arnold Böcklin had a stroke. In spite of several rehabilitation therapies, the state of his health was already very worrying during this time. From the mid-90s the prices for his works rose, in some cases 10- to 20-fold. For nine more years he painted with help from his son, because he was suffering from other physical ailments.
Arnold Böcklin died in St. Domenico (Italy) on January 16, 1901.