Sunday, August 8, 2010

Alfred Kubin


Perhaps that is precisely what life is: a dream and an anxiety - Kubin

 Alfred Kubin, c. 1950

Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) was born in Bohemia in the town of Leitmeritz (today Litoměřice, Czech Republic) which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kubin spent his childhood and student days in Salzburg, where he attended the arts and crafts school. After that he was a photography apprentice for four years in Klagenfurt. In 1896, Kubin attempted suicide on his mother's grave, and a short stint in the Austrian army the following year ended with a nervous breakdown. 

Alfred Kubin, The Lady on the Horse, c. 1900

In 1898, Kubin moved to Munich where he studied at the private academy of the painter Ludwig Schmitt-Reutte, before enrolling at the Munich Art Academy in 1899 (without finishing his studies there). In Munich, Kubin discovered the works of Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, James Ensor, Henry de Groux and Félicien Rops. He was profoundly affected by the prints of Max Klinger. After seeing an exhibition of Max Klinger’s etchings in Munich Kubin wrote: 

 Alfred Kubin, Dream Animal, 1903
"I was suddenly inundated with visions of pictures in black and white - it is impossible to describe what a thousand-fold treasure my imagination poured out before me. Quickly I left the theater, for the music and the mass of lights now disturbed me, and I wandered aimlessly in the dark streets, overcome and literally ravished by a dark power that conjured up before my mind strange creatures, houses, landscapes, grotesque and frightful situations."

 Alfred Kubin, The Hour of Death, 1900

Around the turn of the century Kubin got into an ecstasy of creativity, and created more than hundred sheets of his famous "Frühwerk" (early work). In February 1904 he met Hedwig Gründler, sister of the author Oskar A.H. Schmitz, whom he married the same year. She financed the acquisition of the so-called "Schlössl" in Zwickledt near Wernstein/Inn, where they moved in 1906.

 Alfred Kubin, Untitled, c. 1900

Occasional trips to Bohemia, the Balkans, the south of France, Italy, Prague, Berlin, Munich, Zurich or Paris allowed Kubin to meet with artist colleagues and friends. In 1909 he became a member of the "Neue Künstlervereinigung München", which he left in 1911 together with Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter to join the newly founded Blauer Reiter group. In 1913 he exhibited with his friends Paul Klee and Franz Marc in the gallery Der Sturm in Berlin. Kubin produced a small number of oil paintings between 1902 and 1910, but thereafter his output consisted of pen and ink drawings, watercolors, and lithographs.

  Alfred Kubin, Mythical Animal, 1905

Like Oskar Kokoschka, Kubin had both artistic and literary talent. He illustrated more than 70 books  by Edgar Allan Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and others. He was also the author of several books, the best known being his novel Die Andere Seite (The Other Side, 1909), an apocalyptic fantasy set in an oppressive imaginary land which has an atmosphere of claustrophobic absurdity reminiscent of the writings of Franz Kafka.

Alfred Kubin, The Government, 1901

After the First World War many solo exhibitions were dedicated to Kubin. In 1930 he became a member of the prestigious Preußische Akademie der Künste in Berlin, and in 1937 he was awarded the title of a professor. After 1933 more than 60 of Kubin's work were confiscated as "degenerate art" and removed from German and Austrian museums. Alfred Kubin died in Zwickledt in 1959. His artistic estate was split between the Albertina Vienna and the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Linz. In 1962 his house and the library became the Kubin-Gedenkstätte Zwickledt (Kubin-Memorial Zwickledt). You can see more of Kubin's work in my Flickr set.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gunther:

    This is a masterfully written piece. I am an American expatriate, living in the NRW. I am also a Kubin enthusiast. I have come across your pieces many times here on the internet. I see no direct way to contact you to ask this question; where did you find this image of Kubin's "The White House" (1906) you have in your Flickr photo stream and featured in your Weimar blog? Have you a high resolution copy of this image that you might be able to share with me? Please contact me at:

    Take Care,
    Justin Curfman
    NRW - Deutschland