Riehen/Basel

 

ALFRED KUBIN

Phantasms and Nightmares

11th October 2019 - 1st February 2020

 Invitation card (PDF)

Online catalogue (PDF)

  • Kubin 1918 4Z Tod und Mauschel 80516 05

    Alfred Kubin
    Tod und Mauschel.
    Tusche auf Papier, um 1918.
    Unten rechts signiert. 29,5 x 22,0 cm.
    Obj. Id. 80516

  • Kubin 1907 3FZ Berglandschaft mit Vogel 80510 01

    Alfred Kubin
    Berglandschaft mit Vogel.
    Gouache auf Katasterpapier, um 1907.
    Unten links signiert. 30,8 x 38,7 cm. 
    Obj. Id. 80526

  • Kubin 1910-12 3FZ Die Berge- und Talwelt 80512 01

    Alfred Kubin
    Die Berg- und Talwelt.
    Feder, Tinte, Aquarell auf Katasterpapier, um 1910-12.
    Signiert. 31,8 x 27 cm. 
    Obj. Id. 80512

  • Kubin 1920 3FZ Pfeifenraucher am Gartentor 80518 01

    Alfred Kubin
    Pfeifenraucher am Gartentor (Illustration für einen Text von E.T.A. Hoffmann). Tusche und Aquarell auf Papier, um 1920.
    Unten rechts signiert. 39,0 x 31,3 cm.
    Obj. Id. 80518

  • Kubin 1935 3FZ Pferdekadaver 80524 01

    Alfred Kubin
    Pferdekadaver.
    Tusche und Aquarell auf Katasterpapier, um 1935.
    Unten rechts signiert. 31,8 x 42,8 cm.
    Obj. Id. 80524

  • Kubin 1920 3FZ Bruder Leichtsinn 80519 01

    Alfred Kubin
    Bruder Leichtsinn.
    Tusche und Aquarell auf Katasterpapier, um 1920.
    Unten rechts signiert. 38,1 x 30,6 cm.
    Obj. Id. 80519

For all images: © Eberhard Spangenberg / 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich

Alle Urheberrechte bleiben vorbehalten. Sämtliche Reproduktionen sowie jegliche anderen Nutzungen ohne Genehmigung durch ProLitteris - mit Ausnahme des individuellen und privaten Abrufens der Werke - sind verboten.

ALFRED KUBIN

 

Phantasms and Nightmares
October 11, 2019 – February 1, 2020

 

Alfred Leopold Isidor Kubin was born on April 10, 1877, in Leitmeritz in North Bohemia (now Czechia), which at the time belonged to Austria. His period of training was hardly crowned by success, and the young Kubin also suffered numerous strokes of fate in his private life. Yet during his lifetime he was held in high esteem by colleagues, art critics, art dealers, and publishers and is now considered to be one of the most outstanding graphic artists, draftsmen, book illustrators, and authors of Expressionism and Symbolism.

 

His mother died of tuberculosis in 1887, when he was just ten years old, and a year later he also lost his aunt and stepmother to childbed fever – his father had married his sister-in-law immediately after his wife’s death. After dissatisfying endeavors at training, Kubin wanted to end his own life. However, in 1896 his suicide attempt using a firearm at his mother’s grave also failed. What had led him there was his pronounced desperation, his innate pessimism, his inferiority complexes and fears of failure, his father’s constant beatings, and the sexual abuse by an older woman as a youth. His “first bride”, Emmy Bayer, died of typhus in 1903, just a few months after they met. His wife, Hedwig Gründler, whom he married in 1904 shortly after making her acquaintance, developed a facial neuralgia that same year. This was followed by prolonged, uninterrupted, shifting suffering and a subsequent morphine addition that plagued her until her death. His father’s death in 1907, with whom he had reconciled in the meantime and with whom even a heartfelt bond of trust had developed, plunged Kubin into another deep depression. In 1948 he then also had to cope with the death of his beloved wife. He spent the two world wars in seclusion in Zwickledt; he was not drafted and was spared ostracism. What troubled him was his poor economic situation due to a lack of commissions and the small number of publications, and his concern for his half-Jewish wife.

 

Alfred Kubin attended secondary school in Salzburg for two years with only moderate success and had to return to the parish school in Zell am See without a diploma. The 14-year-old subsequently began training as an applied artist at the state-run vocational school in Salzburg, which he likewise had to leave due to bad grades. He made one last attempt and entered a photographer apprenticeship with his uncle Alois Beer. However, he fell out with him in the fourth year of his training and was dismissed without notice. Despite misgivings about his weak constitution, Kubin was subsequently admitted to the army, for which he had volunteered, but three weeks later he suffered a nervous breakdown, which took him to the psychiatric ward of the garrison hospital in Graz for treatment. In the spring of 1898 Kubin moved to Munich, where thanks to an inheritance from his grandparents he began studying art at the private drawing school of Ludwig Schmid-Reutte, where he trained in drawing nudes and heads. A year later he was admitted to the drawing class of Nikolaus Gysis at the academy of visual arts, whose lessons Kubin only attended sporadically; he soon abandoned his studies altogether.

 

The source of inspiration for Kubin’s early works was the painter and graphic artist Max Klinger, whose series of etchings “Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove” had a particular influence on his first creative phase, until 1903, of carefully executed nightmarish and fantastic, spattered and washed – a technique the artist developed himself – ink drawings. Moreover, during his visits to the Neue Pinakothek in Munich he studied works by James Ensor, Edvard Munch, and Francisco de Goya, for whom expressive intensity was more important than the beauty of form. However, these visits to the temple of art also led to attacks of melancholy, because he perceived himself as too insignificant compared with the great masters and therefore resorted to alcohol and other distractions of the like. It was not until he read Schopenhauer that he regained a sense of security, as he shared his pessimistic worldview. And it was during this period that Kubin finally enjoyed his first successes, beginning in 1901, when his first solo exhibition was mounted at the prominent Galerie Paul Cassirer and when a portfolio with facsimile prints of his drawings was published in 1903, which met with a positive response by the public. This was followed by his participation with 12 drawings in the spring exhibition of the “Vienna Secession” and with more than 30 at the exhibition of the artists’ association “Phalanx” led by Wassily Kandinsky. In 1905 it would be works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder that brought him out of a creative crisis through a series of glue-pigment paintings (watercolors mixed with glue), which, however, were only moderately successful. In 1906 he made the acquaintance of the Symbolist painter Odilon Redon in his studio. During this period he also produced tempera works with exotic-seeming compositions influenced by works by Gauguin and the Nabis, with which the “painter monk” Willibrord Verkade had made him familiar. Beginning in 1907, Kubin devoted himself repeatedly and intensely to book illustrations, which from now on would become one of his main jobs, and with a novel that he produced within just a few weeks in a creative frenzy but would remain his only one: “The Other Side”, which he also elaborately illustrated himself. The novel was published in 1909 by the Georg Müller Verlag in Munich and was enthusiastically received by, among others, Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Thomas Mann. He wrote the novel in out-of-the-way Zwickledt, where the Kubin couple had sought refuge and lived in an old house without any particular comfort. This fantastic novel describes a (bad) dream world in the broadest sense of the word – a world of fantasy, wishful thinking, states of anxiety, hallucinations, and apocalyptic visions. A friend invites the main character, like the author a draftsman and illustrator in Munich and narrated in the first person, into his imaginary world. At first, this dream world gives cause for enthusiasm, which, however, gradually changes into a feeling of unease until the fantasy city apocalyptically disintegrates, from which the main character can miraculously escape and commit his experiences to paper in a mental institution. The author’s worldview and inner world are summarized in this novel in word and image, which permeate and complement one another. At the request of Alexej von Jawlensky, that same year Kubin joined the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München” (New Artists’ Association Munich), founded by Kandinsky, in whose first, at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich, and second exhibitions he participated. Because of the success of his novel, Kubin received increasingly more and more frequent commissions to create book illustrations, among others for works by writers such as Hans Christian Andersen, Honoré de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Gogol, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich von Kleist, Edgar Allan Poe, Georg Trakl, and Voltaire. “This effort to completely permeate the writer’s oeuvre extends far beyond the hours spent at the drawing table. In my case, the devoting, somewhat feminine component in the illustrator is rather pronounced, and each time I feel affected by the most peculiar shudders when I become deeply familiar with the literature to which I have to give a body. When I am then imbued with the environment and have immersed myself in the plot, then something like an electric mental tension develops, charged with moist, fertile sprouts from which the figures emerge.” Kubin specialized on the illustration of so-called noir literature. His drawings to accompany the publications do not depict passages of text; rather, they are intended to capture and describe the atmosphere in the stories and augment them with narrative elements. Kubin himself perceived his literature illustrations as decoration, not as ornament but rather as the emphasis and highlighting of the content by means of appropriation. He introduced his illustrations as coequal companions. In the same way that jewelry always has a life of its own, Kubin’s drawings also remain independent; while they may be inspired by the content of a book, they are not dependent on it. They deviate from, add to, or question what has been written. In 1911, he joined “Der Blaue Reiter” as an external member from Zwickledt and presented 17 drawings at its second exhibition at the art dealership Hans Goltz in Munich; he contributed 3 reproductions to the Almanach of “Der Blaue Reiter”. A close friendship with Paul Klee also had an influence on his creative work when the artist showed him his book illustrations for Voltaire’s “Candide”. In 1915 he had a solo exhibition at the Galerie Tannhauser in Munich, where 50 works were on display, and in fall of that same year he participated with 19 drawings in the “Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon” at Herwarth Walden’s Sturm Galerie in Berlin. In 1921, after economically precarious World War I, the Galerie Goltz in Munich presented a major retrospective with more than 100 drawings from 20 years that was highly celebrated in the press. Beginning in 1922, Kubin spent his vacations in the small town of Waldhäuser in the Bavarian Forest bordering the Bohemian Forest, where he increasingly incorporated the regional world of fairy tales and mythology into his oeuvre. By the early 1920s, Kubin was also well known as an internationally recognized draftsman. He could pride himself on an extensive circle of personalities and patrons and met with various acknowledging and disapproving reactions from circles of experts. On the occasion of Kubin’s fiftieth birthday an exhibition was mounted, among other venues, at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, and on the occasion of his sixtieth a show at the Albertina in Vienna. There was a presentation of his work at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1932. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1950 and 1952, and in 1951 he was awarded the Grand Austrian State Prize for Visual Art. The Lenbachhaus in Munich and the St. Etienne Gallery in New York devoted shows to him on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. At his death in 1959, the artist left his artistic estate in equal parts to the Albertina in Vienna and the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum in Linz. His home and all of its contents likewise went to the State of Austria, and in 1962 it received the status of a memorial to the artist.

 

Kubin left behind more than 20,000 works. He illustrated close to 250 books. A digest of his autobiographical works was published as well in 1922. His works primarily depicted somber, absurd, fantastic dream worlds in a dismal symbolism with nightmarish, dream-like, strange, fantastic, even bizarre (horror) characters, phantoms, obsessive visions of frightening figures, and monsters, which he committed to paper in an entangled, irresolvable network of lines. These were under the spell of dark powers and vast abysses that were expressed in enormous proportions and illustrated fears and obsessive thoughts, revealed subconscious and repressed things, and depicted agony, torture, helplessness, suicide, murder, and illness. In his early oeuvre he concentrated mainly on a few, striking symbolic figures against a diffuse, empty space that surrounds the early figural scenes, a bleak landscape that does without narrative details and exudes an evening or nocturnal mood. In this case, the central subject matter is the human being in his powerlessness in the face of the forces of darkness, whose proportions are enormously enlarged. In doing so, Kubin seeks to depict the age-old notion of superior, overproportional deities of the past and colossally exaggerates creatures and objects. He drew on the strange myths and magic incantations of idols that, perspectivally shortened, were staged in such a way that the viewer also feels extremely small. Whereas up to that point he restricted himself to a muted color scale of gray-brown nuances, some color was added upon his marriage to Hedwig in 1904. What now followed was the exploration of form, thus ending his first creative phase. But this also meant the dwindling of his inspiration, and so Kubin traveled to Vienna, where he looked at the works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and this led to the glue-pigment and then the tempera works with pictures of flowers, fish, and birds. Again fraught with inferiority complexes, he traveled to Paris, where he visited Redon and studied the landscape painting by the Barbizon school of painters. This was followed by his move to Zwickledt, which was once again accompanied by a shift in his oeuvre; he created abstract works that originated from studies through a microscope, and then let himself be enticed by Willibrord Verkade to produce planar and harmonious compositions. He was so strongly affected by the death of his father in 1907 that he undertook a journey to northern Italy and Venice, and when he returned he wrote his novel “The Other Side”. Many scholars see a change in Kubin’s work in this novel, an orientation towards the linear, indeed, to the calligraphic. The artist himself reproduces a shift in the text by describing the draftsman’s, hence the main character’s, turn towards the line, towards a “fragmentary style, more written than drawn,” which he calls “psychographics.” An orientation towards the linear, the dynamic, away from the planar and the static. The cosmos of the early works, which presented the hopeless and unavoidable as immutable fact, was set in motion. Kubin now increasingly dealt with his contemporaries and developed Expressionist features – the bodies became elongated and the contours more nervous. Beginning in 1922, the artist spent the summer months in the Bohemian Forest, whose world of fairy tales and mythology would influence his oeuvre. Recurring elements characterize Kubin’s entire body of work: these motifs appear in drawings, resurface in portfolios and book illustrations, and decades later in a new combination in graphic works. Details such as horses, tower-like buildings, snakes, cats, and personified death in various styles recur time and again. Up to his death, his works had been shown in more than 900 exhibitions and appeared in countless publications; his autobiographical texts and articles as well as his reflections on his own oeuvre were also widely disseminated in publications and portfolios. Kubin maintained contact with the outside world, with art-historical occurrences, as well as with artist colleagues, art dealers, and publishers by means of a lively exchange of letters, even from Zwickledt, his home of choice, far away from the major centers. He also kept informed thanks to a copious collection of books, which at his death comprised 5,600 titles and included philosophical and art-historical publications as well as belles lettres, primarily texts about the grotesque and the fantastic. Over time, Kubin had also assembled an extensive collection of drawings and prints, having acquired them in exchange, as gifts, or buying them himself, which he time and again studied and which exerted an influence on him.

Alfred Kubin, like many other Expressionists, can largely be seen as an autodidact. The relentless directness of his works made scandalous objects out of them that aroused both interest as well as indignation. Each work can engender different interpretations. It was the illustration of what Sigmund Freud was exploring, analyzing, and publishing: the innermost fears and drives of the modern human psyche.

Alexandra Henze Triebold

(Translation by Rebecca van Dyck)

 

We are all looking forward to the pleasure of greeting you and your friends in our Gallery.

Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchstrasse 26, CH 3114 Wichtrach
Tel. +41 (0)31 781 06 01
Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold
Wettsteinstrasse 4, CH 4125 Riehen
Tel. +41 (0)61 641 77 77