Alfred Kubin was an Austrian painter, graphic artist and author. His œuvre stands apart from any 20th century art movement and is characterised by sinister, phantasmal fantasy depictions and bizarre book illustrations.
Youth and education
Alfred Kubin was born in Bohemia on 10 April 1877. The son of a surveyor and a pianist grew up in Salzburg and Zell am See. With the death of his mother, whom he was very close to, Kubin experienced a life-shaping trauma in 1887. Soon afterwards his father sent the child to the Gymnasium in Salzburg and in 1892 to his brother-in-law Alois Beer, where he was to complete an apprenticeship as photographer. In 1898 Kubin moved to Munich and began studying art at Ludwig Schmid-Reutte's private art school, which he further pursued at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nikolaus Gysi's painting class. He quickly developed a special technique of sprayed and washed ink pen drawings, that decisively shaped his whole work. Dark, sexually charged visions full of cruelty and ideas of fear characterise the content of his pictures. In 1902, the Berlin-based gallerist Paul Cassirer organised Kubins first solo exhibition and established him in the art scene, however, the drawings received highly disparate reviews. Soon after his acquaintance with the widowed Hedwig Gründler, sister of the literary friend Oskar Schmitz, the couple decided to get married. She raised the funds to buy the country estate "Schlössl" in Zwickledt, where the couple mainly stayed from this time on.
In 1909 the fantastic novel "Die andere Seite" ("The Other Side") is published by Georg Müller, featuring illustrations by the author himself. In the same year, at Wassily Kandinsky's invitation, Alfred Kubin joined the "Neue Künstlervereinigung München". Over the following years Alfred Kubin received many illustration commissions, among others for book projects by Edgar Allen Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In 1911 the publisher Georg Müller releases the second important portfolio "Sansara. Ein Cycylus ohne Ende" (Sansara. A Cycylus without End) with 40 collotype prints of the artist's dreamy ink drawings. The portfolio is introduced by the artist's autobiography.
In 1913 Kubin took part in the first German Autumn Salon at Herwarth Walden's Sturm-Galerie with 19 works and was given a large solo exhibition at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich, where 50 of his works were on show. With the beginning of the First World War, Kubin was summoned to military examinations several times, yet he did not pass any of them.
The "Kubin Archive"
During a large retrospective at Hans Goltz's gallery in Munich in 1921, Alfred Kubin met Kurt Otte, who, enthusiastic about Kubin's work, founded the "Kubin Archive" in the same year. There, drawings, portfolios, prints, letters and photographs by and about Alfred Kubin were collected and sorted. On the occasion of his 50th birthday in 1927, the Staatliche graphische Sammlung in Munich organised a comprehensive exhibition in his honour and the publication "for Alfred Kubin. A dedication by Austrian poets and artists on his 50th birthday" is published in Vienna with contributions by many colleagues of his time. He returns to his birthplace Leitmeritz in Bohemia for the first time, whereby in retrospect the text "Besuch in der Heimat" (Visit to the Birthplace) reflects what he experienced there.
Kubin spent the Second World War in seclusion with his wife in Zwickledt. Although some of his works were defamed as degenerate and confiscated, he was not banned from exhibiting his work and was also allowed to continue working normally. The death of his wife Hedwig in 1948 affected him deeply, and the artist isolated himself even further. In 1951 he was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Literature, Music and Fine Arts. In 1952, he published an illustrated book "Abendrot" with 45 previously unpublished drawings and further autobiographical texts. In return for a modest life annuity, Alfred Kubin bequeathed his entire graphic collection to the state of Austria in 1955. His estate was later to be divided between the Albertina in Vienna and the Upper Austrian Provincial Museum in Linz.
Two years before his death, Kubin was awarded the Austrian Cross of Merit, First Class, for Science and Art and the "Gustav Klimt Plaque" of the Vienna Secession. The Rowohlt-Verlang published a complete catalogue raisonné of his works in public space together with an extensive bibliography under the title "Alfred Kubin. Life, Work, Impact".
On 20 August 1959, Alfred Kubin died at the age of 82 after months of illness in his "Schlössl" in Zwickledt. The residence was converted into the memorial "Kubin-House Zwickledt" in 1962 and is open to the public.
Hardly any other artist like Alfred Kubin succeeded in conveying such a lurking, intimidating and fearful prevailing mood in the pictorial language. The contradictory sceneries, dreamtime worlds and mystifications continue to fascinate until today.