Nov 18

Alfred Kubin


According to Siegfried Kracauer in “Caligari to Hitler” the artist Alfred Kubin was the original choice to provide the highly stylized backdrops for the seminal film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). Other artists were ultimately utilized, but it’s fascinating to contemplate how his macabre and surrealistic imagination could have affected the film.

Kubin, aside from being an important artist, was an illustrator and author. He wrote one phantasmagoric novel, The Other Side, and was best known as a prolific illustrator of the works of Poe, Dostoyevsky, and E.T.A Hoffmann. But he was also closely affiliated with the Munich avant-garde of the early 1900s and was a member of the important Phalanx and Blaue Reiter groups.  All this despite living a significant portion of his adult like as a near recluse.

Because of his associations with turn of the century German art circles, Kubin is often considered a noteworthy expressionist. It’s reassuring to know that at least one artist who focused largely on fantastic or horrific imagery has survived posterity and was even very well regarded during his lifetime. It may be that expressionism was the only art movement where the morbid and dark-minded were at home.

The Pond (above) is typical of the pen and wash renderings that he was best known for. Wassergeist (below) is one of Kubin’s oil works; it’s a shame he did so few works in this medium since his dark tints and rough brushwork are so reminiscent of the later works of Goya. Epidemia (bottom) falls within Kubin’s catalog of proto-surrealist works.

There is a good collection of Kubin’s works at: http://www.all-art.org/symbolism/kubin1.html




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  1. Le Pendu

    The illustrations that Kubin used for his own story Die andere Seite were originally intended to accompany Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem. After working closely together in the early stages of the book, Meyrink apparently went off the boil and Kubin became impatient and decided to use them himself.


    1. Morbid

      Thank you for the added detail! I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Kubin’s novel.

  2. Le Pendu

    I’m with you there – was hoping it’d still be available.

    The info came from a Dover edition of The Golem (1986) which is an unabridged re-pub of one from 1928. Along with biog detail on Meyrink and his waywardness with writing, as with everything else, the intro includes lithographs by Hugh Steiner-Prag which were used when the story eventually came out in book form in Leipzig 1915. The joint project began in 1906, so you can see why Kubin got hacked off.

    The Steiner-Prag litho’s are well worth a look too, btw.


  3. John O. Thompson

    Le Monde reports a Kubin show on currently (1 Juillet 2010) at ‘abbaye d’Auberive, Auberive (Haute-Marne)’ till 12 Sept. Philippe Dagen’s review is worth a look. He quotes the artist (I’ll have to leave out accents): ‘Le veritable spectateur … ne se contenteratig pas de regarder mes dessins d’un oeil ravi ou critique; son attention, comme mue par un frolement secret, devrait se tourner vers la chambre noire riche d’images de sa propre conscience onirique. Car, que nous sachions ou non, nos possedons tous au plus profond do nous-memes l’heritage dun passe intime prodigieux.’ Rather a nice ‘invitation to play’?

  4. @~

    I’ve just finally managed to pick up an affordable copy of The Other Side (for a while not an easy task in the UK). I’ve been a big admirer of Kubin’s art for years and hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed by the book. I wasn’t – I really liked it. Reminded me in an odd distant way of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast.

    Also exhibiting at the Kubin exhibition in Auberive is the artist Paul Rumsey, whose work is well worth checking out.

    1. Morbid

      Hey, for my own uses, and maybe other readers, where were you able to get a copy? I like Peake’s Gormenghast books, sounds intriguing.

  5. Le Pendu

    Yeah, me too!

    As for Peake, you have to look at the woodcut illustarations of Gustav Doré and make a comparison. Peake seems to have reworked some of them, crosshatching in pen and ink to achieve the same effect. Not plagiarism as such, since Doré’s work was ubiquitous and would have been universally recognised at the time. Illustrations for The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, RL Stephenson’s Treasure Island and Dickens’ Bleak House, for example.

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