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Alfred Kubin

25,000 - 35,000 GBP
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  • Alfred Kubin
  • Napoleon
  • signed Kubin (lower left)
  • pen and ink and watercolour on Kataster paper
  • 23 by 15cm.
  • 9 by 5 7/8 in.


Wiennerroither & Kohlbacher, Vienna

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998


New York, Serge Sabarsky Gallery, Alfred Kubin. An Exhibition of Drawings and Watercolors, 1970-71, no. 7, illustrated in the catalogue

Catalogue Note

'What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.' 

Napoleon, Walter de la Mare

Kubin’s Napoleon is a figure to be both pitied and feared. Looming out of the shadows, his small head hunched over monstrously broad-set shoulders, he is the embodiment of great power gone to seed and Kubin delights in contrasting a suggestion of surviving physical strength with the petulant down-turned mouth and expressionless eyes. Hanns Holzschuher wrote in a portfolio of the artist’s prints published in 1903: ‘Just as Goya appeared a unique phenomenon in his time, Alfred Kubin has become an artistic philosopher on the basis of his own unique world view, making him an extremely pessimistic caricaturist of our time and its excesses. Kubin’s works represent the sharpest, most poisonous epigrams on the condition of the State, the Church, Life, Love and Death, Fame and Honour’ (quoted in Alfred Kubin. Aus Meinem Reich. Meisterblättern aus dem Leopold Museum, Wien (exhibition catalogue), Leopold Museum, Vienna, 2002-03, p. 30).

Although Napoleon was evidently not a contemporary figure, the shadow he cast over Europe was long – and if you would believe Kubin, wide – and he retained a powerful symbolic resonance; to depict him was to pass comment on the role of the state and the relationship of sovereignty and power. Kubin’s depiction is a clever pastiche; the close-set eyes and twisted mouth are familiar from the famous portraits by Jacques-Louis David and the monumental physicality is surely an allusion to the emperor’s famously small stature. Like all great satirists though, Kubin understood the need for an element of pathos, and the real brilliance of Napoleon lies not only in the physical satire but also in the sombre and darkly mesmerising humanity that the figure retains.