(quoted in Alfred Kubin. Aus Meinem Reich. Meisterblättern aus dem Leopold Museum, Wien (exhibition catalogue), Leopold Museum, Vienna, 2002-03, p. 30).
One of the greatest draughtsman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Alfred Kubin’s narratives continue to fascinate viewers today as they did when they were first conceived. A founding member of Der Blaue Reiter, he shared the group’s endeavour to elevate art to a spiritual plane. He was close friends with Paul Klee and corresponded with artists and philosophers of his day, yet always he followed his own artistic path. A visionary who expressed modernity’s spiritual toll, Kubin excelled in conveying the sense of twilight and the feeling of lurking fate.
In his autobiography, writing about his engagement with Schopenhauer’s philosophy, Kubin states: ‘In my desperate mood I found his pessimistic Weltanschauung the only correct one, and I revelled in his ideas – with the consequence that my universal discontent only grew greater’ (A. Kubin, The Life and Art of Alfred Kubin, 1917, p. 13). Like the Symbolist artists Odilon Redon, Max Klinger and Félicien Rops, Kubin was inspired by the philosophy of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and the literature of Dostoyevsky and Poe, which offered countless points of departure for artists who agonized over the human condition. These characteristic drawings are some of the most esteemed of Kubin’s entire œuvre; they demonstrate his mastery over the medium of ink, which powerfully reflect the realms of his subconscious and nightmarish visions of doom, darkness and destiny.
In 1901 Alfred Kubin met the publisher Hans von Weber in Munich who immediately expressed admiration for Kubin’s work and in subsequent years became an important supporter. The Hans von Weber portfolio, also known as the Weber-Mappe, reproduced 15 works on paper in an edition of 1,000, which allowed a wider distribution of Kubin’s work, ultimately resulting in his artistic breakthrough. Two further portfolios, one on the topic of women, the other on church and state, were envisioned but never realised as the material was deemed too controversial and provocative.
The present work, Nach der Schlacht is part of this infamous Weber-Mappe. Using black and white contrasts as well as the softening effect of Spritztechnik to the greatest possible effect Kubin presents a chilling scene - a flock of vultures descending on a deserted battlefield.
In his own biography Daemons and Night Faces, published in 1959, Kubin recalls how coming face to face with Max Klinger’s narrative sequence of etchings Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove at the Graphische Sammlung, Munich in 1899, greatly inspired him. The surreal clarity of Klinger’s detailed illustrations, inspired by the literature and art of his contemporary romantics, came as a revelation to the young artist and brought on visions of black-and-white images from which he derived the peculiar expressive vocabulary of his nightmarish-fantastic early work. Other influences include the work of Francisco de Goya whose work The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters from his Caprichos series immediately comes to mind, evoking the rise of mysterious and monstrous forces at the expense of reason. The present work is a beautiful example for how Kubin tried to replicate in drawing the effects of printmaking: Spritztechnik achieved an effect similar to aquatint etching, the ink border reminiscent of the plate edge. Meticulously executed ink drawings became Kubin’s medium of choice to examine contemporary social issues as well as scenes from his own imagination. The medium was perfectly suited to explore his subjective view of the world, the dark side of life.
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