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Alfred Kubin (1877 - 1959)

Lot 51: Alfred Kubin (1877-1959)


February 6, 2001
London, United Kingdom

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Insel der Engl„nder signed 'Kubin' (lower right) tempera, watercolour, crayon and pencil on paper 151/4 x 243/8in. (38.7 x 62cm.) Executed circa 1904-1905 PROVENANCE Directly given by the artist to the parents of the previous owner. Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1990. NOTES The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Dr. Annegret Hoberg, St„dtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. Insel der Engl„nder ('Island of the English') is one of the largest and finest of Kubin's rare early watercolours. Executed c.1904-5 it belongs to the period in which Kubin's unique nightmarish visions were first translated from monotone drawings into full colour. Kubin worked from his intuition and his unconscious mind rather than from nature. In some respects a precursor of the Surrealists and their adoption of dreams, visions and automatism, Kubin founded his work on visions that had their origin in his traumatic childhood. Insel der Engl„nder is a work that Kubin himself considered one of his best and is one that he refers to on numerous occasions in his letters. Its weird assortment of characters assembled on an island by the banks of a canal is a striking but typical scene of orientalist decadence that, given the title of the painting, Kubin presumably associated with the English. This exotic gathering of courtly eccentrics certainly do not look English nor does their Persian tent. Instead these figures recall the strange orientalist fantasy characters whose origins lay in "a richly illustrated ethnographic work about Dalmatia and its inhabitants, entitled From a Half-Forgotten Land, which had ineradicably stimulated Kubin's imagination as a child. The ocean in all its melancholy, lonely expanse, the solitary, stone shore, the semi-oriental figures, all drawn with economic pen strokes, made a lasting impression," Kubin recalled. (Alfred Kubin, cited in Alfred Kubin, Wieland Schmied, London, 1969, p. 26.) In Insel der Engl„nder the islanders are depicted wearing an assortment of flamboyant orientalist costumes whose decadence is reinforced by the exotic pets and manicured gardens that also populate the island. Gathered by the river to watch a convoy of barges laden with mountains of dead people, these decadent aristocrats appear to be watching the feeding of the bodies to a large pet dragon. The title of the work implies that Kubin, who was never a political artist, is in this remarkable work making a powerful satirical comment on the decadent and destructive nature of British imperialism.

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February 6, 2001, 12:00 AM EST

London, United Kingdom