Alfred Kubin


Dom Museum Wien


Modern and Contemporary art

On view

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Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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A mythological creature

The somber depiction of the squatting sphinx is typical for Alfred Kubin's early work. Through the combined use of several techniques he comes to rich nuances of light and dark.

This graphic work shows a sphinx, a fabulous creature from Greek mythology composed of a winged lion’s body and a woman’s head. As legend has it, the sphinx lay in wait for travelers near Thebes and asked them a riddle. Only those who could answer it were allowed passage—those who could not were devoured by her.

The sphinx crouches in profile and seems to wait for someone passing by. The figure almost fills the extreme upright format in its entirety. The knees are cropped, which lends the scene an oppressive atmosphere. Her head is rendered rather small compared to the rest of the body, her neck stretched out far. The position of her feet suggests that the sphinx leans against something such as a wall. While her thighs and chest display individual hairs, the rest remains quite vague. The background is not defined either. The sheet combines various techniques: Kubin drew, hatched, painted, and sprayed. This assures the work’s nuanced chiaroscuro effect. The representation of a grim fabulous creature is typical of the artist’s early work. Many of Kubin’s drawings dating from around 1900 present themselves as nightmarish visions: demons and fears, threats and death prevail. The artist was not only influenced by Symbolist artists such as Max Klinger and Odilon Redon but also by Hieronymus Bosch and his enigmatic fabulous creatures.

The sheet is signed at the bottom to the right. The dedication “Sphinx – zum 24.12.45 für Professor Dr. Otto Mauer –” (“Sphinx – December 24, 1945 for Professor Dr. Otto Mauer –”) is to be found on a cardboard on which the work has been glued. It probably was a Christmas present for the clerical art lover with whom Kubin was close friends from 1941 until his death in 1959. Kubin’s works make up the largest part of Otto Mauer’s collection: Sphinx is one of several hundred works from these holdings.