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Lyonel Feininger and Alfred Kubin - A friendship of artists

Category: Exhibition 16. September 2015

„My dear brother Kubin“ - the friendship between Alfred Kubin and Lyonel Feininger is on show in the Albertina, with more than 100 pictures by both artists.

In a letter of 1912, Alfred Kubin addresses Lyonel Feininger with the words „Of today’s artists, I appreciate you especially” and the offer to exchange pictures. These works will be on display in the exhibition Albertina as well. Already in 1910, Feininger was inspired to his series “In the city at the end of the world” by Kubin’s fantasy novel “The Other Side”.

For the first time, the correspondence between the two artists will be printed in its entirety. 37 letters, some with photographs and drawings, are shown in the catalogue, the last letter being from 1919. Presumably, the two artists have only met twice in person. Only one of the two encounters is documented, Kubin’s visit to Feininger in Berlin in the year 1913.

The Albertina confronts the work of the two friends with approximately 100 paintings and drawings, in thematic sections (“The City at the End of the World”, Carneval, Riot, War”, Trains and Ships”..). The exhibition shows what they had in common, but also the differences in their respective work. They both had a penchant for drawing, for small formats, and also for caricature, distortion and nightmarish scenarios.

Setting off from early drawings by Kubin and caricatures by Feininger, the exhibition traces the artistic development of both and contrasts their work, demonstrating correlations and influences. The exchange of letters shows that Feininger and Kubin entertained a very close friendship on an artistic and human level, in spite of all differences.

Kubin and Feininger, who was born in New York as the son of a German musician and who moved to Europe together with his parents at the age of 16 in order to study the violin, met each other at very different stages of their respective careers.

In 1913, Alfred Kubin introduced Feininger to his friends of the Blauer Reiter in Munich and Feininger was invited by Franz Marc to participate in the “Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon” in the gallery Der Sturm in Berlin, eventually leading to Feininger’s success and recognition as a painter.

In his earlier years, Lyonel Feininger was renowned for his caricatures and satirical drawings. He worked for publications that were critical of the political situation in the emperor’s Reich, such as „Ulk“, “Die Lustigen Blätter“, „Das Narrenschiff“, „Das kleine Witzblatt“„Berliner Tagblatt“ and also for US-based magazines like „Harper’s Round Table“ or „Harper’s Young People“. Later he turned more and more towards painting, which is well documented in the exhibition with a number early works by Feininger on display.

Following his first successful exhibition he was appointed for a teaching post at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919, the year when the exchange of letters between the artists stopped. Together with Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexey von Jawlensky he founded the exhibition collective The Blue Four. In 1937, he moved back to New York where he died in 1956. His work was considered “degenerate art” under the Nazi regime.

Thanks to a testamentary disposition, the Albertina has the largest inventory of works by Alfred Kubin, who distributed his work between the Albertina and the Upper Austrian state museum in exchange of a small life annuity three years before his death.

The concept of the exhibition was developed by Feininger specialist Ulrich Luckhardt, the director of the Internationale Tage Ingelheim, while the part dedicated to Kubin was curated by Albertina’s Eva Michel.

The exhibition clearly demonstrates that both artists were inspired by each other while showing the differences as well: Feininger turned to his colourful, almost abstract painting after his beginnings as a graphic artist, while Kubin remained isolated in his residence in Zwickledt for the rest of his days, expressing his inner obsessions and constant fears in his work.

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