Alfred Kubin took his inspiration for this work from his inner world, which he translated as pieces of art. Haunted by fantastic and nightmarish visions, much of Kubin’s oeuvre foresees unimaginable and unprecedented scenes of hell and the end of humanity on Earth, which would soon become real on Europe’s battlefields. The artist’s unease and foresight is readily apparent in his 1909 illustrated novel Die Andere Seite (The Other Side) 'a dystopian-apocalyptic account of an ultra-conservative, supranational state [which can] of course be seen as an allegorical critique of the Habsburg Empire, and as a prescient anticipation of its immediate end' (J. Hughes, 'Modernity and Ambivalence in Alfred Kubin’s “Die Andere Seite”', in Austrian Studies, vol. 15, Austrian Satire and Other Essays, Cambridge, 2007, p. 81).
Drawn six years before the publication of Die Andere Seite, the present work’s titular giant or devil, a shadowy combination of bird and man, seems to be a harbinger of imminent catastrophe. Cresting the hill with legs outstretched, he appears poised to lope down the precipitous slope into the sleeping town below. Oddly elongated, he is rendered with countless fine, directional pen lines, emphasising his momentum. He holds a war trumpet with which to shatter the silence of the night. Hokusai’s iconic print The Great Wave of Kanagawa are almost recalled in the looming form of the hill, juxtapositions of scale, and sense of a huge weight about to succumb to gravity.
Measuring just over 20 square centimetres, this work displays a balance between unsettling subject matter and wonderfully fine execution which is characteristic of Kubin. Various media including watercolour, crayon, pencil and ink are layered to achieve a delicate, speckled texture which exquisitely evokes the gloom of night. The drawing rewards close observation in spades – the subtle blue touches on the left side of the hill, for example, bring further drama and depth to the scene.
Kubin was successfully able to translate some of these subtleties (albeit in monochrome) to the printed page. It is notable that he motif of the giant was repeated in other drawings from the period, reproduced in etching with aquatint, these prints being reproduced more widely in the 1903 album Facsimiledrucke nach Kunstblättern von Alfred Kubin.