Who Was Otto Kubel?

by Tolovaj

Otto Kubel is today best-known by his series of picture postcards based on classic fairy tale. But he created a lot more!

Otto Kubel was an extremely versatile artist who worked in the first half of the 20th century. His main legacy lies in the illustrations for numerous books and picture postcards. Like most German illustrators, he couldn't escape the spell of Grimm's Fairy Tales. He also painted landscapes and portraits, he designed board games and school posters, but above all, he was always very active and ready to accept a new challenge.

Otto lived in times of great technological discoveries when printing techniques in a few decades changed more than in thousands of years before. If an artist had a good sense of colors and an eye for detail, like Kubel, he definitely got a chance to shine more than ever before. Let's not forget that Germany for some time had the best printing possibilities in the world, which resulted in numerous exports and a chance for a German artist to become known, for instance, in America, as Kubel did. He also created in times of great geopolitical disturbances, surviving both world wars, which inevitably left consequences on his life and work. Despite his indisputable skills, people outside of artistic circles rarely hear about Otto Kubel. This article is an attempt to present him.

Here are ten facts from the life and work of Otto Kubel!

1. Carpenter's Apprentice

Proper education is a cornerstone of artistic creation. Otto Kubel was born in Dresden in 1868. In those times, Dresden was one of the top destinations if somebody wanted to study art (maybe even the best place to become a painter), and he used that fact to his advantage. But things didn't always go smoothly, so he worked for some time as an apprentice at a carpenter's workshop before he continued and finished his studies at The School of Applied Arts. Right after his diploma, he moved to Leipzig, where he worked as a commercial artist before he continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

Most artists become painters at first and only later illustrators. With Otto, it was quite the opposite. Making illustrations was faster and more profitable for his situation, so he entered the Academy as an already experienced illustrator.

Oil painting by Otto Kubel

2. Oil paintings

In Munich, he worked with several great professors, but his participation in the vibrant community called the Munich School was probably even more important. This group of young talented painters was at the turn of the century probably the most active among artists who made a shift from Romanticism to Naturalism. Otto Kubel was an influential member who later also helped to establish the artist colony at Furstenfeldbruck, about 40 kilometers from Munich, where he later moved and worked for many years.

Oil paintings are not among the best-known works by Otto Kubel today, but they earned him a solid income. He created landscapes and portraits, where he excelled by his loose brushstrokes.

3. Postcards

Otto Kubel's postcards are very likely his greatest legacy. They were initially made as watercolor illustrations, and many of them were originally published as parts of picture books. But the postcards were even better-accepted thanks to the Uvachrome technique (dye was transferred to paper with the help of gelatine), which was expensive and time-consuming, yet with superb results and very popular among people. Many of them are today considered collector's items.

The first Kubel's picture postcards were landscapes, but soon illustrations from the fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers came on the market, and the rest is history.

Cinderella, postcard by Otto Kubel

famous scene from Cinderella, number five in a set of six postcards

4. Books

Otto Kubel illustrated numerous books by German and American authors. He worked on several projects where he is written just as one of the contributors, and he is also not always credited. This makes a compilation of his bibliography next to impossible. We can be sure he worked on dozens of books and magazines, but his take on classic fairy tales like Goose Girl, Wolf and Seven Kids, or Hansel and Gretel will always stay above all other creations.

Cover of picture book by Otto Kubel

5. Board Games

Board games were very popular in the time between both world wars. They were considered an effective and fun way to expand the education of people, especially children. Manufacturers quite often employed top artists for illustrations and designs of their products.

Otto Kubel was no exception. Here we can see a lotto game combined with a puzzle based on the popular scenes from the classic fairy tales. Such a game was in many cases the first opportunity for children to learn the numbers.

Lotto with pictures from fairy tales by Otto Kubel

6. Versatile

We have already mentioned he was a painter, illustrator, and designer. He made portraits and landscapes, full-color pictures, and vignettes. He was skilled in aquarelles and oils. Otto Kubel was also skilled with charcoal, pencil, and even paper cuts (scherenschnitte).

Like many other artists, he learned to present the same scene in several different ways to achieve maximum financial impact. As an illustrator, he could illustrate the same story with new material (and earn new money), and as a painter, he could paint the same landscape with slightly varying views or light to expand the basin of possible buyers while saving on time and travel expenses.

To earn an extra income, he even drew maps!

The elf and the forest spirit, scissors art by Otto Kubel

7. Family and Friends

Otto Kubel was a family man. He used his first serious inflow of money to buy a house in Furstenfeldbruck. He moved there with his long-time love Laura, who was at the time in 1902 already his wife. They had three daughters together. The house was not big enough for Otto's studio, so he set it up a few buildings away. He shared it with his good friend Eugen von Ruckteschell.

Otto was pretty good at creating, maintaining, and expanding friendships and collaborations. He knew that every friend meant a connection, connections meant business, and business brought food to the table of his family.

Apple Blossoms, oil painting by Otto Kubel

8. Active in Artist's Communities

During his studies in Munich, Kubel was very active in different communities. His movement to Furstenfeldbruck didn't stop him from keeping in touch with other artists. In fact, Furstenfeldbruck soon became a seat of another small but vital artists' colony.

Golden Goose, postcard by Otto Kubel

9. Active in the Local community

Drawing and painting were never enough for Otto, who was an agile member of his new hometown. He didn't just help at setting first exhibitions in the town but sang in a men's local choir, as well. For good measure, he served as an assistant judge in the district court.

These activities brought him numerous commissions for portraits of wealthy people.

10. Controversy

Although Otto Kubel moved to Munich in 1922, he stayed closely connected to Furstenfeldbruck, where a street was named after him when he died. This decision was later questioned due to his well-known support of NSDAP. Anyway, the city council decided that his role in the leading German party was not so important to change the name of the street, so it stayed, just like his beautiful pictures.

Creditcs and more:


Goose Girl, illustration by Otto Kubel

famous scene from Goose Girl, used for picture books and postcards

Updated: 06/01/2024, Tolovaj
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Your Thoughts about Otto Kubel's Work

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Tolovaj on 06/08/2024

Yes, I think so, but didn't find any. A lot of his work is uncredited and archives were mostly burned at the end of WW2.

Tolovaj on 06/08/2024

His work is mainly in private hands but I believe you can find it in museums as well.

Tolovaj on 06/08/2024

He worked in oil and water colors for illustrations and postcards.

Tolovaj on 06/08/2024

Sorry, I am not familar with details, but I think Kubel lived in his house while artists coming for a few months only, rented spaces in the neighborhood.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/08/2024

The fourth subheading, Books, advises us that "Otto Kubel illustrated numerous books by German and American authors."

Did Otto Kubel illustrate books authored by English authors?

DerdriuMarriner on 06/08/2024

The second paragraph to your introduction advises us that "Despite his indisputable skills, people outside of artistic circles rarely hear about Otto Kubel."

Kubel works leave me listing him among effective artists of tree auras, colors and shapes. Van Gogh makes it to the number one position arboriculturally, horticulturally, silviculturally in my thoughts. Kubel manages a close second.

Might his works be in private or public collections?

DerdriuMarriner on 06/07/2024

The third subheading, Postcards, advises us of Kubel achievements in oil-painted and postcard landscapes.

Did Otto Kubel do the same landscapes for both genres or did an oil-painted landscape never do duty as a postcard landscape and vice versa?

DerdriuMarriner on 06/06/2024

The first paragraph to the second subheading, Oil paintings, mentions the Furstenfeldbruck artist colony.

Might the artists have made their homes from new-constructed buildings or pre-existing structures? And might there be an extant Otto Kubel house there?

Tolovaj on 06/05/2024

He painted mostly his environment. Alps were among his favorite subjects. He portrayed people from his community, other singers from the choir, for instance. Everybody who was willing to pay and had time to pose, I suppose.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/05/2024

The second subheading, Oil paintings, ends with equating Otto Kubel with such lesser-known works as oil-painted landscapes and portraits.

Your sample in-text images feature him as finessing naturalistic, realistic colors, details and shapes.

Might he have made any landscapes or portraits of any famous people or places?

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