Sphinx des Lebens,

charcoal on paper,



Fidus (Lübeck 1868-1948 Woltersdorf bei Berlin), also known as Hugo Höppener

"Die Sphinx des Lebens" ["The Sphinx of Life"], 

also known as "Zur Sphinx empor" ["Up to the Sphinx"]


charcoal on Vellum paper laid down on cardboard

101,5 x 75 cm

Double signed and dated in charcoal lower right: "Fidus. 91" and "Fidus 1891"

a magnificent large-scale drawing

Exhibition History:

"Alfred Kubin: Confessions of a Tortured Soul," Leopold Museum, Vienna, April 16 - July 24, 2022


Publication History:

Sphinx, XV, January 1893, art supplement after pg. 224 (reproductive engraving, as "Die Sphinx des Lebens").

Sphinx, Zeichnungen von Fidus und Diefenbach (Berlin: C.A. Schweschke und Sohn, 1899), plate 4 (titled "Sphinx des Lebens").  

Janos Frecot, Johann Friedrich Geist, and Diethart Kerbs, Fidus 1868-1949. Zur ästhetischen Praxis bürgerlicher Fluchtbewegungen (München: Rogner & Bernhard, 1972), pg.312, 5.1, 1891/4 (as "Zur Sphinx empor") (without ill.).

Hans-Peter Wipplinger, ed., Alfred Kubin: Confessions of a Tortured Soul (Vienna: Leopold Museum, 2022), pgs. 121 (ill.), 320.


From 1891 to 1894, Fidus was the principal illustrator for the theosophical magazine “Sphinx,” published in Berlin.  In January 1893, “The Sphinx of Life” appeared in the magazine.  Some of his illustrations, including “The Sphinx of Life,” were also published as offprints, which made Fidus well-known.  This was the beginning of the most productive phase of his career.
Oedipus and the Sphinx was, of course, a common theme in Symbolist art, with the Sphinx viewed in many ways, for example as a symbol of mystery and as a form of the femme fatale; the confrontation with Oedipus, as a battle between good and evil and between the sexes.  In Fidus’ drawing, however, it would appear that the theme is presented as a metaphor for the master-student relationship in theosophy and the difficult quest for comprehension of the theosophical teachings about essential truth.

As it was put in the accompanying text in the “Sphinx” magazine, the student “is like the wanderer in the old ‘fable’ of the Sphinx: only the one question becomes a long series of daily new riddles, which the Sphinx of Life, encamped on his way, poses to him; if he does not correctly solve her ever-changing and astounding riddles one after the other, she hinders his progress and finally destroys him completely.”


"The Sphinx, the winged monster with the head of a woman and the body of a lion, sits majestically on the rock at the gates of the city of Thebes. It appears disproportionately large and seductive at the same time; its main characteristic is the lust for murder. Oedipus kneels before her and looks up at her with wide, fearful eyes. Fidus does not at all draw him like a hero who will be the first to solve the riddle of the Sphinx. With him, the Sphinx shines in great mysterious superiority."  B

"From 1891 to 1894, Fidus illustrated for the theosophical magazine Sphinx [edited by the colonial official and theosophist Wilhelm Hübbe Schleiden]. While in Munich, Fidus and his mother had met Hübbe-Schleiden. And in autumn 1891, Fidus and Hübbe-Schleiden move to Berlin-Steglitz and a close collaboration develops. With his magazine, Hübbe-Schleiden created an elaborate, sophisticated publication."  B


The Daulton Collection