First published: Autumn 2022
Prinzhorn’s revolutionary book is acclaimed as the first step towards the acknowledgement of outsider art
This year, the Prinzhorn Collection at Heidelberg University Hospital is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Dr Hans Prinzhorn’s revolutionary book with – among other events – a Prinzhorn symposium. Published in 1922, his Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) examined the creative output of psychiatric patients, and characterises the awakening in art and culture, after World War I, in the still-young Weimar Republic. Never before had such an extensive publication – with so many, in some cases full-page and colour, illustrations – been devoted to this artistic fringe; never before had the aesthetic value of these works been described so eloquently and in such detail.
August Klett, Cellar, Inn, Salon, Stable in One, 1915, pencil and watercolour on paper, 9 x 13 in. / 23 x 33 cm
Thus, this “contribution to the psychology and psychopathology of artistry” – as the book’s first edition was subtitled – attracted much attention, in particular that of artists and art lovers. Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and many Expressionists – but above all the circle of Surrealists around André Breton – were fascinated and inspired to create their own works.
August Natterer, Miracle Shepherd (II), between 1911 and1917, pencil and watercolour on cardboard, varnished, 7.5 x 9.5 in. / 19.5 x 24.5 cm
The drawings of August Natterer became especially important for Max Ernst, who had personally taken Prinzhorn's book to his friends in Paris shortly after its publication. Later, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken became the essential starting point for Jean Dubuffet's idea of art brut, and Roger Cardinal paid extensive tribute to it in his 1972 book Outsider Art. The enthausiasm for Prinzhorn’s classic text continues to this day. It has been translated into six languages, and a seventh edition is available in German.
Else Blankenhorn, Nonanta Duplonen (banknote), between 1908 and 1919, ink on paper, 7 x 4.5 in. / 18 x 11.5 cmings
The basis for Bildnerei der Geisteskranken was an extensive study collection of some 4,500 works at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Heidelberg. Prinzhorn had assembled most of the collection himself, from 1919 to 1921, considerably helped by his appeal to numerous colleagues, especially in German-speaking countries. But it was not until 2001 that his dream of a "museum of pathological art" became reality with the opening of a dedicated exhibition building, and today the Prinzhorn Collection comprises some 40,000 works.
By THOMAS RÖSKE
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #112