Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adolf Wölfli - a troubled Artist with Beret

Adolf Wölfli (1864 - 1930) (occasionally spelled Adolf Woelfli or Adolf Wolfli) was a Swiss artist who was one of the first artists to be associated with the Art Brut or Outsider Art label.

Wölfli was abused both physically and sexually as a child, and was orphaned at the age of 10; He thereafter grew up in a series of state-run foster homes. He worked as a farm labourer and briefly joined the army, but was later convicted of attempted child molestation, for which he served prison time. Sometime after being freed, he was arrested for a similar offence and was admitted in 1895 to the Waldau Clinic in Bern, Switzerland, a psychiatric hospital where he spent the rest of his adult life.

He was very disturbed and sometimes violent on admission, leading to him being kept in isolation for his early time at hospital. He suffered from psychosis, which led to intense hallucinations.

At some point after his admission Wölfli began to draw. His first surviving works (a series of 50 pencil drawings) are dated from between 1904 and 1906.

Walter Morgenthaler, a doctor at the Waldau Clinic, took a particular interest in Wölfli's art and his condition, later publishing Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist) in 1921 which first brought Wölfli to the attention of the art world.
Wölfli eventually died in 1930 and his works were taken to the Museum of the Waldau Clinic in Bern. Today, the collection is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern.
Wölfli's work has inspired many
composers. Perhaps most notable the Danish composer Per Nørgård who after viewing a Wölfli exhibition in 1979 embarked on a schizoid style lasting for several years; among the works of this time are an opera on the life of Wölfli called The Divine Circus.

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