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The Donkey Driver by Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern

We end our series with the probably best-known artist in the exhibition. After a life spent in reform schools, psychiatric wards, and prisons, Friedrich Schröder (1892–1982) reinvented himself in 1949, to become the artist Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern. Discovered by the Surrealists, he and his grotesque concoctions of a “lunarly moral world” were soon celebrated as outstanding examples of art brut and late Surrealism. Hartmut Kraft purchased works of his from art dealers, at auctions, and from other collectors. He especially concentrated on the motif of the “donkey driver,” which the artist had revisited again and again. An animal carrying three sacks (faith, love, and hope) is being fed by a man with a bottle, while at the same time being threatened by a whip. In the first piece in the collection (1951/1952), the man is wearing a three-cornered hat and a uniform. His ear is phallic-like, typical for this artist, symbolizing that he had nothing more than “sensuality on his mind.” Later, the nose and the chin would be transformed into phallic forms as well, and an ape will appear as another protagonist.

Image: Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, “The Funnily Moral Donkey Driver,“ 1959, colored pencil on cardboard, Kraft Collection, Cologne © VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2020, photo: Eberhard Hahne / Cologne


Wild Painting by Blalla W. Hallmann

In the exhibition, we are featuring drawings and paintings by Blalla W. Hallmann (1941–1997) from the years 1956–1991, which provide a cross-sectional view of his oeuvre. Hallmann studied art in Düsseldorf and Nürnberg and worked from 1965 on as a painter and an actor. Hallmann was time and again in psychiatric treatment, also due to his various suicide attempts. In the late 70s, he started to paint his “horror scenarios,” a corrosively critical reckoning with the world, which earned him recognition as part of the “Neue Wilde” (“New Savages”) art movement. In 1984, he moved to Cologne, and in 1992 to Berlin, where he lived during his professorship at the Art Academy in Braunschweig, which ended in 1995. He died of cancer in 1997. Hartmut Kraft knew Hallmann well, and purchased several artworks from him personally, others from art dealers.

Image: Blalla W. Hallmann, "The Last-Ditch Supper Within the Framework of the German-American Friendship Dinner with Ronnie’s Ape Chapel and Golden Angel Shit", 1981, Tempera and mixed media on fibreboard, Kraft Collection, Cologne © VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2020, foto: Eberhard Hahne/Cologne


Cephalopods and Fantasy Creatures by August Wilhelm Schnietz

In 1978, during a stay in a psychiatric clinic, August Wilhelm Schnietz (1933–1988) began to draw cephalopods (heads with feet) situated in landscapes. This was likely an attempt to avoid depicting the human body, because he was plagued by fears of sinning. Later, the cephalopods gave way to fantasy creatures and fragmented bodies, which gradually increased in number, sometimes filling the entire page. Hartmut Kraft met the artist in 1979, and began to take a deep interest in his work. In 1983, Schnietz was dismissed from in-patient treatment. He took early retirement and began to focus entirely on drawing. Schnietz allowed Kraft to publish his real name, as well as to buy artworks from him and to sell them for him. His work has been included in all of the “cephalopod” and “Border Crossing Between Art and Psychiatry” exhibitions of the Kraft Collection. He died in 1988 of a heart attack.

Images: August Wilhelm Schnietz,untitled, 1985, fineliner and watercolors on paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg


Undated Works by Josef S.

In 1939, due to apathy and indifference towards his surroundings, Josef S. (1916–?) was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, where he remained. He was disorderly, at times aggressive, and difficult to motivate. Over time, he began to draw with crayons, as part of his occupational therapy. Hartmut Kraft became interested in Josef S.’s drawings of cephalopods (heads with feet). But he also chose other topics to draw. Following a visit to the zoo, for example, he drew several depictions of a bird, whereby he took more and more liberties as he went along. It’s this series of drawings that was an eye-catcher in the Kraft Collection exhibitions featuring cephalopods and the “Border Crossers” between art and psychiatry.

Images: Josef S., untitled, undated, wax crayons on colored paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg

Josef S., untitled, undated, wax crayons on colored paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg


The “Peculiar Fascination” of the Drawings by Karl L.

Karl L.’s drawings show cephalopods (literally, heads with feet), as well as greatly abstracted fruits, trees, and animals. The graphic vocabulary is similar to that of a 3- or 4-year-old. However, the approx. 70-year-old L., with his extended practice, used these elements more tenaciously than a child would, and he dealt with the frequently complex coloration in a more conceptual manner than would be possible for a child. And this is precisely why his images convey a cheerful charm, exerting such a “peculiar fascination” (Kraft). L. had only been to kindergarten, was 16 when he was admitted to the psychiatric clinic, later sent to a home for the mentally disabled. Around 1980, when he was a long-term patient in the state hospital in Bonn, he received drawing materials as part of his occupational therapy. He drew a great number of pictures in his ward, where he would hide them in his closet. An intern discovered them and, together with Hartmut Kraft, rescued them from being destroyed by the ward staff.

Images: Karl L., drawings, untitled, undated, pen and wax crayons on paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg


„Little Bunny in Potato Heaven” by Bernd Wrobel

Bernd Wrobel (1954–1980) was on a quest, from 1970 on, to expand his consciousness through narcotics and transcendental meditation. In 1975, when the voices he was hearing became unbearable, he tried to commit suicide for the first time. Repeated suicide threats lead to his being admitted to the Rheinish Landesklinik Bonn, a psychiatric hospital. Following another suicide attempt, he began to regularly take part in the hospital’s occupational therapy, where he took up drawing, and even dreamt of learning the screen-printing trade. Early on, his drawings were stiff and bleak, and often featured war ships. However, when a new therapist began to work with the group, his images underwent a transformation, becoming brightly colored and livelier, downright cheerful. Late 1979, Wrobel’s mood darkened again. He stopped drawing. In March of 1980, his jump from the highest staircase in the hospital was fatal.

Image: Bernd Wrobel, „Little Bunny in Potato Heaven”, undated, wax crayon and pen © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg


Nazi Father Figures by Theo Wagemann

Theo Wagemann (1918–1998), son of an innkeeper in Venwegen, a small town near Aachen, became mentally ill in 1933, and had to end his apprenticeship as a tailor. In the National Socialist (Nazi) era, he fell victim to forced sterilization, but was allowed to stay with his family. In the 1970s, he began to draw, and became known by the name of “Theo”. A large part of Theo’s artistic work consists of depictions of bigwig Nazis, especially portraitsof Hitler. Their friendly faces, as well as the inscriptions on the front and the back of the drawings, leave no doubt as to the portraitist’s favorable attitudetowards these characters, despite the idiosyncratic spelling. Wagemann, whohimself had suffered under the Nazis, must have naively glorified them as father figures. However, due to their expressive stylistic vocabulary, these images would never have been suitable as Nazi devotional objects.




Flying Bicycles by Gustav Mesmer

Gustav Mesmer (1903–1994) was in psychiatric institutions from 1928 until 1964. In 1932, he took an interest in flying machines for the first time. In the Buttenhausen retirement home (Swabian Alb), Mesmer began to attempt to fly with his flying bicycles, which earned him the nickname “Icarus of the Lauter Valley”. In the last years of his life, his work began to be appreciated as Outsider Art. In preparation for his “Border Crossing” book, Hartmut Kraft visited the 80-year-old Mesmer in Buttenhausen. All day long, Mesmer showed his flying machines to the physician. He was not concerned with failure: “Maybe it’ll work someday. If not, at least I’ve tried everything possible.”

Gustav Mesmer, untitled, undated, watercolour and ink on paper © Prinzhorn Collection, University Hospital Heidelberg