Sweat Stains Worth Millions

The drawing from which we borrowed the title of our exhibition was created by the merchant Carl Lange (1852-1916) in the Hubertusburg asylum around 1900. The heading reads “Worth more than many millions. The photographically verifiable, interleaving miraculous images in the shoe insoles of the victim, revealing a fifteen-year old crime”. The rows of images in oval frames represent these shoe insoles, and the figures are those which had appeared to him in the sweat stains. Apparently, they transformed themselves; the rows of images look something like a series of film stills.

Sweat as a pictorial medium is unusual, but not unique. Lange must have been thinking of Christian icons and sacred images, such as the Veil of Veronica, or the Shroud of Turin. Thus, Lange’s sweat was of a special nature, able to sanctify the perspirer. Not least for this reason, he sees revelations in these precious visions. They seem so real to him, as if he could actually photograph them, if only he had a camera. Without one, he reproduced them with pencil.

After completing his business studies, Carl Lange first worked in Danzig, and later in Hamburg. Unhappy with his position, he left in 1875 for Bordeaux, and in 1876, he went to New York. Later, he tried his luck in Mexico, where he soon became harshly critical of the political maladministration. In 1882, God appeared to him and told him he was Jesus Christ. Lange saw his divine vocation as reformer of the Mexican people. In order to publish and distribute “revolutionary pamphlets and articles”, he moved to San Antonio, Texas. When he intended to send letters to heads of state containing a photograph of a piece of meat resembling a grotesque silhouette inscribed “Immortalidad”, and began planning the assassination of the Mexican president, his brother had him committed to the Bloomingdale asylum in New York. In 1884, he was transferred to the Allenberg asylum, and then to Görlitz. In 1888, he arrived at the Schwetz asylum, where he died in 1916 of pneumonia.

Lange never accepted his diagnosis of mental illness and never consented to his hospitalization. He wrote a great number of long letters and essays explaining his point of view and demanding his release. The drawings in the margins of these contain complex faces, similar to his stand-alone drawings.

Image: Carl Lange, “Worth more than many millions. The photographically verifiable, interleaving miraculous images in the shoe insoles of the victim, revealing a fifteen-year old crime”, Inv. No. 99 © Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg University Hospital

Precious Item of the Week


Two early drawings by Adolf Wölfli (1904 and 1905)

The two large-scale pencil drawings from the years 1904 and 1905 are early works by the patient artist Adolf Wöfli (1865-1930). He was a patient of the Waldau asylum near Bern from 1893 until his death. He became well-known when his psychiatrist, Walter Morgenthaler, wrote the monograph “A Mental Patient as Artist” in 1921. After Wölfli’s work was exhibited in Paris by Jean Dubuffet as part of the “Compagnie de l’art brut”, and Harald Szeemann recreated his hospital room for the documenta 5, he became the most famous patient artist in Europe, a “classic” of art brut, or Outsider Art. Read more...


Strip of collaged images by Frau St. (circa 1890)

One of the most unusual pieces in the Prinzhorn Collection is a 260 cm-long strip of collaged images. We have no vital records or biographical information for the creator, “Frau St.”.  Most likely, she belonged to the wealthy upper class, as she was a patient in the private sanatorium for the “mentally ill and emotionally disturbed” in the Oberdöbling suburb of Vienna. In 1920, the clinic director sent this artwork to Hans Prinzhorn for the Heidelberg collection, including only the information “Frau St., dementia praecox?”. Read more...

Short film on the exhibition “Worth More Than Many Millions”

In the film on our current exhibition “Worth more than many millions” the director of the museum Thomas Röske presents all the works of our digital series „Precious Item of the Week“.

Franz Kleber’s Book

Writings in the Prinzhorn Collection
A considerable part of the works kept in the Prinzhorn Collection contain text, either alone or in connection with images. Psychiatrists have repeatedly designated the combination of the two—text and image—as characteristic of art by psychiatric patients. However, the combination of text and image can also be explained by the fact that the authors, most of whom were not trained artists, chose to rely upon neither medium alone to convey their message.

Franz Kleber (1843–1908)
In our new exhibition, “Ein mehrfacher Millionenwerth“ (“Worth More Than Many Millions”), there are 56 books and journals on display. Among these, the hand-made book by the Regensburg asylum patient Franz Kleber stands out. Kleber worked on this painstakingly detailed book from 1898 until his death. Read more...

Precious Item of the Week

Else Blankenhorn’s Banknotes

The double-sided watercolors quoting very high numbers in our exhibition are banknotes of an entirely personal currency. They were created by Else Blankenhorn, a wealthy private patient at the Bellevue Sanitorium in Kreuzlingen on Lake Constance in Switzerland. Read more...

Precious Item of the Week

Jane Grier («Miss G.»), an embroidered handkerchief from 1892

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“Dresden. – Forget me not – Dr. W.”
“Forget me not – G.”
“Herr Dr. Willführ – from Miss Grier”

Near one of the hearts formed by a thick bundle of red embroidery threads, another date can be deciphered: “Souvenir tears—Nov 16 1892.”

The handkerchief is one of the first works that made its way into our collection. Since 1980, it has been exhibited again and again, including in Basel, London, Charleroi, Paris and Vienna. Read more...



Precious Item of the Week

The Witch Head / Landscape (between 1913-1917) by August Natterer

This week, we’re highlighting another work from our collection, the optical illusion Witch Head / Landscape by August Natterer. On transparent paper, a landscape is depicted, which can be simultaneously seen as a silhouette of a witch. A large lake creates the witch’s face, a dock becomes a ribbon that defines the transition from face to neck, and a boulevard becomes her bonnet’s brim. Despite the head covering, the fissures between the bones of her skull can be seen, and the witch becomes an eerie figure hovering between life and death. Read more...

Precious Item of the Week

The Little Jacket (1895) by Agnes Richter

Greetings dear visitor and friend of our museum,

We’re glad that you’re here and reading along. Today we’re starting our series, the “Precious Item of the Week,” in which we will highlight a work from the new exhibition “Ein mehrfacher Millionenwerth” (“Worth More Than Many Millions“) Fragile Treasures of the Prinzhorn Collection. We begin with one of the icons of our collection, the little jacket by Agnes Richter (1844-1918). This garment, sewn by hand from coarse linen, is embroidered over and over again with words in colored thread – inside and out. We had a new display dummy created for the jacket, which you’ll find in the center of the exhibition. Read more...