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date: 15 September 2019

Wölfli, Adolf locked

(b Nüchtern, nr Bowyl, Feb 29, 1864; d Berne, Nov 6, 1930).
  • Henry Walton

Extract

(b Nüchtern, nr Bowyl, Feb 29, 1864; d Berne, Nov 6, 1930).

Swiss artist, writer and musician . He was the youngest of eight children of an alcoholic stonebreaker whose desertion of the family precipitated the death of Wölfli’s mother in 1873. After a series of sexual offences Wölfli was institutionalized with schizophrenia in 1895 in Waldau Mental Asylum, Berne, where he remained until his death from cancer. Although he drew his first pictures in 1899, his earliest surviving works date from 1904–6. His work is instantly identifiable; like Blake’s it expresses a strongly personal language, as in the High and Low Nobility of the English and British Canada Union (1911; Berne, Kstmus.; for illustration see Psychotic art ). He was a prolific producer of pictorial and narrative work in folios (Hefte) of newspaper format (1000×750 mm). The pencil and coloured crayon drawings depict his fantasized biographical journey, portraying him either as Doufi, ‘the child of poor and depraved parents’, or as ‘St Adolf II’. The borders are emphatic, and there are symmetrical arrangements, oval forms, circles, crosshatching and musical notation. The use of colour is original and idiosyncratic. In the accompanying narrative Wölfli’s alter ego is pitched towards his own death; he assaults his victims, his crimes are punished by illness and incarceration, he is struck by lightning and destroyed by attack or by natural forces. Illustrations from the popular magazine ...

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