Adolf Wölfli (1864 – 1930) a self-proclaimed Swiss artist, composer, writer, farm-laborer, soldier and much more was orphaned at the age of 10 after being both physically and sexually abused. He was sentenced after attempting to commit a pedophilic act and was eventually hospitalized in the Waldau Mental Asylum near Bern, Germany, where he spent nearly half his life. The Asylum was also the place where he developed his passion for creating art, composing music and writing stories and so he combined all of these by writing books which he illustrated and wrote soundtracks to. He created art and wrote stories until he died of intestinal cancer in 1930.
This type of art is known as brut art, or raw art, which is a term used to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Some artists, like Jean Debuffet, focused particularly on the art by insane-asylum inmates when regarding this particular style. Interest in this type of art grew mainly in the 1920s and Adolf Wölfli became known for his art after the publishing of his psychiatrists, Dr. Walter Morgenthaler’s book. Andre Breton, a surrealist was also very impressed with Wölfli’s art and even referred to the entire body of his work as being “one of the three or four most important works of the twentieth century”.
One of his best-known works is 45 volume illustrated book in which he narrates an imaginary story of his life. This 25,000 page story contains 1,600 illustrations and 1,500 collages. Wölfli also had many smaller books where he would tell stories of his imaginary travels and inventions. There are paintings in the exhibition of his interpretations of places in the world, like the Gulf of Mexico, and a list of all the things that he supposedly invented. He also produced bread-art or single-sheet drawings which were painted with the purpose to sell them, and he began painting them in 1916 and continued painting them until he died in 1930.
A majority all of his pictures have one thing in common: they are full of color and the pages are filled completely with lines, shapes, lists of numbers, words and sentences, musical notes and in some cases cut outs from newspapers. Mostly drawn in color pencil, the pictures are very chaotic and intense, and there are so many details that one could observe the pictures for hours and still not see everything that’s there. His music, which is played in the background of the exhibition, is also very intense and creates a feeling of unease and builds tension in the listener. The pictures in the exhibition will easily grab one’s attention and the uniqueness of the art and the story of the artist will truly make this an exceptional experience.
You can see some of Adolf’s works in the Adolf Wölfli Foundation in the Museum of Fine Arts Bern in Switzerland along with regular exhibitions in various art galleries all over Europe – none of which are open at the moment but keep an eye out for them. The Museum of Fine Arts Bern is definitely a place that you shouldn’t miss out on. It has over 3,000 paintings and sculptures and 48,000 drawings, lithographs, photographs, videos and films. The art in the museum varies greatly and includes both international art from all over the world as well as old Swiss art – with a multitude of genres including the unique Brut art of Adolf Wölfli.