Wolfli, Adolf (Swiss, 1864-1930)

Mental-Asylum Band-Hain

Reference Type:
Adolf Wölfli had a very difficult childhood. He was orphaned before he was ten, and then lived in a series of terrible foster homes. When the father of the woman he loved would not allow her marry him, he joined the infantry. In 1895, after molesting three young girls, he was sent to the Waldau Psychiatric Clinic in Bern, Switzerland, where he stayed until his death in 1930. His hallucinations were so bad that he was confined in isolation for ten years. Later, he preferred a private cell, which he decorated himself. Wölfli started to draw several years after being committed, combining words, images, and musical notations. In 1908, when Dr. Walter Morgenthaler arrived at the asylum, Wölfli began to create an autobiography that he worked on until his death. In the end it comprised more than 25,000 pages in 45 volumes that included poetry, musical compositions, and more than 3,000 illustrations. A combination of fact and fiction, it begins as a world expedition undertaken by a hero named Doufi (the artist’s childhood name), and then turns into an epic of war, conquest, and disaster, with Doufi eventually becoming St. Adolf II. Catering to the time periods’ fascination with art created by the insane, in 1921 Dr. Morganthaler published Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist). In this drawing, a mental asylum is shown askew, with leaning towers, a prison-like floor plan, and the heads of inmates located throughout. The confusion and isolation patients feel is embodied throughout the composition; however, like their lives it is nonetheless structured, expressing a complex rhythm throughout. Notes by Mariann Smith
Mental Disorders
Mental Illness
Adolf-Wolfli-Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, Bern