Prinzhorn Collection

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
August Natterer : Hexenkopf, Prinzhorn Collection
August Natterer world axis with hare

The Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg is a museum for historical works from psychiatric institutions as well as those who are experienced in psychiatry today. The important special collection is attached to the Clinic for General Psychiatry at the Heidelberg University Hospital .

Museum of the Prinzhorn Collection

The collection arose from the basis of a small teaching collection of the professor of psychiatry Emil Kraepelin , former head of the psychiatric clinic at Heidelberg University. This basic stock was extensively expanded by the art historian and doctor Hans Prinzhorn (1886–1933) after the First World War. The collection has been accessible to the general public since 2001.

The university museum enjoys an international reputation and presents historical documents of artistic works by former patients of the hospital as well as works of art by patients from the last decades in changing exhibitions.

Art from institutions

A pergola leads from the west side into the Altklinikum building Campus Bergheim and from there to the Museum Collection Prinzhorn to the south
Former lecture hall building, now the Prinzhorn Collection Museum
The museum building receives a central skylight through a centrally placed glass roof construction

Institutional works can appear 'strange' and familiar; Aesthetic conventions are exceeded, idiosyncratic systems and fictional worlds are imagined, but conventions are also preserved. Pictorial inventions of inclusion and exclusion are often 'different' and yet connected to the outside. Autonomy, aesthetic energies, but also injuries caused by the life story and the location of the institution are drawn in. You are a "passion" ( Aby Warburg ).

Historical inventory until 1933

The Prinzhorn Collection preserves around 6,000 historical works by around 450 prison inmates, mostly from the period from around 1890 to 1933. Various types of images and texts, artistic techniques and materials include drawings and watercolors, oil paintings, but are characterized by the institutions' scarce resources , textile works, notations as well as books and notebooks. All social classes can be found among the producers. Around 80 percent are male, although the institutions at the time kept as many women as men. The following are considered classics today: Else Blankenhorn, Franz Karl Bühler, Karl Genzel, Paul Goesch, Emma Hauck, August Klotz, Peter Meyer, August Natterer , Agnes Richter, Joseph Schneller, Barbara Suckfüll, Oskar Voll and Adolf Wölfli .

New collection after 1945

The newer collection includes around 14,000 objects, including the collection of Gisela Petschner's painting studio in the Merxhausen asylum (Petschner Collection [1963–1983]) and the collections of the psychiatrists Manfred in der Beeck from Schleswig and Hemmo Müller-Suur from Göttingen, as well as works by Outsider art, such as Friedrich Boss, Gudrun Bierski, Sonja Gerstner, Vanda Viera Schmidt, Alfred Stief and Dietrich Orth.

Conservational condition

The mostly fragile image carriers made of inferior everyday paper (newspaper, sugar cones, orange paper) as well as improper storage over decades are responsible for the fragility of the works. From 1980 to 1984 the decay was slowed down by a restoration project by the Volkswagen Foundation. However, the continuous conservation and restoration work, especially of the highly sensitive old holdings, remains a core task of the museum.

Museum building

From 2000 to 2001, the lecture hall of the old medical clinic was converted into an exhibition house with storage and work rooms. The founder of anthropological medicine, the neurologist Viktor von Weizsäcker , gave lectures from 1920 to 1941 in the lecture hall building, built by Josef Durm in the neo-renaissance style in 1890/91 . With the successful establishment of the museum and the continuously growing holdings, the demands on the house have increased. The aim is to expand the space with space for a permanent exhibition, depots, graphic cabinet, library, media and seminar room.

Exhibitions, research projects and history

Temporary exhibitions and university research are mainly involved in art and cultural studies as well as psychiatry and medical history. Examined were z. B. psychotic image productions, gender relations, the location of the institution, life stories and the reception of the Heidelberg fund from Expressionism to today in art, literature and music. Through collaborations with institutions that specialize in Art brut and Outsider Art, an aesthetic field that has been ignored for a long time comes into focus.

Background: Kraepelin, Weygandt, Wilmanns

Emil Kraepelin

Emil Kraepelin (1856–1926), as head of the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, collected curious drawings and other things for a small psychiatric museum established in 1896. He endeavored to protect against the mentally ill and "against contagious patients" by increasing asylum seekers. To this end, in 1896, like Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau , he made an early attempt to pathologize modern art as 'degenerate'. Two of his Heidelberg assistants continued collecting with contrary intentions. Wilhelm Weygandt (1870–1939) was looking for “crazy art”. As director of the Hamburg-Friedrichsberg Clinic, he continued Kraepelin's popular hygiene approach and publicly opposed the 'degenerate' modern art in the 1920s. Karl Wilmanns (1873–1945), Kraepelin's assistant since 1902, preserved the drawings of vagabonds and beggars, whose prison psychoses he researched. The “teaching collection” grew to around 80 “cases”. As clinic director (1919–1933), Wilmanns promoted the Hans Prinzhorn project.

Hans Prinzhorn's collecting activity

The art historian and doctor Hans Prinzhorn (1887–1933), as an assistant at the Heidelberg Clinic (1919–1921), expanded the “teaching collection” in order to research it in the context of illness. Disturbed by the catastrophe of the First World War, he hoped to find “real things” in the works of withdrawn prison inmates. With this intention, Prinzhorn mobilized institute directors in the German-speaking area to send him work. When Prinzhorn left the clinic in July 1921, the collection had grown to over 4,500 works from around 450 (anonymized) "cases". And it kept growing.

Prinzhorn's "Sculpture of the Mentally Ill" (1922)

Hans Prinzhorn graduated from high school in 1904

Prinzhorn was looking for the "expression of personal experience", so collected with a central category of modern art in mind. What was excluded was anything that was overly objective or 'deformed' and therefore did not correspond to the late Expressionist view of the author. Prinzhorn's construct called for spontaneous works by inexperienced mentally ill people. His book “Bildnerei der Geisteskranken” (1922) suggested that it represented the Heidelberg collection and thus the design modes “mentally ill”; He suppressed the fact that 'mad art' also included artistic or culturally influenced works. This was far removed from the institutional reality of the artists, who often actually had creative training. Because of its aesthetic richness, the book became famous across language barriers - Werner Spies called it the 'Bible of the Surrealists' . To this day, the attraction of institutional art is a phenomenon.

In addition to Prinzhorn, the Swiss psychiatrist Walter Morgenthaler provided impulses for revaluation as art . In 1921 his book about Adolf Wölfli “A mentally ill person as an artist” was published in Bern . But even then, German lawyers and psychiatrists were thinking of “ euthanasia ”, supposedly “empty human shells” - that was precisely those long-term patients for whose creative intelligence Prinzhorn had created a forum with a collection and a book.

Exhibitions until 1933

The testimonies from institutions received a lot of resonance in the avant-garde art and culture scene. Between 1928 and 1933, at least eleven extensive exhibitions toured through art associations and museums in Germany and Switzerland. Professor Hans Gruhle was responsible .

Pathological and “Degenerate Art” 1933–1945

The National Socialists used the fund to pathologize unpopular art productions. Exhibits from Heidelberg have been involved in the touring exhibition “ Degenerate Art ” (1937–1941) since the Berlin station in 1938. Carl Schneider (1881–1946), head of the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, appointed in 1933, brought the loans into the exhibition. As the chief expert for Aktion T4 , he was responsible for the systematic murder of “incurable” inmates from 1939 onwards. The picture collection was kept in a cupboard in front of the lecture hall of the psychiatric clinic.

Rediscovery after 1945

While psychotropic drugs seemed to promise quick normalization in the case of mental crises in the 1950s, the images from the noisy times of custody psychiatry were sidelined. In 1963 Harald Szeemann showed a selection in the Kunsthalle Bern . In 1965 the psychiatrist Maria Rave-Schwank organized a presentation in the Rothe Gallery in Heidelberg. From 1973 to 2001, the doctor Inge Jarchov was given a custodian position to look after the collection . It achieved its first restoration and museum research with grants from the Volkswagen Foundation 1979–1984. In 1980 the first exhibits were presented to the public.

A new era began: with the processing of the holdings and the research of biographical information, for example from patient files, it was made easier to show the works in art institutions. The traumatizing conflicts of the inmates and their attempts to assure themselves through artistic means now also came into focus. Mental “illness” was no longer understood only as a disorder, but also as a form of crisis management. In this regard, the collection also represents a unique memory storage and research space, the highly complex and encrypted image and text material of which can hardly be conclusively opened up.

In 2001, a separate museum was set up for the Prinzhorn Collection at Heidelberg University Hospital , the Prinzhorn Collection Museum , Heidelberg Psychiatric University Hospital, Vossstraße 2, in a converted former lecture hall.


  • Crossing the border between art and madness, television documentary, directed by Christian Beetz , SWR / arte , 2008. Research, screenplay and commentary by Maria Zinfert. Awarded the Adolf Grimme Prize in the Information and Culture category and the Audience Prize of the Marler Group
  • The woven pain. Television documentation on selected works from the collection, directed by Christian Beetz, SWR / arte, 2007. Research, commentary by Maria Zinfert
  • Unheard of genius. Television documentation on selected works from the collection, directed by Christian Beetz, SWR / arte, 2007. Research, commentary by Maria Zinfert


  • Oskar Panizza : Pour Gambetta . All drawings stored in the Prinzhorn Collection of the Psychiatric University Clinic in Heidelberg and in the National Church Archive in Nuremberg. Edited by Armin Abmeier. Edition Belleville, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-923646-30-5 .

Web links

Commons : Collection Prinzhorn  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. On Prinzhorn see Thomas Röske : The doctor as artist. Aesthetics and psychotherapy with Hans Prinzhorn (1886–1933), Bielefeld 1995.
  2. For the history of the collection, see Bettina Brand-Claussen: The “Museum for Pathological Art” in Heidelberg. From the beginning until 1945. In: Wahnsinnige Schönheit, Prinzhorn-Sammlung. Exhibition catalog Osnabrück, Kulturhistorisches Museum u. a., Heidelberg 1997, pp. 6-23.
  3. The Hans-Prinzhorn-Archiv is attached to the collection.
  4. Eckart Roloff , Karin Henke-Wendt: Art from the clinic - a passion of mankind. (Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg) In: Visit your doctor or pharmacist. A tour through Germany's museums for medicine and pharmacy. Volume 2, Southern Germany. Verlag S. Hirzel, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-7776-2511-9 , pp. 56-58.
  5. Gottfried Böhm: The power of images. The art of the “mentally ill” and the image discourse. In: Ders .: How images create meaning. The power of showing. Berlin 2007, pp. 229–242. Böhm describes the collection as a "historical special case" (p. 230) and thereby emphasizes its uniqueness.
  6. ^ Inge Jádi, Bettina Brand-Claussen (ed.): Vision and revision of a discovery. Catalog for the opening exhibition, Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg 2001.
  7. Bettina Brand-Claussen, Viola Michely (Ed.): Irre is feminine. Artistic interventions by women in psychiatry around 1900. Exhibition catalog Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg 2004, 2nd edition 2009.
  8. Thomas Röske, Doris Noell-Rumpeltes (ed.): Walking through the air - Josef Forster, die Anstalt & die Kunst, exhibition catalog, Heidelberg 2011 (with a medical history published in full for the first time from the archive of the collection).
  9. Herwig Guratzsch (Ed.): Expressionism and Wahnsinn, arr. by Thomas Röske. Exhibition catalog Schleswig, Gottorf Castle, Munich / Berlin / London / New York 2003. Thomas Röske and Ingrid von Beyme (ed.): Surrealism and Wahnsinn, exhibition catalog, German / English, Heidelberg 2009. Ingrid von Beyme and Thomas Röske (ed.) .): Unseen and Unheard of I. Artists react to the Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg 2013. Ingrid von Beyme and Thomas Röske (eds.): Unseen and Unheard II. Artists react to the Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg 2014.
  10. ^ Emil Kraepelin: The psychiatric tasks of the state . Jena 1900, p. 16, quoted from Hans Walther Schmuhl: Racial hygiene, National Socialism, Euthanasia - from prevention to the destruction of 'life unworthy of life', 1890–1945 (= critical studies on historical science . Volume 75). Göttingen 1987, p. 82.
  11. ^ Bettina Brand-Claussen: "Sciens nescieris" Max Klinger's philosopher and Emil Kraepelin's diagnostic image knowledge. In: Knowledge and non-knowledge in the clinic: Dynamics of Psychiatry around 1900. Bielefeld 2012. P. 143–169.
  12. Bettina Brand-Claussen: Ugly, wrong, sick. 'Crazy Art' and 'Crazy Art' between Wilhelm Weygandt and Carl Schneider. In: Christoph Mundt, Gerrit Hohendorf, Maike Rotzoll (eds.): Psychiatric research and Nazi euthanasia. Heidelberg 2001, pp. 265-320.
  13. ^ Bettina Brand-Claussen, Thomas Röske (ed.): Artists in the wrong. Exhibition catalog. Heidelberg 2008.
  14. Röske 1995.
  15. cf. Gottfried Böhm, 2007.
  16. Karl Binding, Alfred Hoche: The release of the destruction of life unworthy of life. Their size and shape. Leipzig 1920.
  17. ^ Christoph surcharge: "Degenerate Art". Exhibition strategies in Nazi Germany, Worms 1995 (Heidelberger Kunstgeschichtliche Abhandlungen; New Series, Volume 21).
  18. Bettina Brand-Claussen, Thomas Röske, Maike Rotzoll (eds.): Cause of death: euthanasia. Covert murders during the Nazi era. 2nd Edition. Heidelberg 2012.
  19. cf. Jádi, 2001.
  20. Found something for your life , accessed April 1, 2017
  21. See also the successful exhibition tour 1980/81 Die Prinzhornsammlung. Exhibition catalog, published by Inge Jarchov and Hans Gercke, Königstein / Taunus 1980.

Coordinates: 49 ° 24 ′ 35.2 ″  N , 8 ° 41 ′ 19.5 ″  E