Adolf Wolfli /   Adolf Wölfli

Switzerland 1864 - 1930

Outsider Art

Adolf Wolfli
Adolf Wölfli
January 9, 2016
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Regarded as the first well-known Art Brut artist, Adolf Wölfli was born in 1864 in Bern and died in 1930 at the age of 66 in his cell at Waldau Mental Asylum (now the Psychiatric University Clinic) near his native town. Although he was institutionalized for schizophrenia at age 31, Wölfli achieved a prodigious output comprised of forty-five large volumes with over 25,000 pages filled with texts, drawings, collages and musical compositions.

Adolf Wölfli - The Dragon Rock - Trimbach Railway Foot and Traffic Bridge in China, 1909 - life collection
Adolf Wölfli – The Dragon Rock – Trimbach Railway Foot and Traffic Bridge in China, 1909

Childhood and Asylum

Adolf Wölfli, born on February 29, 1864, to a poor family living in Bowil, a small town near Bern, was the youngest of seven children. His father walked out when he was just five-years-old so the poverty-stricken family was soon taken into care by the authorities. He was orphaned before his tenth birthday and forced into service on a farm, where he was badly treated in every way. In 1890, Adolf’s repeated attempts to molest young girls landed him first in prison and, in 1895, in the asylum, where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Though violent at first, by 1899 he calmed down and although, without interest in art before, he began to draw.

Adolph Wolfli - Campbell s Tomato Soup, 1929 / Bon Ami, 1929 / The Rubber Wheel, 1929 / pages from Funeral March book of works - musical collection
Adolph Wolfli – Campbell’s Tomato Soup, 1929 / Bon Ami, 1929 / The Rubber Wheel, 1929

Art Brut by Adolf Wölfli

Wölfli started drawing in 1899, but the earliest preserved drawings date to 1904 and were done in heavy black pencil. Dr. Walter Morgenthaler, a young psychologist who arrived at Waldau in 1907, discovered Wölfli’s early pencil drawings and wrote about them in his famous book A Psychiatric Patient as Artist (Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler), published in 1921 and brought Wölfli to the attention of the art scene.

In 1908, Wölfli began work on his epic autobiographical project of 25,000 pages of drawings, collages and illustrations, filling 45 bound volumes of intermingled reality and fiction. His utopia started with From the Cradle to the Grave (1908-1912) in which Wölfli turned his dramatic and miserable childhood into a magnificent travelog. The book of works was followed by Geographic and Algebraic Books (1912-1916), Books with Songs and Dances (1917-1922), Album Books with Dances and Marches (1924-1928). The last part Funeral March, was ended with his death in 1930. These five handmade books are now in the Wolfli Foundation in Switzerland. The oeuvre by Adolf Wölfli was greatly championed by the French artist Jean Dubuffet who was first to use the term Art Brut, referring to a variety of art forms that originated outside the boundaries of the institutionalized culture and established art scene. Adolf Wölfli’s outsider art (an English synonym for art brut) has inspired many composers and was featured in many books.

Wölfli’s prodigious output is comprised of forty-five large volumes with over 25,000 pages filled
with texts, drawings, collages and musical compositions

Adolph Wolfli - Great-Great-Imperial Family, 1917 / Zungsang St.Adolf Roseli, 1917 / Chocolat Suchard, 1918 / pages from Cradle book of works - life
Adolph Wolfli – Great-Great-Imperial Family, 1917 / Zungsang St.Adolf Roseli, 1917 / Chocolat Suchard, 1918

Wölfli’s Exhibitions

The works by one of the first artists to be associated with the Art Brut or ‘raw outsider artist’ label have been included in numerous one-man and group exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the world. His solo shows were on display in Kunstmuseum Bern; American Folk Art Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Bern; Museum Schloss Moyland, Bedburg-Hau; Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art, Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France; Galerie Jürg Stuker, Bern, to name a few. His work was included in group shows in such places as Stand Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Basel; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Museum of Fine Arts, Bern; Kunstforum Austria, Vienna; The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, and others.

Adolph Wolfli - Bread Art
Adolph Wolfli – The Sweetheart of St. Adolf II. in Canton Ticino – 1927

Influence on Modern Art

Despite being institutionalized for schizophrenia at age thirty-one, Wölfli achieved artistic greatness in his cell at Waldau Mental Asylum where he spent 35 years. Working primarily in pencil on newsprint, the Swiss artist produced a compound, spectacularly detailed medley of highly imaginative prose texts interwoven with poems, color illustrations, and collages that have had a deep influence on modern art. He has influenced generations of artists who have looked not only to his work but also to the example of his singular dedication to his artwork.

Adolf Wölfli Estate is represented by Stephen Romano gallery located in Brooklyn, NY.

All images copyright © Adolf Wolfli Foundation

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2016World Made By HandAndrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2015On the BorderAargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, SwitzerlandGroup
2015PortraitsThe Whitworth Art Gallery, ManchesterGroup
2014adolf wolfli. universum.!Museum Gugging, OsterreichSolo
2014Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)Galerie St. Etienne, Midtown, New YorkGroup
2013Now Here is also Nowhere: Part IIHenry Art Gallery, University of Washington, SeattleGroup
2013From Radiance and DissolutionKraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, BerlinGroup
2012Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo CollectionMilwaukee Art Museum, MilwaukeeGroup
2011Adolf Wolfli UniversLille metropole musee d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Villeneuve d’Ascq, LilleSolo
2010WeltenwandlerDie Kunst der Outsider, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am MainGroup
2010Approaching AbstractionAmerican Folk Art Museum, New YorkGroup
2009Art BaselStand Galerie Peter Kilchmann, BaselGroup
2008Adolf Wolfli Universum, Eine RetrospektiveKunstmuseum BernSolo
2008Lost Paradise, Der Blick des EngelsZentrum Paul Klee BernGroup
2008The Line Is A Lonely HunterNew Jerseyy, BaselGroup
2007Beautes insensees: figures, histoire et personnalites de l’art irregulierNouveau Musee national, MonacoGroup
2006Dubuffet et l’Art brutMusee d´Art Moderne Lille Metropole, Villeneuve d´Ascq, FranceGroup
2005Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930)LaCabane, Murten, SwitzerlandSolo
2005Dubuffet und Art BrutMuseum Kunst Palast, DüsseldorfGroup
2003St.Adolf-Giant-Creation: The Art of Adolf WolfliAmerican Folk Art Museum, New YorkSolo
2002ZeitmaschineMuseum of Fine Arts, BernGroup
2001ABCD, A Collection of Art BrutMuseum of American Folk Art, New YorkGroup
2001Psychiatrie-Museum trifft KunstmuseumMuseum of Fine Arts, BernGroup
2001La Planete exilee, Art brut et visions du mondeMusee d´Art Moderne Lille Metropole, Villeneuve d´Ascq, FranceGroup
2001Tenth anniversary exhibition, 100 Drawings and PhotographsMatthew Marks Gallery, New YorkGroup
2000Adolf Wolfli: Memorandumm (1926)Museum of Fine Arts, BernSolo
1999Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930)Zeichnungen, Museum Schloss Moyland, Bedburg-HauSolo
1999Albert Anker – Adolf WolfliParallele Welten, Kunstmuseum BernSolo
1999Weltuntergang & Prinzip HoffnungKunsthaus Zurich, SwitzerlandGroup
1998Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930)Sala 1, Rome, ItalySolo
1998La figura dell´anima - Arte irregolare in EuropaCastello Visconteo, Pavia, ItalyGroup
1998Private Worlds: Classic Outsider Art From EuropeKatonah Museum of Art, New YorkGroup
1997Magie der Zahl in der Kunst des 20Jahrhunderts-Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, GermanyGroup
1997Art Brut Collection de l´AracineMusee d´Art Moderne, Communaute Urbaine de Lille, Villeneuve d´Ascq, FranceGroup
1997Kunst und WahnKunstforum Austria, ViennaGroup
1997Art BrutThe Museum of Kyoto, KyotoGroup
1997The Discovery of Art Brut - Works by the Three Swiss Artists: Wolfli, Aloïse, MüllerHong Kong Arts Center, HongkongGroup
1996Aloïse - Adolf Wolfli, Zwei Klassiker der Art BrutKulturabteilung Bayer, Erholungshaus, LeverkusenSolo
1996Adolf WolfliRupertinum, Salzburg, AustriaSolo
1995Adolf Wolfli: Von der Wiege bis zum GraabMuseum im Lagerhaus, St.Gall, SwitzerlandSolo
1995In aller Munde--100 Jahre ODOLBadisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, GermanyGroup
1995Adolf Wolfli, Aloïse: Zwei Klassiker der Art BrutErholungshaus Bayer, Leverkusen, GermanyGroup
1994La ville: Art et architecture en Europe, 1870-1993Centre Georges Pompidou, ParisGroup
1994Insita ´94National Gallery of Slovaky, BratislavaGroup
1993Adolf WolfliPhyllis Kind Gallery, New YorkSolo
1993Kunst und TherapieDeutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden, GermanyGroup
1992Adolf WolfliZafer Carsisi Galerisi, Sanart´ 92, Ankara, TurkeySolo
1992Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider ArtLos Angeles County Museum of ArtGroup
1991Sarlinger i KonstenKonsthalle Malmo, SwedenGroup
1990Adolf Wolfli: Zeichnungen, 1904-1906Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, SwitzerlandSolo
1990L´Art Brut et ses lisieresSchloss Ebenrain, Sissach, SwitzerlandGroup
1990Art et publiciteCentre Georges Pompidou, ParisGroup
1990Singular Imaginations IIIPhyllis Kind Gallery, New YorkGroup
1989Singular ImaginationsPhyllis Kind Gallery, New YorkGroup
1989Kunst wo man sie nicht vermutetClemens-Sels-Museum, Neuss, GermanyGroup
1989Von Goya bis Tinguely: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen aus einer PrivatsammlungMuseum of Fine Arts, Berne, SwitzerlandGroup
1989Louis Soutter--Adolf WolfliGalerie Michael Haas, BerlinGroup
1989Singular Imaginations IIPhyllis Kind Gallery, New YorkGroup
1988Adolf WolfliPhyllis Kind Gallery, New YorkSolo
1988Jubilaums-AusstellungKulturhaus Graz, AustriaGroup
1987Adolf Wolfli: Zeichnungen, 1904-1906Stadelsches Kunstinstitut und Stadtische Galerie, Frankfurt am MainSolo
1987Die Gleichzeitigkeit des AnderenMuseum of Fine Arts, BernGroup
1987Posizioni selvaggeGalleria Peccolo, Livorno, ItalyGroup
1986Magritte, Steinlein, Soutter, Wolfli u.aGalerie Baviera, ZurichGroup
1986Outsiders: Art beyond the NormsRosa Esman Gallery, New YorkGroup
1986Visionen: Adolf Wolfli u.aGalerie Arteba, ZurichGroup
1986Les indomptes de l´artCentre d´Arts Plastiques Contemporains, Besançon, FranceGroup
1986Symmetrie in Kunst, Natur und WissenschaftMathildenhohe Darmstadt, GermanyGroup
1986European OutsidersRosa Esman Gallery, New YorkGroup
1986Dream FacesPhyllis Kind Gallery, New YorkGroup
1985Adolf Wolfli: Von der Wiege bis zum GraabMuseum of Fine Arts, BernSolo
1985Adolf Wolfli, 1864-1930Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, MunichSolo
1985La voix maintenant et ailleursCentre Georges Pompidou, ParisGroup
1984Adolf Wolfli, Werke aus einer PrivatsammlungGalerie Jürg Stuker, BernSolo
1984Images et imaginaires d´architectureCentre Georges Pompidou, ParisGroup
1983Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk: Europaische Utopien seit 1800Kunsthaus ZurichGroup
1982Adolf WolfliHochschule der Künste, BerlinSolo
1982Aftermath, France: New Images of Man, 1945-54Barbican Centre, LondonGroup
1981Paris-ParisCentre Georges Pompidou, ParisGroup
1981Louis Soutter, Adolf Wolfli: Zwei Schlüsselfiguren der Art BrutGalerie Kornfeld, ZurichGroup
1980Adolf Wolfli, Bilder aus einer Imaginaren WeltAusbildungszentrum SBG, Wolfsberg, SwitzerlandSolo
1980Adolf WolfliStockalperpalast, Brig, SwitzerlandSolo
1980Kunst jenseits von KunstKunstamt Wedding, BerlinGroup
1979Outsiders: An Art without Precedent or TraditionHayward Gallery, LondonGroup
1978Über die ungewohnliche Natur des GeldesStadtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, GermanyGroup
1977Another World: Wolfli, Aloïse, MüllerPorte de la Suisse, ParisGroup
1976Adolf WolfliMuseum of Fine Arts, BernSolo
1976Tatort BernMuseum Bochum, GermanyGroup
1975Die Bildnerei der Geisteskranken: Das Beispiel Adolf WolfliZuger Kunstverein Burgbachkeller, Zug, SwitzerlandSolo
1975Die Kunst der Naiven, Themen und BeziehungenKunsthaus, ZurichGroup
1974Adolf Wolfli, 1864-1930: Ein Geisteskranker als KünstlerHistorisches Museum, St.Gall, SwitzerlandSolo
1974Haben und NichthabenVersuch eines Musee Ideal Schweizer Kunst, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, SwitzerlandGroup
1972documenta 5, Befragung der Realitat, Bildwelten heuteKassel, Germany.Group
1971Adolf Wolfli, 1864-1930: Werke aus einer Privatsammlung, KupferstichkabinettMuseum of Fine Arts, BaselSolo
1971Kunst der GeisteskrankenKunstverein Gottingen, GermanyGroup
1970Imaginare Welten--Gestalteter WahnGalerie Kubus der Stadt Hannover, GermanyGroup
1967Adolf WolfliGalerie Brockstedt, HamburgSolo
1967Kunst der NichtintegriertenGalerie Obere Zaune, Zurich, SwitzerlandGroup
1967Bildnerei der Geisteskranken aus der PrinzhornsammlungGalerie Rothe, Heidelberg, Germany.Group
1967L´Art BrutMusee des Arts Decoratifs, ParisGroup
1966Art et folie, Entretien des BichatLa Salpêtriere, ParisGroup
1963Bildnerei der Geisteskrankenm, Art Brut, Insania pingensKunsthalle, Bern, SwitzerlandGroup
1959Arte e Psichoterapia, Celebrazioni LombrosianeVerona, ItalyGroup
1958Oeuvres d´art psychopathologiqueMusee des Beaux-Arts, Besançon, FranceGroup
1950Exposition internationale d´art psychopathologique, 1er Congres mondial de la psychiatrieHopital Saint-Anne, ParisGroup
1949L´Art Brut prefere aux arts culturelsGalerie Rene Drouin, Compagnie de l´Art Brut, ParisGroup
1948Adolf WolfliCompagnie de l´Art Brut, Rue de l´Universite, ParisSolo
1947Collection of the Compagnie de l´Art BrutGalerie Rene Drouin, Paris.Group
1921Zeichnungen eines Geisteskranken: Zeichnungen aus der Sammlung W.MorgenthalerBuchhandlung Ernst Bircher, BernSolo