Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930)
Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930)


Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930)
signed Adolf II
colored pencil and graphite on paper
12 3/4 x 9 3/4 in.
Gérard A. Schreiner and John L. Notter
Robert M. Greenberg, New York
Sold, Christie's, New York, 27 January 2003, lot 49
Rosa Esman Gallery, European Outsiders: An Exhibition of Art Brut (New York, 1986), p. 118.
New York, Rosa Esman Gallery, European Outsiders: An Exhibition of Art Brut, October - November 1986.

Lot Essay

Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930), known for his colorful intricate drawings filled with imagined autobiographical details, is one of the foundational figures of Art Brut. The artist began to draw shortly after his 1895 admission to the Waldau Clinic in Bern, Switzerland, and Dr. Walter Morgenthaler, a psychiatrist at the clinic, took interest in his output. In 1921, Morgenthaler published the now-seminal text Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist), a full-length study of Wölfli’s life and art. Years later, in a 1965 exhibition catalogue for the eleventh Exposition International du Surréalisme, famous surrealist Andre Breton wrote that Wölfli’s “vivid creations…as an ensemble represent one of the three or four most important oeuvres of the twentieth century” (Elka Spoerri and Daniel Baumann, The Art of Adolf Wölfli (New York, 2003), p. 33). In 2015, Wölfli’s drawings featured prominently in the critically acclaimed exhibition Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet at the American Folk Art Museum, in New York. Nearly a century after its initial publication and notice, the artist’s work continues to command attention, reiterating Wölfli’s place as a star of Outsider Art and Art Brut.

Wölfli's magnum opus, a multi-volume, 25,000-page epic illustrated text, chronicled his imagined life as a knight, an emperor and a saint. In addition to these bound books, the artist rendered single-sheet drawings he called portraits. Whether in notebooks or on loose-leaf paper, his works are dense, colored-filled images supported by text and, at times, musical compositions. This vibrant portrait bears the date 1889 (though it was likely created later) and is signed Adolf II, a reference to the artist’s self-fashioned identity of “St. Adolf II,” a persona that appears in his texts around 1916. Here, the artist's alter ego surveys the page from the top center, surrounded by bright greens, oranges and yellow fashioned into archways and patterns.

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