Hans Prinzhorn  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Hans Prinzhorn (June 6 1886 - June 14 1933) was a German psychiatrist and art historian.

Born in Hemer, Westphalia, he studied art history and philosophy at the University of Vienna, receiving his doctorate in 1908. He then went to England to receive voice training, as he planned to become a professional singer. He later received training in medicine and psychiatrics, serving as an Army surgeon during World War I.

In 1919 he became assistant to Karl Wilmanns at the psychiatric hospital of the University of Heidelberg. His task was to extend an earlier collection of art created by the mentally ill and started by Emil Kraepelin. When he left in 1921 the collection was extended to more than 5000 works by about 450 "cases".

In 1922 he published his first and most influential book Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill), richly illustrated with examples from the collection. While his colleagues were reserved in their reaction, the art scene was enthusiastic. Jean Dubuffet was highly inspired by the works, and the term Outsider art was coined.

The book is mainly concerned with the borderline between psychiatry and art, illness and self-expression. It represents one of the first attempts to analyse the work of the mentally ill.

After short stays at sanatories in Zurich, Dresden and Wiesbaden, he opened a psychotherapical praxis in Frankfurt in 1925, but without much success. He continued to write books, and half-a-dozen were published in his lifetime. His hopes to find a permanent position at a university were never fulfilled. Disillusioned by professional failures, and after three failed marriages, he moved in with an aunt in Munich and retreated from public life, making a living from giving lectures and writing essays. He died in 1933 in Munich of typhus.

Shortly after his death the Prinzhorn collection was stowed away in the attics of the university. In 1938 a few items were displayed in the Nazi propaganda exhibition Entartete Kunst. Since 2001 the collection is on display in a former oratory of the University of Heidelberg.

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