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Josef Wittlich

German, 20th century.
Born 1903, Gladbach, Germany; died 1982, Hör-Grenzhausen, Germany.


Josef Wittlich was born on 26 February 1903 in Gladbach, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. The premature death of his mother when he was four years old seems to have sealed his destiny of abandonment and exile, leaving him without protection in the hands of a brutal father. Since he was ill he found it difficult to follow the lessons in junior school and when his father married again in 1915 nothing much was resolved. His stepmother was hostile, preferring the mentally retarded son she brought to the family.

Josef Wittlich closed in on himself and became a recluse. As a reaction to adversity he soon took up painting but unfortunately the paintings from his youth were not saved. In 1920 he wanted to enroll in the foreign legion with the excuse that dying in a war or being beaten to death by his father amounted to the same thing. However, even here he was turned down. According to his workmates he spent all his free days and nights painting on paper, producing works which he then gave or threw away. During the last war he was enlisted against his will, injured and taken prisoner by the Russians. After the war he took a job as a workman in a ceramics factory and started to paint once more, until his death in 1982.

Wittlich did not find his subjects in immediate reality but in images that at first glance already offer a realistic development, for example reproductions of academic paintings, photographs of the Pope, of royal couples and famous people, publicity images of clothes and underwear presented by models. Wittlich aggressively underlined the ‘readability’ of these images, hardening the outlines, simplifying the forms and saturating the colors to a flat tint.

- Geneviève Roulin


Selected Solo Exhibitions

2014, Celebrities, Galerie WAGNER + PARTNER, Berlin

2013, AvantPop! - Josef Wittlich, Völklinger Weltkulturerbe, Völklingen

2007, Josef Wittlich: Mädchen, Mannequins und Megären, Wasserwerk.Galerie Lange, Siegburg

2006, Josef Wittlich: outsider der pop art, Galerie Chobot, Vienna

2002, Josef Wittlich, Galerie Susi Brunner, Zürich

1999, Josef Wittlich, Werk aus 6 Jahrzehnten, Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne

1998, Josef Wittlich, Museum Charlotte Zander, Schloss Bönnigheim, Bönnigheim

Selected Group Exhibitions

2013, Konstellation 5, 71 Jahre - 71 Werke, Kuntmuseum des Kantons Thurgau, Warth

2013, Horizonte, Landschaft im Spiegel der Jahrhunderte, Clemens-Sels Museum, Neuss

2012, Arte bruta, Terra incognita, Coleccao Treger-Saint Silvestre, Spain

2012, Naive Kunst, Outsider Art, 9 Sammler - 90 Bilder, Wasserwerk.Galerie Lange, Siegburg

2011, Sous le vent de l'Art Brut, Collection Charlotte Zander, Halle Saint Pierre, Paris

2011, Serge Vollin - Kurt Lanz - Josef Wittlich - Paul Duhem, Galerie Duflon & Racz, Bern

2005, Dubuffet & Art Brut, traveling exhibition, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf; Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne; Musée d'art moderne Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d'Ascq

2000, European Self-Taught Art: Brut or Naive?, Galerie St. Etienne, New York

Selected Collections

American Folk Art Museum, New York
Collection Charlotte Zander, Bönnigheim
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
Collection Eternod & Mermod, Lausanne
Musée d'art moderne Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d'Ascq
Museum Dr. Guislain, Ghent
Museum of Everything, London

Selected Bibliography

AvantPop! - Josef Wittlich, 1903-1982, exhibition catalogue, Editions Völklinger Hütte im Verl. Das Wunderhorn, Heidelberg, 2013.

Dubuffet & Art Brut, exhibition catalogue, 5 Continents & Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, 2005.

Peiry, Lucienne, L'Art Brut, Flammarion & Collection de l'Art Brut, Paris/Lausanne, 1997.

Josef Wittlich, exhibition catalogue, Edition Charlotte Zander & Wachter, Bönnigheim, 1996.

Michel Thévoz, "Josef Wittlich," L'Art Brut, fascicle No. 14, Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne, 1986.
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