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Johann Knopf

German, 19th-20th century.
Born 1866; died 1910.


Johann Knopf was presented in 1921 by Hans Prinzhorn as one of "Ten Schizophrenics" whose artwork was deserving of serious consideration beyond simply diagnostic significance. Assigned the the pseudonym Johann Knüpfer by Dr. Prinzhorn to protect his identity, his dense, frenetic, partially symmetrical pen and ink drawings were known to modern artists at the time who were looking for inspiration outside the western tradition.

Knopf was born in a small village located in Germany's Black Forest in 1866.  Throughout his twenties, he worked in a bakery, a cement factory, and a machine shop, and continued to live with his mother. After her death in 1906, Knopf married unhappily, and excessive drinking and vagrancy led to his eventual hospitalization.

Once under observation, Knopf's previously masked religious delusions emerged full force. He believed himself to be a Christlike martyr, a conviction that would emerge as a central theme in his overdetermined drawing of crucified figures surrounded by swirling text. Occupying a central place in each composition, Knopf's raw, ecstatic figures are both surrounded and filled with the repeated motif of a heart shot through with an arrow. Both image and text reveal the artist's delusional fixation with religious symbolism and liturgy.

Knopf also produced a number of drawings featuring stories from his childhood written in a swirling script, dominated by endlessly proliferating images of birds in silhouette. Considered together, both the religious and memoir works reveal an artist singularly dedicated to a vision uniting the personal and the divine, one of the hallmarks of Outsider Art.

- Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Exhibitions

2000, The Prinzhorn Collection, Drawing Center, New York

1996, Beyond Reason, Art and Psychosis, Hayward Gallery, London

1992, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

Selected Collections

Prinzhorn Collection, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Selected Bibliography

Smith, Roberta, "Art Review: Where Insanity and Modernism Intersect," New York Times, April 21, 2000.

Beyond Reason, Art and Psychosis, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London, 1996.

Popham, Peter, "The Broader Picture: The Art of Schizophrenia," Independent, November 17, 1996.

Tuchman, Maurice and Carol S. Eliel, eds., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.

Prinzhorn, Hans, Artistry of the Mentally Ill: A Contribution to the Psychology and Psychopathology of Configuration, Springer, New York, 1972.

Cardinal, Roger, Outsider Art, Praeger, New York, 1972.

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