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Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern

German, 20th century.
Born 1892, Prussia; died 1982, Berlin, Germany.


Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern occupies a vital position in the territory of Outsider Art. Although many Outsiders have influenced their mainstream counterparts through exhibitions and published reproductions of their work, this artist was unique in his interaction with the European art world after World War II, and was adopted as a creative role model by many for his maverick attitude. 

Born in East Prussia in 1892, Schröder-Sonnenstern experienced a difficult childhood, and what is known of his adult life is complicated by speculation. He is reported to have lived under the pseudonym of Dr. Eliot Gnass von Sonnenstern, an ostensibly quack doctor who defrauded wealthy clients with hoax cures, and who shared his profit with the poor. He found his way to Berlin by 1944, where he became known as a self-styled street prophet. Scholar and critic Pamela Kort claims 1949 as the start of his activity as an artist. Thanks largely to Berlin artist Hans Bellmer, Schröder-Sonnenstern's enigmatic, highly erotic drawings became known to Surrealist artists living in postwar Paris, who exhibited his work with their own. 

Schröder-Sonnenstern drew first in graphite, but quickly shifted to working prolifically in colored pencil on board. His fantastical images featuring zaftig if monstrous women and their fleshy male consorts are marked by a paradoxical lyricism that often seems at odds with his bluntly erotic inquiry. Replete with demons, skeletons, and all manners of outrageous creatures Schröder-Sonnenstern's work bears the stamp of societal parody. He frequently used religious symbols with overtly blasphemous intention. It is no wonder this Outsider appealed--and continues to appeal--to artists seeking to shock the bourgeoisie. His work has only recently been illuminated by scholarship that recognizes his value as an artist beyond his role of urban art world muse to those who have imitated his imagery, emulated his courage, but have yet to surpass his genius.

Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Exhibitions

2012, Accidental Genius: Art From the Anthony Petullo Collection, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee 

2011, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern: From Barefoot Prophet to Avant-Garde Artist, Michael Werner Gallery, New York

2006, Inner Worlds Outside, traveling exhibition, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundacíon "La Caixa," Madrid; WhiteChapel Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

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

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

1973, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover

1967, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf

1961, Mostra Internazionale del Surrealismo, Galleria Schwarz, Milan 

1959, Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, organized by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp at Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris

Selected Collections

Anthony Petullo Collection, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
Halle Saint Pierre, Paris

Selected Bibliography

Stone, Lisa, ed., Accidental Genius: Art From the Anthony Petullo Collection, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 2012.

Johnson, Ken, "A Peverse Mind Populated by Devils, Snakes and Buxom Nudes," New York Times, March 31, 2011.

Kort, Pamela, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, exhibition catalogue, Michael Werner, New York, 2011.

Pendle, George, "Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern," Frieze Magazine, Issue 141, September 2011.

Inner Worlds Outside, 
exhibition catalogue, Fundacíon "La Caixa," WhiteChapel Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art & Ediciones El Viso, Madrid, 2006.

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

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.

Williams, Sheldon, "Schröder-Sonnenstern," Raw Vision, No. 2, Winter 1989-90.

Schmied, Wieland, ed., Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, exhibition catalogue, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 1973.

Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern
, exhibition catalogue, Städtische Kunstalle, Düsseldorf, 1967.

Schröder-Sonnenstern, Friedrich and Carl Laszlo, Schröder-Sonnenstern, Editions Menz, Basel, 1962.

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