english abstract

Julius Klingebiel, Life and Work


Julius Klingebiel, born 11.12.1904 in Hannover, Lower Saxony, grew up with his family. He learnt the trade of mechanic, and served in the German army. In 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war, he fell ill with an acute psychosis. Because he had throttled one of his stepsons and threatened his wife, he was sent to a municipal clinic by the police and was moved from there to the mental institution in Wunstorf. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Here, on 26.07.1940, he was compulsorily sterilised according to the Nazis’ genetic-health laws, and so became a victim of Nazi psychiatry.

On the 08.09.1940 he was transferred to the prison-like ‘Landes-Verwahrungshaus’ (state safe-keeping house) in Gottingen. On the 10.10.1940 he was retrospectively registered by the Wunstorf institution for the Nazi euthanasia operation T4. He was not deported though and survived in Göttingen under the directorship of Gottfried Ewald. He lived out the war there, in the institution. He was further detained in the ‘Verwahrungshaus’ when it began running again. He remained without judicial involuntary commitment proceedings in the cell until 1963. He often looked distressed and confused. There was no effective treatment. But contemporary witnesses described him as an imaginative, self-confident man. He died on 26.05.1965 in Göttingen.

In 1951 Klingebiel began scribbling with primitive materials on the white walls of his cell no. 117. He used stones or pieces of burnt wood. At first he had to wash off the “smears". But drawing placated him. So then they gave him paints and brushes. Soon after he was creating landscape paintings with frames (right-hand longitudinal wall) and large geometric shapes with an abundance of icons (left-hand longitudinal wall) and he gradually filled all the walls with figures and other images. Over the years he repainted and added to it in an evermore detailed way. Sometimes he destroyed parts of the pictures in a rage and then repaired them. He regarded himself as a painter and explained the pictures at ward rounds and to visitors. His work was respected, and encouraged again and again. Historical photographs have been handed-down from the 1950s. Up until 1961 he also created works on paper, of which 18 are known today. Around 1961 he was given an antipsychotic drug for the first time and was calmed, but he stopped painting.

It is not known whether he had any artistic education. His imagery is completely original. Klingebiel’s room painting in "his" cell is at first glance confusing, but it is an  orderly and coherent cosmos of landscapes, symbols, animals, people and technology. He created spatial references: the Redeemer looks out from a picture frame above the door towards the bright window. His framed landscapes on the right side wall are populated with animals of the forest, especially deer. Near the window a deer family steps straight into the room. The left cell wall is a constellation with a large, rigidly framed world-wheel showing a bewildering number of images and symbols. It seems to transcend the space and glowed in the afternoons from the sun shining through the window. Klingebiel's mural artwork is now evaluated as a major work of art brut, so-called Outsider Art, one that is internationally practically unmatched.

The mural designs have, despite the early installation of plumbing fixtures, been protected by the authorities and are today still largely preserved. The cell has been protected as a cultural monument since 2012. This high-security building, purpose-built in 1908, was used to accommodate mentally ill offenders until the spring of 2016. It is empty since April 2016. It is not open to the public. The painting is highly endangered by decay. The state government of Lower Saxony has still to decide how it  is to be protected.

The Julius Klingebiel project, led by the Wunstorf psychiatrist Andreas Spengler since 2010, pursues the goals of researching Klingebiel’s life and work and supporting the maintenance of the cell through publications, exhibitions and public awareness. The aim is to make the original painted room permanently accessible as an individual work of art so that it can also function for educational, commemorative culture and social inclusion purposes. Klingebiel's cell is, as Lower Saxony’s state minister Stefan Weil put it in 2013, a monument and a memorial. As an individual artwork it has implications far beyond the state's borders.

This website documents the exhibition entitled "Elemental Forces - Creations and work of psychiatry-experienced artists over a period of 100 years", which took place, with an accompanying programme, in Hanover’s municipal gallery, Kubus, in 2010. Here works by Klingebiel were presented to a broad public for the first time. In 2010 a catalogue was published with the same title. The file "Julius Klingebiel" keeps records on the Klingebiel project and its activities, current and past exhibitions, a book and other publications, reactions of the print media and television (among others the 45 minute TV film "Ausbruch in die Kunst" -“Outbreak into art” from the NDR 2014), our partners and project data.

Information:
Prof. Dr. med. Andreas Spengler
Rotdornstraße 10
D-31515 Wunstorf
Fon: 0(049)5031-972190
E-Mail: andreas-spengler@t-online.de

Translation:
Nigel Packham, Hannover, www.packham.de