Heinrich Anton Müller
French, 19th-20th centuries. Born 1869, Versailles; died 1930, Bern.
Heinrich Anton (Henri Antoine) Müller, originally a wine grower in the Swiss canton of Vaud, developed mental problems that led him, at age forty-one to be institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital near Bern for two decades until his death. Suffering from what his doctors deemed delusions of grandeur and persecution, he nonetheless established a private realm of creative expression which has intrigued generations of viewers and inspired numerous artists.
Having previously invented and patented while still sane an intricate machine for trimming grape vines, Müller proceeded to construct a series of large and elaborate “machines” with movable parts on the hospital’s grounds. Comprised largely of twigs, wires, and cloth strips shaped into numerous wheel-like structures within cage-like grids, the works exhibited Müller’s noted fascination with the concept of perpetual motion. Although they were all destroyed, photographs of the machines reveal their complexity and impressive dimensions and were a direct inspiration to the work of artists such as Daniel Spoerri and, most significantly, to the kinetic sculptures of Jean Tinguely.
Müller also created a small opus of drawings of figures and animals on sheets of wrapping paper and cardboard which he stitched together to form his grounds. The earliest of these works were described by Hans Prinzhorn in his ground-breaking work, Artistry of the Mentally Ill, in which Prinzhorn noted both a poignant “psychic expressiveness” (in a work called The Dead Young Girl), and a contrasting “free grotesque play” of naturalistic forms, variously human, animal, or vegetal, which are oddly juxtaposed or morph seamlessly together into strangely assembled profiles or mysterious scenes suggesting barely decipherable symbolic narratives. Often, on the back of these drawings (and occasionally on the verso side) Müller would pen lyrical poems which joined religious and patriotic, amorous and comic, sacred and decidedly profane concerns. Some of his figurative works feature large, distorted, sometimes doubled heads that display a strong, flowing, even lyrical quality of line. Other, later works, such as The Man with the Flies and the Snake, are drawn with a jagged, frenetic line that bespeaks of a state of psychological torment. Müller’s drawings made a clear imprint on the paintings on Jean Dubuffet for whom Müller was an early discovery in the shaping of Dubuffet’s art brut collection.
2015, Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet, American Folk Art Museum
2005, Im Rausch der Kunst. Dubuffet und Art Brut, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf
2000, The Prinzhorn Collection: Traces upon the Wunderblock, The Drawing Center, New York, NY
1996, Beyond Reason. Art and Psychosis: Works from the Prinzhorn Collection, Hayward Gallery, London
1975, Junggesellenmaschinen / Les Machines Célibataires, Kunsthalle Bern
1994, Heinrich Anton Müller: 1869-1930, Kunstmuseum Bern
1949, Heinrich Anton M., Compagnie de l’Art Brut, Paris
Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg Univeristy Hospital
Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne
Rousseau, Valérie, Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet, New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2015.
Peiry, Lucienne, Art Brut: The Origins of Outsider Art, Paris: Flammarion, 2001.
Thévoz, Michel, Art Brut, Geneva: Skira, 1995.
Kurzmeyer, Roman, Heinrich Anton Müller: 1869-1930, Katalog der Maschinen, Zeichnungen und Schriften, Basel: Stromfeld Verlag/Kunstmuseum Bern, 1994.
Prinzhorn, Hans, Artistry of the Mentally Ill, trans. Eric von Brockdorff, Vienna/New York, Springer Verlag, 1972.