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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

The Würgengel

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63(10):1066-1067. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.63.10.1066.
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In 1938, Carl Schneider (1891-1946), professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry and neurology of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, provided the National Socialists (Nazis) with works from the Prinzhorn collection2 of artistry of the mentally ill. These works were to be displayed along with those of modern artists, especially German Expressionists such as George Grosz3 and Otto Dix,4 in the traveling exhibit Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art).5 His goal and theirs was to illustrate the similarity of the artistry of mentally ill people to that of modern artists in an attempt to further discredit modern art as degenerate. “Degenerate” modern art was contrasted with the “heroic art” in Adolf Hitler's House of German Art, the first building erected by the National Socialists. Thus Hitler, who had twice failed the entrance examination for the Austrian Academy of Art, began a massive campaign of aesthetic politicization, not only in the visual arts but also in literature, music, and film. By this means, condemning and ridiculing the inner life and the creative imagination, he sought to instill his racial ideology and set the stage for his campaign against “degeneracy.” Hitler's focus was increasingly on societal racial hygiene at the expense of the individual, especially those deemed biologically inferior, “life unworthy of life.”

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Franz Karl Bühler (1864-1940), German. Der Würgengel, 1909. Crayon on paper, 29 × 40 cm. Reproduced from Hans Prinzhorn, Artistry of the Mentally Ill, Frontispiece. ©Verlag von Julius Springer, Berlin, Germany, 1923.

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