Josef Karl Rädler

Josef Karl Rädler (Austrian, 1844–1917)

Joseph Karl Rädler was born in Sokolov, Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). At age twenty-three he moved to Vienna and worked as a porcelain painter. He eventually opened his own shop, married, and had four children. Inclined to­ward mood swings, he incurred many expenses and lawsuits. He was institution­alized in an asylum at Pilgerhain in 1893 and was transferred to a sanatorium in Mauer-Öhling, Austria, in 1905. Rädler was diagnosed with "secondary dementia" (similar to what is now referred to as schizophrenia), but his symptoms may have been related to latent epilepsy, as he experienced seizures later in life.

Beginning in 1897, Rädler spent much of his time painting. He also read Goethe's letters, quoted Confucius to his fellow patients, and incited the prejudice of his caretakers and fellow patients by expressing confidence in his artistic and philosophical abilities beyond the strictures of his class. Birds and small script figure prominently in his work. After moving to the sanatorium, he added the hospital, gardens, and patients to his watercolor and gouache paintings.

Rädler died in Mauer-Öhling. His works were saved by one of the doctors and by the husband of a nurse whose heirs brought one hundred watercolors to psy­chiatrist Leo Navratil in 1972. Navratil, who had established the House of Artists at Maria Gugging, organized the first exhibition of Rädler's paintings in Vienna in 1994 and donated his work to the Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum. Rädler's work was exhibited at Galerie St. Etienne in New York in 2001 and at the Wellcome Collection in London in 2009.

Source: Andera, Margaret, and Lisa Stone. "Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection". (Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Art Museum, 2012), page 208.

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