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After a prestigious career in painting porcelain, Josef Rädler, plagued by delusional episodes, was committed at the age of 49 to the Mauer-Ohling Institute near Vienna, where he produced hundreds of brightly coloured watercolours illustrating his daily life in hospital, on the back of which he wrote diatribes on such issues as world peace and women’s rights. Radlër saw himself as a great philosopher, “Painter to the Court of Austria, Italy and Siam”, “apostle of humanity”. Despite being violent toward hospital staff, he owes the rescue of his work, considered of little value by the doctors, to a nurse, and to Professor Léo Navratil for having brought it to light in 1960.

Josef Karl Radler - © christian berst — art brut
Date 1844 — 1917
Country Austria

Born in Bohemia in 1844, Rädler made a career in Vienna as a painter of porcelain, eventually co-founding the world-renowned Rädler & Pilz company. He led an uneventful life with his wife and 4 children (4 others died in infancy), but in his forties he suffered from delusions of grandeur, which led to extravagant spending and subsequent legal action. When he turned 49, he was hospitalised in a Viennese institution, and in 1905 he was admitted to the Franz Josef Regional Hospital in Mauer-Öhling, where he remained until his death.

After a few years of confinement, he began to meticulously paint sunrises and sunsets in watercolour, as well as exotic birds presented in a number of ornate frames. He usually covered the backs with militant texts or sequences of numbers in tiny, almost illegible handwriting, sometimes accompanied by drawings of the countryside.
Following his transfer to Mauer-Öhling, the numerous activities on offer inspired him to depict a range of new subjects related to his daily life: portraits of patients, scenes of dormitories, walks and festivities at this “world university”.  He dated and signed his watercolours with the names “Laughing Philosopher” or “Painter of the Court of Austria, Italy and Siam”, convinced that he was fulfilling a pacifist mission as an “apostle of humanity”. 

Rädler was a difficult patient, violent toward his doctors and carers, comparing his treatment in hospital with the tortures of the Inquisition. In 1914 he protested against the outbreak of war (“It is a disgrace to all of Europe that man should wage war on man…”) and intended to bequeath his paintings to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in The Hague. Things turned out otherwise, however, as his more than 800 watercolours, “worthless works” according to the doctors, were only just salvaged by a nurse before being discovered by the psychiatrist Leo Navratil in 1960, and brought to the attention of the world in the 1980s thanks to a small touring exhibition in Austria.

Please contact us to inquire about the available works.
untitled (sing! we sit together so happily…) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled (sing! we sit together so happily…), 1916
15.75 x 11.42 in
untitled - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, 1913
11.42 x 15.35 in
untitled (unculture war misery!…) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled (unculture war misery!…), 1916
15.35 x 11.42 in
untitled (see here a watercolor of Mr. Städler…) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled (see here a watercolor of Mr. Städler…), 1909
11.02 x 16.54 in
untitled (Rädler’s high throne) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled (Rädler’s high throne), 1904
11.42 x 15.35 in
untitled - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, 1914
11.42 x 15.35 in
josef karl rädler the key to the fields
josef karl rädler : the key to the fields - © christian berst — art brut

Texts : Céline Delavaux & Ferdinand Altnöder
Foreword : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition josef karl rädler : the key to the fields, from February, 3 to March 27, 2022.

Josef Karl Rädler :
the key to the fields, at the gallery. From February 3 to March 27, 2022.
Galerie régionale de Basse-Autriche, Krems. From December 5, 2021 to February 7, 2022.
Sereno variavel
curated by Antonia Gaeta, Centro de Arte Oliva, São João da Madeira. From October 31, 2020 to May 2, 2021.
Vienne. From December 10, 2018 to February 10, 2019.
The Museum of everything
Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania. From June 17, 2017 to April 2, 2018.
View more
Museum im Lagerhaus, Saint-Gall. From December 3, 2013 to March 2, 2014.
The Museum of Everything
exhibition #1.1, Chalet Society, Paris. From October 17 to December 16, 2012.
Milwaukee Art Museum. From February 2 to 5, 2012.
Galerie Saint-Etienne, New-York. From January 10 to April 7, 2012.
The Museum of Everything
#4, Selfridges, London. From September 1 to October 25, 2011.
Galerie Altnöder, Salzbourg. From February 1 to May 1, 2010.
Museum der Stadt Wien. From January 21 to May 2, 2010.
Galerie Saint-Etienne, New-york. From January 21 to May 2, 2010.
Wellcome Collection, Londres. From April 1 to June 28, 2009.
Galerie Saint-Etienne, New-York. From June 5 to September 28, 2007.
Galerie Saint-Etienne, New-York. From January 18 to March 26, 2005.
Galerie Saint-Etienne, New-York. From June 8 to October 16, 2004.
Galerie Saint-Etienne, New-York. From June 24 to September 20, 2002.
From June 26 to September 7, 2001.
Galerie saint-Etienne; New-York. From January 18 to March 17, 2001.
Press review
l’ombrello di Rädler, pittore e filosofo
Ferdinand Altnöder, Rivista Osservatorio Outsidersart N°24. September 23, 2022.
L’art brut, un marché en forte croissance
Myriam Boutoulle, Investir. March 5, 2022.
Pourquoi investir dans l’Art brut ?
Myriam Boutoulle, Connaissance Des Arts. March 4, 2022.
Arts : la prodigieuse énigme des peintures de Josef Karl Rädler
Philippe Dagen, Le Monde. February 24, 2022.
Saint Pierre and Miquelon
Musée national d’art moderne (Pompidou)
Antoine Frérot collection
Treger Saint Silvestre collection
View more
The Museum of Everything
Great Britain
Milwaukee Art Museum
United States
Anthony Petullo Collection
United States
Dammann collection
Trailer - josef karl rädler : la clé des champs
Josef Karl Rädler, par Christian Berst
Josef Karl Radler

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