1892 Kaukehmen near Tilsit – 1982 Berlin
Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, who grew up with 12 siblings, did not have an easy childhood. When he was 10 years old, his parents made him grow accustomed to drinking alcohol. This forced him to discover that acting like a clown helped him to avoid domestic violence. While still very young, he became an outsider and was considered odd. In 1906, he was sent to a corrective facility. He then attended a boarding school for two years, failed to learn the trade of a gardener, and went back to an institution. In 1910, he discontinued his traineeship in a dairy. In 1912, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time, where his violence and megalomania were recognised. When he was released, he wandered from place to place, homeless, and was arrested numerous times. In 1915, he was called to military service, but was quickly released because of schizophrenia. He opened a shop that was soon closed down for fraud. After another stay at a psychiatric hospital, he became legally incapacitated. Later, he was admitted into institutions several times and stayed with his parents for a short period. In 1919, he moved to Berlin, where he used a false name, occupying himself with the occult, fortune telling, and animal magnetism. He started a cult and spread his earnings in the form of bread rolls to children, which earned him the moniker “Schrippenfürst von Schöneberg” (the Roll Prince from Schöneberg). Seeing himself as a guru, he kept his hair long, wore long white robes, and gathered followers. From 1933, he was admitted into a psychiatric hospital because of his diagnosed schizophrenia and “strong imagination and dreams”, and he spent the following three years in a prison and a rehabilitation facility respectively. Then he was taken to a labour camp, from which he escaped in 1942. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was one of Berlin-Kreuzberg’s most prominent bohemians. Schröder-Sonnenstern only started to draw when he was far past the age of 50, after earning his living as a dairyman, clown, vagabond, cult leader, and healer. He probably only painted three paintings. His works often revolved around strange animal and human hybrids, which usually pose questions because they are, quite literally, a colourful, chaotic mix of banality, triviality, and the perception of dreams, reality, and the absurd, in which the human being is the centre. The aesthetics of his creations are extraordinary. They are frivolous, mysterious, and dangerous. They mirror an exhausting, seeking, emotional life that used humour to oppose all social norms and limits. Contemporary artists and art connoisseurs, domestic and international, are fascinated by the artist and his art. In contrast, the professors of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin banned him from entering the facility because of his troublemaking. Later, his works were discovered, especially in France, by artists and gallery owners, who saw Schröder-Sonnenstern as an ingenious representative of art brut. In 1959, his works were presented at a surrealist exhibition in Paris. The paintings were bought by Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, and later President Georges Pompidou. In 1973, a retrospective was presented by the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hanover and Museum Haus am Waldsee in Berlin. Schröder-Sonnenstern was soon unable to satisfy the demand for his works. He started copying himself and hired students and assistants in his workshop. This resulted in his works no longer selling and him abandoning drawing. When he died at the age of almost 90, he was impoverished and barely known. Only recently has he been rediscovered internationally. At the Venice Biennale in 2013, he was honoured as an important representative of art brut.