Praying Hands
Praying Hands

Oswald Tschirtner
c. 1971


Dom Museum Wien

OM/AS 24-26

Modern and Contemporary art

On view

Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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an important work of the Art Brut

Oswald Tschirtner's Praying Hands are an impressive exemple for the raw and reduced power of the Art Brut.

This small-format drawing is reduced to a few lines: two parallels on the extreme right and left margin are connected by four diagonal lines extending to the very margin on the left. Two hands, which the title describes as “praying,” rest on the upper diagonals. It is above all these hands which lend the sketch-like surroundings a three-dimensional character: the sparse lines evoke a prayer kneeler. The gesture of praying is an untypical one in art history: the hands are not folded like in Albrecht Dürer’s famous pen-and-ink drawing, for example, but are rendered resting next to each other on top of the kneeler.

The sheet is signed with “O. T.”: Oswald Tschirtner is known for his reduction to outlines and his sparing use of color. His lanky figures capturing what is essential to him with a few lines are unmistakable. They are frequently described as “head-leg figures” (German: “Kopffüßler”). Tschirtner is a so-called “Gugging artist” like August Walla or Johann Hauser, all patients of the state mental hospital in Maria Gugging, Lower Austria. In the 1960s, Leo Navaratil, then director of the institution, became aware of his patients’ talent and began to encourage them to engage in art activities. Not influenced by any historical or contemporary works in any way, the art of the mentally ill is categorized as outsider art or art brut (French for “raw art”) like children’s drawings. Today, the internationally renowned “Art/Brut Center Gugging” in Maria Gugging houses not only a museum and a gallery but also “The House of the Artists,” where the patients live and work.

“Praying Hands” is part of the Otto Mauer Collection. The patron of the fine arts was given a portfolio of drawings and prints of the Gugging artists as a present by Leo Navratil in 1972. Two years before, the works had been exhibited in Mauer’s “Galerie nächst St. Stephan” for the first time.