Behind Walls

Photography in Psychiatric Institutions from 1880 to 1935

A photographic approach to a life on the edge of society


Title Information

Edited by Katrin Luchsinger, Stefanie Hoch, and the Kunstmuseum Thurgau. Contributions by Urs Germann, Stefanie Hoch, Markus Landert, Katrin Luchsinger, Sabine Münzenmaier, and Martina Wernli

1st edition

, 2022

Text English and German


132 pages, 35 color and 66 b/w illustrations

23 x 29 cm

ISBN 978-3-03942-056-8

In cooperation with Kunstmuseum Thurgau


Many psychiatric hospitals in Switzerland house a treasure trove of historical photographs that go back to the 19th century and until now have never been studied properly. Glass slides and negatives, loose paper prints, and photo albums allow fascinating insights into the modernization of these establishments – and at the same time into the history of photography. The medium that was new at the time was used by psychiatrists to record diagnoses, as well as to show the public life behind institutional walls. Thanks to increasingly handy cameras, it was also possible to record the modest celebrations, leisure and creative activities.

Behind Walls introduces these testimonials of life and scientific practice in psychiatric institutions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are accessible to the public for the first time. The essays critically study the use of photography as a medium in psychiatry from different perspectives.

The book is published in conjunction with exhibitions at Sammlung Prinzhorn in Heidelberg, Germany; the Thurgauer Kunstmuseum in Warth, Switzerland; and at Schweizerisches Psychiatrie-Museum in Bern, Switzerland, in 2022 and 2023.


Katrin Luchsinger is an art historian and a freelance publicist and curator working on topics such as art and psychology, material cultures, and inclusion. She has taught as a professor at Zurich University of the Arts’ Institute for Cultural Studies in the Arts until 2019, where she directed various research projects on art and creativity in psychiatric institutions around 1900.


Stefanie Hoch is a scholar of cultural studies and a curator at Thurgauer Kunstmuseum in Warth, Switzerland.

Authors & Editors
Please send a review copy.
Please send the following high resolution images:


Kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau, Bern, three patients in front of a canvas, easel, portraits of the painters, c. 1920, glass negative © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau, Bern, patients in the ward for “agitated” women, no date; glass slide © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau, “Frau Justel Ch[…]., [illegible],” c. 1915; glass slide © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Pflegeanstalt Rheinau, “Rheinau asylum, sunbathing,” laying blankets out in the sun beside the asylum on the banks of the Rhine, c. 1910; glass slide © Naturforschende Gesellschaft Schaffhausen

Kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau, “Waldau: Patients working as roofers, 1921,” rebuilding the barn after a fire, photographer unknown; glass slide © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau, “Wölfli plays the drawing in front of him,” Adolf Wölfli with a paper trumpet, probably photographed by Marie von Ries-Imchanitzky, c. 1920; glass slide © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau, Marie von Ries-Imchanitzky in the observation room for “agitated” men, c. 1920; glass negative © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Pflegeanstalt Perreux, “Office de Photographie Neuchâtel Attinger, Hospice cantonal Perreux, galérie de cure,” patients receiving fresh air as part of their therapeutic treatment (Luftkur), no date; glass slide © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Click here and we will send you a complete press kit with these and further images


All images printed must come with respective picture credit and may only be published in connection with a book review containing the publishing house, the title of the book and names of editors or authors.


Zip code