Everything we know about Karl Josef Rädler comes from his medical records. He arrived to Vienna at the age of twenty-three and worked as a porcelain painter. He later founded his own company, married and had four children. Around the age of forty, he fell ill. He was then hospitalized for the first time on 1 January 1893 in an institution in Vienna and then in 1905 he entered the regional hospital of Franz Josef in Mauer-Öhling, where he spent the rest of his life. He was diagnosed with "secondary dementia", a term which corresponds to today schizophrenia. Rädler is described as a difficult patient, violent with his doctors and caregivers, gladly comparing treatments he undergoes at the hospital with the tortures of the Inquisition. It is also noted in his medical file that during the last years of his life he suffered from epilepsy. He is convincerd of being a guest of the hospital and says he will soon be presented to the Archduke Rainer. He threatens to return later to the institution to teach the psychiatrists and especially the director. Rädler loves preaching to other patients. He affirms the need to "grow the Good, the Noble and the Beautiful," often quotes Confucius and reads the letters of Goethe.
Rädler began drawing at the hospital. Very productive, he considered himself a great artist, a great poet and important philosopher. He paints most often at the front and back with watercolors, then resumes with ink. On the front, he usually represents figurative motifs in several decorative frames, while on the back, he adds writings that he surrounds with ornamental frames. Pr Leo Navratil compares Rädler’s drawings with oriental rugs. His preferred palette ranges from blue to green. At first, he draws mostly sunrises and sunsets, and all sorts of exotic birds. After being transferred to the hospital in Mauer-Öhling, Rädler mainly represents activities related to the daily life in the hospital. All his drawings are dated and signed. Sometimes there is a few-year difference between the date written on the back and the front. He may have kept some drawings for several years and used the back only later on because he did not have enough paper or because he wanted to sell it for higher price. Moreover, on some of them, he adds a price.
SEE ALSO : Navratil, Leo. Josef Karl Rädler (1844-1917) und die Kunst der Epileptiker. Vienna : Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum Wien, 1994.