Navratil, Leo
First name:
20th century
21st century
Field of expertise:
Fine arts
Place of birth:
Türnitz (AUT)
* 03.07.1921
† 18.09.2006
Biography print

Austrian psychiatrist, author and art historian.


Leo Navratil (1921-2006) was born in Türnitz, Lower Austria. He worked at the national mental hospital Maria Gugging in Klosterneuburg from 1946 onwards and became the institution’s chief physician in 1956. He and his wife, Erna, also a psychiatrist, had two children. Their son Walter became a painter.


The concept of “state-bound art” (zustandsgebundene Kunst)

During a study trip to London in the early 1950s, Navratil became interested in the diagnostic value of drawings. He would typically provide his Gugging patients with a cue subject (“a person”, “a tree” and the like) and ask them to draw or paint whatever came to their mind, the results of which he collected. Following an approach in the tradition [or: spirit?] of Hans Prinzhorn in particular, he used the most outstanding pieces to develop his own method of accessing his patients’ condition, which he called “state-bound art”. Navratil was convinced that psychotic experience can enhance a person’s creative expression (the structure and dynamics of which are similar to that in healthy people). He examined the artworks for recurring patterns of expression that might be associated with the pathologic course of disorders (looking for features such as “physiognomization”, “formalization” or “symbolization”; Navratil 1965). This feature-based approach is today deemed outdated (Röske 2008).


Following the first sales exhibition in 1970 in Vienna, a number of established artists became interested in the Gugging group (e.g., Arnulf Rainer, Alfred Hrdlička, André Heller). Navratil (1966; 1971; 1985; 2002) expanded his research to include the connections between “schizophrenia and language”, as, for instance, in the case of the Gugging patient-poet Ernst Herbeck. In 1981, the hospital’s former pavilion for infectious diseases was turned into a “center for art and psychotherapy” housing a therapeutic community of 18 patients, with half of them being artists. Some of these artists gained international recognition, such as August Walla, Johann Hauser, and Oswald Tschirtner. In 1990, the Gugging group was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Fine Art (Oskar-Kokoschka-Preis). Navratil’s successor, Johann Feilacher, focused more on the aesthetic autonomy of the art created at Gugging and had the center renamed to “Haus der Künstler” (House of Artists) in 1986. The Gugging Art/Brut Center now consists of a public studio, workrooms, an archive, a gallery (opened in 1997) and a museum (opened in 2006).


Navratil was one of the first post-war psychiatrists to call attention to the artistic talents of some of his patients, and he advocated for the recognition of “Outsider Art” in Austria. His theories and methods, however, sometimes seemed overly patronizing and psychologizing and raised some criticism (Kempker 1992; Röske 2008; Funk 2012). After his retirement in 1986, Leo Navratil kept on writing and publishing. He died in Vienna at age 85 from a stroke.



1983: Hans-Prinzhorn-Medaille (awarded by the Deutschsprachige Gesellschaft für Kunst & Psychopathologie des Ausdrucks)

1990: Justinus-Kerner-Preis (awarded by the German town of Weinsberg).



Fink, A. (2012): Kunst in der Psychiatrie. verklärt – verfolgt – vermarktet. Münster: LIT Verlag.

Kempker, K. (1992): Mehr ein Produkt der Zunge als des Denkens. In: Sozialarbeit 96, pp. 16-18.

Navratil, L. (1965): Schizophrenie und Kunst. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Navratil, L. (1966): Schizophrenie und Sprache. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Navratil, L. (1971): A und B leuchten im Klee. Psychopathologische Texte. Munich: Hanser.

Navratil, L. (1974): Über Schizophrenie und die Federzeichnung des Patienten O.T. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Navratil, L. (1978): Johann Hauser. Kunst aus Manie und Depression. Munich: Rogner und Bernhard.

Navratil, L. (1978): Gespräche mit Schizophrenen. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Navratil, L. (1983): Die Künstler aus Gugging. Berlin: Medusa.

Navratil, L. (1985): Schizophrenie und Dichtkunst. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Navratil, L. (1988): August Walla. Sein Leben und seine Kunst. Nördlingen: Greno.

Navratil, L. (1992): Schizophrenie und Religion. Berlin: Brinkmann und Bose.

Navratil, L. (1995): Die Überlegenheit des Bären. Theorie der Kreativität. Munich: Arcis.

Navratil, L. (1999): Art brut und Psychiatrie. Gugging 1946-1986. 2 Bde. Vienna: Brandstätter.

Navratil, L. (2002): Ernst Herbeck. Die Vergangenheit ist klar vorbei. Vienna: Brandstätter.

Röske, T. (2008): Die Psychose als Künstler. Leo Navratils „Schizophrenie und Kunst“ – eine Kritik. In: G. Theunissen (ed.): Außenseiter-Kunst. Außergewöhnliche Bildnereien von Menschen mit intellektuellen und psychischen Behinderungen. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt, pp. 103-116.

Roth, G. (2012): Im Irrgarten der Bilder – Die Gugginger Künstler. St. Pölten: Residenz.


Burkhart Brückner, Robin Pape


Photo: Ulrichulrich (Own work (Original text: eigene Aufnahme)) [GFDL ( / Source: Wikimedia / Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0 or GDFL. 

Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner, Robin Pape (2015): Navratil, Leo.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:06.12.2023)