March 25, 2009

Karl Junker, Junkerhaus/Junker´s House

pictures of the artworks 
courtesy of Michel Pereckas, july 2007. Flickr

Located in Lemgo, a small town in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, the Junkerhaus is an artwork as such, singlehandedly created by Karl Junker. The creation can be classified as an art environment, but although Junker has been seen as an outsider artist, nowadays German art historians do not relate him to outsider art any more.

I agree with these authors, but will maintain Junker in this blog as he has been seen as an outsider, in various respects, for such a long time. 

Life and works

Born in Lemgo, Karl Junker (1850-1912) early in his life lost his mother, father and brother, and from his seventh  he was educated by his grandfather.

In 1869 he went to Hamburg to learn the trade of carpenter. He fell in love with the daughter of his teacher, but this love affair has not continued and around 1871 the young man went to Munich, where in 1875 he became a student at the Akademie der Bildende Künste. It is unclear what he has been doing between 1871 and 1875. Maybe he was in the army for some years.

Around 1877, kind of finishing his artistic education, he began a many years´trip to Italy, to return in 1881 to Lemgo, where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Being professionaly trained as a carpenter and a visual artist, Junker has tried to get a position in the arts, but he was not very successful and gradually he may have become someone outside the world of art. He had inherited some money, so he could have an independent life.

facade of the house (picture from the WDR tv website)

In 1889 he asked the local authorities permission to build a house. It was to be constructed as shown by his own design, which was not exactly what authorities considered to be a "gutbürgerliches haus". However, they made no problems and agreed.

In 1891 the construction of the house as such was ready and mr Junker began decorating it on the outside and the inside. He has been working on this project untill his death in 1912.

He designed all the furniture, constructed it himself from wood, and decorated the various items in a rather personal style with woodcarving, paintings and small wooden constructs.

He made paintings on the wall, decorated the walls and the ceilings with wooden structures

Junker also has been creating over a hundred stand alone woodcarved totemlike sculptures with garlands, flowers and heads.

The house as a "Gesamtkunstwerk"

The layout of the interior of the house would make it possible for a family to live there, with a sitting room, a masterbedroom, a childrens´room, a guests room and so on. But Junker himself did not use these facilities, nor did he marry and a raise a family. He was alone and lived and slept in some small rooms in the attic This has been seen as a signal of eccentricity, but if the house and the interior as such is the artwork, is'nt it rather normal that you do not sleep or eat in the artwork?

In my opinion he was driven by an enormous creative ambition, directed upon making the house as a whole a complete creative construct, what in German is named a Gesamtkunstwerk (an expression first coined by Richard Wagner)  He combined architecture, painting and wood sculpturing in the creation of this artwork.

In his visual art Junker would depart from the rather classical style he had been teached in München, and develop an individual approach. However, during his life and also thereafter, leading circles in german art never have given him any status as an artist.


The locals of Lemgo regarded Junker as eccentric. Some German authors have diagnosed him as a schizophrenic. The trend has been set by Gerhard Kreyenberg who, 16 years after Junker died and without ever having met him, wrote the article  "Das Junkerhaus zu Lemgo. Ein Beitrag zur Bildnerei der Schizophrenen" in: Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie u. Psychiatrie no.114, Berlin, 1928, p.152-172).

Kreyenberg interpreted Junker's art, which he obviously did not like, as the work of a schizophrenic.

I have noted that describing Junker's creative work as a result of and in relation with schizophrenia is rather easily accepted on many sites on the internet, also by writers who do not depart from a medical point of view, but from an artistic one. The schizophrenia approach can also be found in an article in Raw Vision; John MacGregor, Junker House, The architecture of madness, Raw Vision, nr 41 (2002)

Some scientists however (for example psychoanalist Hartmut Kraft, 2005) have a more differentiated opinion. Although Junker had fantasies that can be related with schizophrenia (he had constructed a throne in the sitting room and said to know the thoughts of Bismarck), his creative work was based upon carefully prepared sketches and was not done in a gush.

In the original version of this post (2009) I said it would be wise not too quickly accept causal relations between artistic drives/ambitions and psychiatric diseases.

Nowadays art german historians (like Carolin Mischer, Das Junkerhaus in Lemgo und der Künstler Karl Junker. Künstlerisches Manifest oder Ausserseiterkunst? Köln [SHVerslag], 2011) no longer accept any more the assumption of Junker's madness, nor do they see him as an outsider artist, but will regard him, following Carolin Mischer, as an artist who through his very special creation voiced an artistic manifest. 

Junker himself is reported to have said that only later generations would appreciate his creation. Well, I do.

The house has become a museum

Since 1962 the city of Lemgo owns the house. Around 2000 a restoration has begun, finished in 2004. To accomodate visitors, an annex has been constructed, that is linked to the original house with a glass corridor. Because of the fragilty of the wooden constructs (and to prevent theft and grafiti by visitors) not all rooms are open to the public

Some documentation
* The Junker House (before it became a museum) appears  in Jarvis Cocker's Journeys into the Outside (1999, on Youtube in 2012, see my post of august 23, 2012)
*The official website of the Junker House (text in German and in English).
* Das Junkerhaus in Lemgo (2010), a well documented website (in German and English), authored by Uwe Hasselmann, with a detailed biography, a bibliography and a collection of pictures, not only of the various parts of the house, but also of the paintings, the drawings and the wooden structures. This site also has the text of the application for the building permit and the drawings of the house. Not to be missed!
* Video "Karl Junker and the Junkerhaus" (Youtube, 8'18", camera Thomas Moormann, Westfälisches Landesmedienzentrum, 2004), english spoken

* Another video (may 2010, 4.39') has been produced and transmitted by WDR television (comments in german)
* Available on the internet: Bettina Rudhof, Building as in a dream, the Junkerhaus in Lemgo, 2010
* Also on the internet a publication of the museum (in german) Ein Aussenseiter in der Kunst. Karl Junker und das Junkerhaus in Lemgo. Bielefeld (Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 2011
* Florian Leclerc, Besuch im Junkerhaus (A visit to the Junkerhaus), an article (in german) in the context of the exposition Weltenwandler. Die Kunst der Outsider, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main, (sept 2010 - jan 2011), expo with 29 of Junker's stand-alone wooden constructs

first published march 2009, revised june 2012, aug 2012, oct 2013

Hamelnerstrasse 36
32657 Lemgo DE
1/11-31/3, fri-sun, 11-15
1/4-31/10, 10-17 (closed mon)


  1. I do too... appreciate this. Wonderful info and pix Henk. It reminds me very strongly of an American artist, painter, engraver, furniture maker, sculpture, and house builder named Wharton Esherick. Have you heard of him ? There are lots of web sites that show his work. He would be a good candidate for a post on your blog, but his house, now a museum, is in Pennsylvania, USA... Anyway, as always, thanks for your fascinating contributions to expanding our universe... mine anyway... !

  2. Thanks, Owen. No, I never heard about Wharton Esherick, but I soon will look after him on the internet. In the US there are so many wonderful outsider environments and also a lot websites and blogs documenting them. There is so much to be discovered...let's go on expanding our universes!

  3. Esherick's work is fabulous but he is hardly an outsider. Generally considered among the most influential 20th century american woodworkers.

  4. @anonymous, You are right, in my comment I jumped to quickly from Esherick to the outsider environments in the US