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Adversity and the Artist: 


Artist Carolus Horn had a full and active career until stricken with Alzheimer’s disease while in his 60’s.  How it affected his work would teach psychiatrists valuable lessons about the progression of this devastating affliction, and aid in the development of new treatments. This month, Adversity and the Artist takes us back to a time in history when there was little hope for Alzheimer’s patients.


Alzheimer's and an Artist 

     Alzheimer’s disease is most recognized for its devastating impact on one’s memory. Victims gradually lose their ability to recognize even the closest of people around them. Also known as “the long goodbye”, this disease has many other affects rarely discussed in the media. This month, we look at the damage done to an artist as Alzheimer’s takes its terrible toll.

     Late German artist Carolus Horn was a successful sketch artist, painter and designer though much of the 20th century. His architectural pieces were rich with detail and accurate perspective, while his depictions of animals were considered outstanding.

     Around 1981, Horn first began to suffer Alzheimer’s. His works had gradually developed a visible wooden quality in which the characters became lifeless and rigid. A process of graphic disintegration began; where the faces he drew started becoming distorted and his shapes showed signs of weakening. At this point, the effects are barely noticeable and may not be detected by most people.

     As the disease worsened, however, his colors got bolder and his forms loosened further, becoming visibly distorted and far less realistic. Now, the changes in his abilities are obvious to just about anyone.

     By the time the disease had become moderate to severe, Horn’s colors were clearly unrealistic and he began the stereotyping of objects, where similar background features become repeated from a template rather than drawn from individual observations. At this point, Horn’s people are represented far more crudely, with facial details vanishing.

    After Alzheimer’s entered its final stages, his artwork was reduced to a completely simplistic level, with a total degradation of all spatial relationships. His faces were reiterated as if from a cookie-cutter, becoming lifeless and redundant, and started appearing identical on humans and animals alike.

     Before Carolus Horn died in 1992, his paintings had diminished into completely crude renderings in a single color. By this point, the disease had all but removed what was once a mastery. His last sketch could only be described as scribbling. He died shortly afterwards.

     Over the eleven-year process of the disease, Horn would be forced to face the complete obliteration of his abilities. For him, Alzheimer’s was a long goodbye to his artistic talent.

Note: Since Horn’s death over a decade ago, advances in medicine have led to several drugs that prolong the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients.  For more info on Alzheimer’s disease, contact the Alzheimer Society of Kingston at 544-3078.




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