Like an organically animated shadow image, a number of human beings, simplified figures of small and large stature, are shown moving about in a restricted space underneath a simple framework. They seem to be focusing their joint efforts on the bale-like object they are holding up in the air. Like an image in a dream, the mysterious scene remains undefined and seems even more oppressive when one considers the title of the composition: 'The Weightless Catafalque'.
This impressive late work by the Swiss artist Louis Soutter belongs to the group of works comprising his finger paintings on paper, in which he dispenses with the usual tools and applies Indian ink or printing ink directly with his fingers. The artist uses this seemingly primitive design method in a highly differentiated manner. Mostly he preferred black and only rarely made use of colour, so that his compositions, dominated as they are by figures, resemble silhouettes. In addition to faint traces of his fingers, which create an atmospheric effect, the compact areas permit us only to guess at their gradual consolidation. The finger paintings of scenes which look playful but depict mainly serious events such as crucifixion and death are among the best-known works by this outsider. Undecided as to whether his vocation was as a musician or a visual artist, Soutter fell into poverty because of his erratic lifestyle. In 1923, at the age of fifty-two, he was declared legally incapacitated and was admitted to the asylum for the elderly in Ballaigues. In the isolation he experienced there, from which he repeatedly tried to escape, he began to draw unceasingly as a way of ridding himself of his hallucinatory power, which went beyond all rational awareness. Soutter initially worked with pencil and pen, filling countless exercise books with floral motifs, fanciful urban architecture and grim figural representations. He drew compositions of threateningly voluptuous female figures and adapted Renaissance artworks, whose figures he distorted and reshaped with idiosyncratic hatching. Finally, in 1937, with his eyesight growing weaker, he began to produce artworks with his fingers, and over the years developed a succession of ever newer variations on the mysterious independent existence of his visionary and nightmarish visual worlds.
During his lifetime Soutter was denied recognition for his art, which he created in seclusion. A few of his contemporaries took up his cause, as did his cousin Le Corbusier, but it was only in the 1960s, as interest in the artistic work of social outsiders increased, that his work was accepted and appreciated.