Image Consultant for Hermann Hesse

You must have read Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) when you were in college. Books like Demian (1919) and Narcissus and Goldmund (1930) were popular in the 70s and 80s. His book Siddhartha (1922) was a big seller. So was Steppenwolf (1927). And his last book, The Glass Bead Game (also known as Das Glasperlenspiel, or Magister Ludi) (1943), was his most complex and challenging. Hess won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946 “for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style.” But despite these accomplishments, Hesse was a deeply troubled man. He turned to psychoanalysis in a futile and fruitless attempt to salvage his sanity. Strange as it may sound, most of the problems the German writer faced could have been solved by an image consultant.


Hesse was a difficult man to get along with. Many members of his family suffered from mental problems, especially one of his brothers. As a middle child, he was neglected and sought to find his identity by breaking rules at every opportunity. He was scorned by his parents and thrived on getting attention from his misdeeds. Before long he had significant conflict with his parents and ran away from home.

Parental conflict was only one of the reasons that Hesse ran away from home at an early age. Another probable reason is that his mind was not settled; indeed, he had numerous nervous breakdowns as a child and they continued throughout his adult life. These mental problems he attempted to diminish with meditation and Eastern religion. In this, he was like so many writers of the time, including Aldous Huxley and Thomas Mann. Although Hermann Hesse has written extensively about Buddhism, the religion he turned to as an escape from reality, and although critics usually assume that this Buddhist theme in his work is a brilliant aspect of his writing, the truth is that his interest in Buddhism stemmed from a family history of religious activism. It is true, however, that the Buddhist philosophy was also one which he used to try to solve his problems, all to no avail. Ironically, Buddhism taught Hesse to turn from worldly things, like a neat wardrobe and a good haircut. Unfortunately this negative impact of Eastern religion on his life and appearance has not been explored by biographers or critics, none of whom have been image consultants or even interested in the image of the artist.

Another factor contributing to Hesse’s slovenly appearance was his poor eyesight. He was unable to see himself very clearly, which made shaving and choosing clothes a problem. Both his obsession with Buddhism and his poor eyesight led him to abandon normal patterns of grooming. To most friends he appeared unkempt.

During his youth Hesse was described as a ruffian by his mother. He was constantly afraid that he was going to have a nervous breakdown like his brother, who was committed to a mental institution. These fears led to his increasing anxiety. A painting of Hesse by the artist Ernst Würtenberger (see illustration 1) reveals a man at the nadir of his life. Granted, Hesse was not a complete dissolute and did not look like a homeless person all the time. Nevertheless, Würtenberger’s portrait reveals what an image consultant would say are “problem areas.”

Hesse’s problem areas. Artists are perceptive and reveal things that the ordinary man does not see. The portrait by Würtenberger has been unfairly neglected by literary critics. It reveals more about the writer than most biographies, many of which are stodgy volumes at best. But take a moment to peruse this painting and you will notice that the hair on the top of Hesse’s head is sticking up, not in a mohawk hairstyle or with the spiky look popular with young men, but with disarray. This reflects his unconscious wish to fail. The man also can be seen wearing rumpled clothing. This is another reflection of his subconscious wish to fail. Had he consulted a tailor and a competent hair stylist, he might have cut a better figure in the world and been more successful and saved some of his marriages (of which there were three).

His failed marriages

Hesse was married first to Maria Bernoulli. This relationship was a disaster. She was not pleased with his rumpled appearance and told him repeatedly to do something about it. He tried to wear suits and ties, but they were invariably mismatched and of poor quality. He needed the help of a specialist in clothing, which he never received. Instead, he began to squander his funds on visits to a psychoanalyst. hesse

In fact, Hesse became so enamored of the psychoanalytic process that he made a point of meeting Carl Jung, a doctor who was a follower of Sigmund Freud. Jung, however, could not help the tormented artist.

The reason Jung could not help Hesse was that Jung was not concerned with the way Hesse looked. Jung focused on the interior life and archetypes, which he claimed were making Hesse sick. Jung pointed out that every individual suffers from an onslaught of snakes, moons, mothers, fathers, birds, trains, clocks, and other symbols that rise up from the depths of his mind—what Jung called the collective unconscious. According to Jung, these archetypes are what make a man sick and what make him well. Hesse gobbled Jung’s theory up like it was manna, and he got sicker. Indeed, the poor artist began to stuff his books full of Jung’s notions, to the point where his readers cried, “Enough!”

Had Hesse used an image consultant instead of a psychoanalyst he would have had an entirely different experience. Instead of a man telling him to talk about his dreams and sexual fantasies, he would have received help with his suits and ties. He could have gotten his hair styled. He could have cut a dashing figure in the streets of Calw.

Largely because of his tattered appearance, Hesse’s first marriage ended. Perhaps another contributing reason for the breakup was the fact that his wife was psychotic. This is no exaggeration. She suffered from schizophrenic episodes. Poor Hesse had to put up with this nonsense, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald had to put up with the mental illness of his wife, Zelda. Sad to say, but the madness of his wife rubbed off on Hesse and he was soon just as mentally troubled as she. Hesse fled into psychotherapy, which did nothing to help either of them. In fact, it made matters worse.

Self-portrait of Hesse. Take a look at the self-portrait Hesse painted (illustration 2). Hesse is widely considered a rather accomplished painter by art historians and literary biographers, though not of the first rank. Although he was no Rembrandt, he did have a flair for composition. His eyes may not have been very good, but when he got close to the canvas he could put the paint where he wanted it. This self-portrait illustrates what the artist thinks of himself. It is a shambles. It is a mockery of himself. It demonstrates that Hesse had a poor self-image. He thought he was a nobody. He painted a picture that was much worse than he actually looked. But it does illustrates the point that he needed help with his image. An image consultant could have told him that he not only needed to clean up his physical self, but that he needed to fix his self-portrait so that other people, and history, would perceive him in a better light. Unfortunately, he never used an image consultant.

How an image consultant could have helped Hesse

If only Hesse had talked with an image consultant he might not have had so many problems with his wives. They all found him hard to get along with and temperamental, even narcissistic. This was, in large part, due to his slovenly appearance. Not to say he was a total slob; that would be unfair. Granted he often wore a jacket and tie. But his appearance was not helped by this attire. He did not have his suits made at a good store. He looked like a hobo who has found some used clothing and has thrown it onto his wasting and emaciated frame for protection against the elements. This is not the way for an artist to look.


A true artist may not need to conform to the standard look. A man like Goethe or Picasso, for instance, doesn’t have to go around wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. But should he flaunt convention to the extreme and just wear anything that is ready to hand? In other words, should he cast all good sense to the wind? In short, is it prudent for an artist to be so anti-authoritarian that he ignores good taste in fashion? Of course the answer to these questions is no. An artist must set his own standards while playing a game with the standards of the ordinary man.

In order to set his own standards, an artist needs to look outside himself. It is advisable that he avoid psychotherapy, which can only drain his resources and lead nowhere except within. Instead, an artist is advised to seek the company of an image consultant. This man will ground him in reality, point him in the direction of good looks, and never meddle with his mind.

Had Hermann Hesse done this, he would have found comfort in a look that was more in keeping with his stature as a Nobel Prize winner. But Hesse went from one crisis to another in his life, never finding the satisfaction that an image consultant could have provided. He never found a look that made him stand out from the crowd. Instead, he garbbed himself in nondescript suits and crumpled ties. His baggy pants made him look like a clown (see photo). This is no way for a major artist to dress.

In the last illustration you see Hesse with his third wife. What strikes one immediately is the immense disparity in their height. Hesse looks like a giant. This is also not the way to have a good relationship. While not every mismatch in height is the result of psychosis, it is usually a sign that the man is trying to compensate for feelings of inferiority. Confident men marry tall women. Men who have an inferiority complex marry midgets. This is probably one of the primary reasons Hesse married Ninon Dolbin, a woman who was about half his height.

An image consultant doesn’t mess with your mind, but he can give you insights like this about your life’s partner. He can tell you, “Quite frankly, Hermann, you look bad with this woman. You appear to be a lumberjack who has absconded with a nine-year-old. Don’t let the press see the two of you together, and break off this relationship as soon as possible Try to find for a woman your own size, or a few inches shorter. Your image is tarnished by this mismatch, just as it would be if you wore two different socks.”

Conclusion about Hesse and image consultants

In summary, we have seen that throughout his life Hesse was beset by mental problems, neurosis, and nervous breakdowns. Even his wives were sick women. He fled into the supposed haven of psychoanalysis, which never helped him in any significant way. He should have sought out a competent image consultant. He could have improved not only his looks but his entire public image. He might even have won more literary prizes and written more books had he found the peace of mind that an image consultant can provide. Without doubt, he would have had a more memorable look, and we would remember him today as an even more striking artist and personality had he used an image consultant.

If you are an artist, you may be interested to know that some of the most successful musicians, writers, and painters of the modern era have used image consultants, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and painter Jeff Koons, to name but a few. We encourage you to contact us to learn more about our image consulting services for creative people.