The Story of Adolf Hitler: An ‘Unsatisfactory’ Artist
Dictator, draconian, eccentric, oppressive, mass murderer…
These are just a few words often associated with Adolf Hitler.
But have you imagined him as an artist? Probably not.
Hitler dedicated his early life to art and painted several oil and watercolour paintings to earn a living. However, his work was panned by art critics. So, how did a young artist turn into a dictator?
Schloss Belvedere, Wien
Source : wikiart
Hitler’s father had squashed his artistic ambitions and pushed him into a more conventional structure of education. He was 18 when his mother passed away and he moved from Linz, his hometown, to Vienna in 1908 to pursue his dream of becoming an artist.
In 1907, he had already been rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna as his drawing skills were deemed "unsatisfactory". One of the panelists recommended him to apply to the academy's School of Architecture instead. However, for that he would have to complete his secondary school education, which he had no intentions of returning to.
Art for Survival
The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich
1909 onwards, he started selling watercolour and oil paintings to earn a living. This brought him a steady income and he shifted from a shelter for the homeless to a men’s dormitory. Most of his paintings were copied from postcards and lacked originality. These included Vienna’s gardens and cityscapes. In 1913, he moved to Munich and found similar success by selling watercolour paintings that depicted the city’s landscapes. He enlisted in the military in 1914.
His paintings paid great attention to architectural details, hence, it’s no surprise that he was suggested to apply to Vienna’s school of architecture. John Gunther, an American art critic said that his works were just “an architect’s sketches and nothing more.” In fact, many of his paintings portray scenes that can be interpreted as visions of a purified state that fantasized about.
Vendetta Against Art
In a bid to purify Germany of Jews, gypsies, people of colour and homosexuals, he took a stance against modern art, calling it a debased product of Jews and Bolsheviks. This is often attributed to his derailed art career which frustrated him but many researchers believe it’s a mere myth, adding to the drama of Hitler’s disturbed psyche. Interestingly, Hitler’s primary Patron in Vienna was a Jewish store owner named Samuel Morgenstern. It's ironic that his business and survival depended on people he would eventually want to cleanse Germany of.
In 1937, he even organized an exhibition of ‘degenerate’ modernist artworks and, supposedly, hired actors to mingle with the crowd and criticize these paintings. The exhibition handbook stated that the aim was to "reveal the philosophical, political, racial and moral goals and intentions behind this movement, and the driving forces of corruption which follow them".
Problem of Authenticity
Since he copied a lot of his content from postcards and German artists, it is hard to verify the authenticity of his paintings. He never developed a distinct style so it's difficult to recognize his paintings in a sea of artworks belonging to that period. That makes it easy for forgers to copy his work or pass off a painting as his to rake in the moolah and popularity off his name.
Marc Fisher of the Washington Post did extensive research on Hitler and his psyche for decades. He believed Hitler’s art reflected his sociopathic tendencies and made some important observations: "Is it possible to look at these antiseptic street scenes and see the roots of Hitler’s obsession with cleanliness and his belief that his mission in life was to cleanse Germany and the world of Judaism?”
Vienna State Opera House, 1912
Did the society’s dismissal of him as an artist push him onto a path that wreaked havoc on Germany? We will leave that decision up to you!
Here are some more of his paintings:
Tree at a Track (1911)
House at a Lake with Mountains, 1910
Standesamt München, 1910
Arda in Flanders, 1917
Maison Du Dr. Bloch, 1913
- By Prakriti Bhat