Well, 2021 is settling in following the trend of 2020 really isn’t it? In the UK we are still in lockdown, there is a variant strain of COVID that the vaccine will not make you immune to, and Mount Etna is exploding. This really demonstrates how fragile and temperamental the environment we live in is. We know that we are not looking after the planet as we should, but actually there is still some fight in nature yet, proving that it generally has the upper hand, as it is unpredictable and chaotic. This isn’t an article about nature though… this is an article about the follies of man…well one man, who turned the world upside down.
I am sure, you are all aware of the actions of arguably the most infamous despot in modern history with the mass genocide and turning a nation into a powerhouse of killers, believing they were doing the right thing. I will openly admit, I am fascinated by Hitler. Not because of what he did…I am definitely not ok with trying to obliterate several races of people because they don’t suit my ideals, I am also not ok with turning the world into an open battle ground; but what I am completely intrigued by is the way Hitler managed to sway a nation. Let’s face it, as a person he was fairly unlikeable, and equally he had little time for people. Yet he was a compelling public speaker… it is often noted how he would practices his speeches time and again in the mirror to perfect every movement to get maximum impact as he stood in front of crowds of people, so why didn’t he put this effort into something which he was said to have loved….painting?
There is the great urban legend that Hitler became the mass murdering nutjob that he was, because he was unable to get into art school, which turned him into a bitter wreck of a man. Where as, I think you will actually find it was the state of the nation after World War 1 where he felt that the financiers hadn’t released enough funds to make Germany successful in their attempts – a blame he placed solely on the shoulders of Jewish bankers, claiming that they were penny pinching and that with correct funding, Germany wouldn’t be in the situation it found itself in. Just for clarity, the Jewish people during the middle ages had been prohibited from owning land, and Christians were not allowed to lend money. This therefore created a natural career path for Jewish people to study business and commerce through being forced out of the industrial side of business. The antisemitism is very real and goes way back to well before Hitler, but he was probably one of its biggest advocates. Lets not also forget that Hitler would later rally against the production of “Modern Art”, even to the point that in 1937 he got his henchmen to gather around 16000 pieces from German Museums, including art works by Kandinsky and Klee, to feature in an exhibit which was to show modern art as a degenerate media which was only there to question politics and lead to radical and corrupt behaviour. The artworks were hung haphazardly and the walls splashed with graffiti to add to the feeling that modern art was a disgrace against civilised society.
How did he get to being the world’s most hated man though? What changed from the struggling artist that he was to the lunatic that he became?
Hitler was born in 1889 in a small town in Austria-Hungary. He was the fourth of six children (although 3 died during infancy) to his mother, but his father had two other children from a previous marriage. Hitler’s mother, Klara, was doting and engaging to Hitler’s artistic tendencies, but his father, Alios, was strict and often would beat Hitler, refusing to recognise his dreams of painting, to the point that when Hitler was old enough, Alios enrolled him in a technical school. Hitler had been a bright, confident and conscientious child until the death of his brother, Edmund in 1900. Hitler then changed to a morose and withdrawn child. On his enrolment to the technical school, Hitler rebelled against his father’s choice and thought that if he did badly in school that his father would allow him to go and follow his dreams. During the time at this school, Hitler started to develop German Nationalist notions and rejected his Austrian roots. While Hitler fought with his father and teachers, he remained that the school until the sudden death of his father in 1903, his mother then allowed him to leave. In 1904 he re-enrolled in school, where his performance and behaviour improved, to the point he managed to pass his final exam. He left school in 1905 with no clear career plan.
In 1907 Hitler went to study Fine Art in Vienna, which was funded by the orphan’s benefit and supported by his mother. This is where this gets quite interesting, as it is quite well documented that Hitler was unsuccessful, twice, at getting into the Fine Art Academy, even though he past the preliminary examinations, but they noted that his sketchbooks and work lacked portraits and people. They did however recommend that he try for the Architects Academy as his architectural drawings were extraordinarily accurate (though this is much less documented), Hitler never took that up, as it was never part of his ideal.
I think we can agree that Hitler’s rendition of the Vienna Opera house is actually very detailed and quite stunning, and he could have taken his path in a different direction and been very successful, but as we know, Hitler, once his mind was set on something, it was quite impossible to change it.
During and after the rejections, Hitler would make a meager living creating small watercolor paintings and postcards of beauty spots around Vienna. Hitler’s mother died at the end of 1907 from breast cancer, and this meant that Hitler had do move from his bedsit to a more bohemian lifestyle, living in homeless shelters and men’s dormitories. During this time, Hitler attended many performances and exhibitions, even hung out at the local artists cafes in hopes that one of the up and coming artists would take him under their wing and mentor him.
It was commonly thought that Hitler’s time in Vienna is where his racist beliefs started to evolve due to the influence of Karl Luger, but Historians now feel that it was much later that these emerged, as Hitler would spend much time dealing his artworks with Jewish traders while in Vienna.
In 1913, Hitler received the last of his parents estate and he used the money to move to Munich. In 1914, Hitler was conscripted to the Austro-Hungary Army, but the results of his medical was that he was too weak and feeble and would never be able to fire a weapon. Hitler returned to Munich as he didn’t want to be part of the Austro-Hungary deployment anyway as it didn’t reflect his own beliefs. Hitler continued to sell his artwork in Munich and he found some wealthy benefactors who would commission him for pieces which kept him afloat.
Later the same year, Hitler voluntarily joined the Bavarian Army, and they were only too happy to take him, as they were now in the midst of WW1, although a reflection in 1924 shows that they feel letting him serve in his physical state was a mistake and he should have been returned to Austria. I think we can all agree it was a huge mistake on many levels, as it was this which got his political career moving.
I don’t really want to go into Hitler’s political career in this article as it would not serve any benefit to understanding him as an artist, although we should recognise that he continued to paint throughout his life and had intended to go back to being an artist once his political career had ended. He created hundreds of artworks, many of which he had destroyed at the peak of his political career, some still remain. It is not illegal to sell art by Hitler in Germany (so long as it contains no Nazi symbols) but controversy seems to hit each time they go up for sale. In 2015, 14 drawings and paintings were sold through an auction house in Nuremberg. They sold for $450,000 and the auction house defended the sale, explaining that the works held anthropological historical importance.
As we know (unless you listen to conspiracy theories) Hitler committed suicide at the end of WW2 ending the war, and his name would forever be etched in blood in the history books, but probably not for what he really wanted to be known for.
For this article, I selected a contrasting piece of his work to his architectural, as if you only view his depictions of buildings, you may mistake his work for being unjustly judged by the Fine Art Academy. You may look at this and feel it is not that bad too, but the ultimate issue was that Hitler merely copied the styles of the Renaissance and never progressed his own technique to anything more than an artist who copied a style. This is almost screaming that he was an uncreative person who really wanted to have a creative flare.
This unnamed piece, shows the moon over a body of water. The reflection of the light striking the ripples on the water creating some shadows. The clouds in the sky put there to create some depth to the piece. Regardless of the techniques Hitler uses, the picture almost looks out of focus, and there is a lack of depth as a very minimalist pallet has been used. We could put this down to his very low income during his early years, but a glimpse of blue wouldn’t have gone a miss in the water.
As I look at Hitler’s work, and reflect on some of the reasons he never made it into the Fine Art Academy I feel that, even in his artwork, he wanted a world with minimal people. This is why there is a distinct lack of them in his work. Not because he couldn’t paint them, it is more because he didn’t want to. This particular piece feels serene and peaceful, but the more I look at its one source of light and dark and clouding surroundings, I feel it is more reflective of his frame of mind. Hitler was so convinced that he would be a successful artist, that in his autobiography “Mein Kampf”, he said that the rejection from art school hit him like a bolt from the blue.
Do I think that if Hitler had made it into art school, we could have avoided one of the most destructive and damaging wars known to man? No, I don’t, I think he still would have continued down the path of a German Nationalist, and I think he still would have found his way into politics, although perhaps he would have been less vindictive towards so many things if he had been recognised somewhere along the lines as an artist.
You can see more of Hitler’s artwork here.
I feel a little odd asking this, but… How do you feel about Hitler’s artwork? Why not tell me in the comments? Found this post interesting? Why not share it?