Hitler’s art sells for huge price at auction

Work of a tyrant: This painting of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria sold for £71,000 © PA

Paintings and drawings from Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer responsible for the deaths of millions, have been sold expensively. Can the creation of a vile individual teach us anything of value?

They seem to be fairly ordinary watercolours and drawings, from an artist who twice failed to gain a place at art school. A century after it was produced, critics remain unimpressed with his work, with one describing it as being of ‘moderate GCSE standard’. But at an auction in Nuremberg in the south-west of Germany on Saturday, they fetched an eye-watering £286,000 in total, with one painting alone selling for £71,000.

Bids had come from private investors in France, the UAE, Brazil and Germany. The reason for their interest in the apparently mediocre work was obvious: it was believed to be drawn and painted by Adolf Hitler.

The Nazi leader, who caused the deaths of millions, dreamed of becoming an artist in his youth and maintained a passion for art throughout his life. Even in his will, dictated from his bunker as Germany lay in ruins in 1945, he gave instructions for his substantial art collection to be given to a gallery in Linz. Historians have long debated whether his interest in art could have dramatically changed the course of history; had he been accepted by the Vienna Academy of Art, he may never have entered politics.

Hitler is known to have preferred the romantic school of art to its more modern counterparts, which he considered ‘degenerate’ and rooted in Bolshevism. After he gained control of Germany in 1933, art helped him to tighten his grip on his Reich. Artists were forced to join the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts and the Gestapo visited galleries to check that they were promoting the Nazis’ racial and political beliefs.

But with experts doubtful of the artistic value of his work, the amount paid for it shows that he remains an object of fascination 70 years after his death. It seems that we find it difficult to escape from the man whose aggressively expansionist foreign policy prompted a world war and who led a regime which massacred six million Jews in the Holocaust. Countless films and books still focus on him.

Art of a devil?

Many will feel instinctively queasy looking at Hitler’s paintings, and perhaps we should trust that instinct. You cannot divorce art from the person who created it. This work links us to a monstrous individual who brought war and genocide to the world. As art critic Jonathan Jones says, the trade in Hitler’s art is ‘a sick joke’.

But some suggest that this misses the point. This art gives us an uncomfortable but valuable insight in to Hitler’s character. The paintings are disturbingly ordinary; some could even find them beautiful. The creepiest thing about them is that they were not produced by a demon, but by a human.

You Decide

  1. Do Hitler’s paintings have value?
  2. Should we seek to humanise history’s worst people?

Activities

  1. Study Hitler’s painting in the picture above this article. How does it make you feel and why? Discuss in small groups and then as a class.
  2. Write a letter to the German government outlining three things they could do to any remaining paintings by Hitler in Germany. Explain the advantages and disadvantages of each possible idea. Finish by saying which one you’d recommend and why.

Some People Say...

“I cannot only hate this person.”

Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in the film ‘Downfall'

What do you think?

Q & A

Is this for real?
The auctioneers said that they were confident that these paintings were genuine. There are believed to be plenty of forgeries of Hitler paintings, though.
Who bought it, and why would they want it?
The buyers and sellers have not been revealed, but it seems likely that Hitler’s notoriety is the main reason for the purchase. The decision to buy them could be dismissed as indulging a fetish, but some contend that we can learn from them.
What else has Hitler left behind?
His book, ‘Mein Kampf’, is probably the most controversial legacy which has survived. The book was believed to be banned in Germany, but a heavily annotated version of it will be republished there next year. Academics still study it closely to try to understand the motivation behind Hitler’s crimes.

Word Watch

Nuremberg
Observers may find this location particularly appalling. Nuremburg hosted some of the Nazis’ most significant rallies during their time in power, including the 1935 rally at which the notorious Nuremburg racial laws were introduced. It was also the setting for the trials of leading Nazis after the war, some of whom were executed.
Passion for art
Hitler took a keen interest in the arts as a whole. He enjoyed the opera and in his early life friends said that listening to Wagner put him in a ‘trance-like state’. The Nazis also stole a lot of highly-valued art from their victims.
His will
Hitler dictated a private will before his more famous political testament, in which he said that Germany should continue to fight the war after his death. He and his new wife, Eva Braun, then killed themselves.
Bolshevism
Hitler believed that Bolshevism — a form of communism — was the mortal enemy of Nazism. He made this clear in Mein Kampf (My Struggle), the book which he wrote in 1924. He saw the USSR, which was run by Bolsheviks, as Germany’s greatest enemy for this reason.

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