Adolf Hitler is considered one of the most infamous and disliked individuals in history. Once he came to power in Germany, the Nazi leader and all who followed him were responsible for millions of deaths, as well as the mass theft of valuable artworks. There was another side to him, however, being Hitler’s paintings. Hitler’s artworks are a touchy subject as many people consider it immoral to buy Hitler’s paintings. Were Hitler’s drawings and paintings any good? Are paintings by Hitler worth anything today? Let us explore more about the dictator who wanted to paint.
Table of Contents
- 1 The History of Hitler’s Paintings
- 2 Hitler’s Artwork
- 3 The Moral Implications of the Sale of Hitler’s Paintings
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
The History of Hitler’s Paintings
Hitler always knew he wanted to be an artist, even during the early years of his childhood in Linz, Austria. His mother is said to have encouraged him greatly in his artistic endeavors.His father Alois, however, was a bad-tempered disciplinarian who had no desire to see his son become an artist. Alois disregarded any artistic talent that Adolf Hitler might have had, and frequently physically beat him.
Determined that his son get a normal and stable career, he enrolled Hitler in technical school.
Alois passed away a few years later, but despite the temptation he must have felt to leave the school, Hitler finished the course with an average score. After graduating in 1905, Hitler remained with his dying mother in Linz for a couple of years until she died in December of 1907.
Adolf Hitler as a young man in the early 1920s; Unknown author Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Hitler in Vienna
At age 18, Hitler moved to the beautiful art capital of the empire, Vienna, which he viewed as the perfect place to finally pursue his desire to become an artist. Unfortunately for him, he found it hard to attain the success he was after, while his roommate August Kubizek was instantly enrolled into a music conservatory.
While still living in Linz, Hitler had tried to apply to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Although he had managed to pass the first exam, the committee of admissions found Hitler’s drawings to be subpar.
Self-portrait (1926) by Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Hitler did not take the news well, being notoriously unfavorable of any sort of rejection. After moving to Vienna, he continued making sketches and mixing with the art community while doing his studies and earning a wage as a worker.
Hitler’s drawings were sent to the Academy of Fine Arts for the second time in the autumn of 1908 and were once again rejected. His professors urged him to follow his more naturally suited set of skills and enroll at an architectural school instead. They felt that Hitler’s drawings displayed an understanding of architectural structure and design, if not containing any artistic merit.
Hitler did not warm up to this idea at all and was shocked and disappointed that he had been rejected by the academic heads of art.
Hitler’s ink drawing of the Triumphal Arch for Germania, 1925. Germania refers to the renewed German capital of Berlin that Hitler envisioned for the future of Nazi Germany; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
During this period, Hitler moved residence often, going from one cheap room to another, and even stayed in a shelter for the destitute for a while. A few recent studies have suggested that he might have covered most of his living expenses with a loan from his family. Adolf Hitler finally managed to rise above abject poverty in 1909, gaining some momentum by selling oil and watercolor paintings of Vienna cityscapes to foreigners visiting the city.
Many of Hilter’s paintings were copied from postcards, allowing him to recreate scenes from anywhere at any time, but remained original in content. The sales of Hitler’s artwork were enough to afford him a room at a home for men instead of having to stay in a homeless shelter.
It was during this time that Hitler became increasingly interested in politics while becoming all the more frustrated with the art world.
Belvedere, Vienna (c. 1910) by Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Many historians have suggested that Hitler’s anti-semitic inclinations started at home, but in his autobiography Mein Kampf, Hitler says that it was during this time in Vienna that his hatred against the Jewish people of Germany began. Historians have noticed a distinct contradiction in Hitler’s ethos during this period, however, as while he was both an avid follower and admirer of the anti-Semitic Mayor, Karl Lueger, most of his work during this time was financed by the Jewish store owner, Samuel Morgenstern.
It has been suggested that he accepted work very reluctantly from Jewish patrons out of sheer desperation.
Hitler in Munich
Hitler then moved to Munich in May of 1913, finding some success in the same manner that he had on the streets of Vienna – by selling oil and watercolors of Munich cityscapes. A few well-off patrons also kept him out of homeless shelters by commissioning many of Hitler’s artworks. However, in 1914, this came to an abrupt end when the police of Munich managed to track him down for dodging the military draft in his hometown of Linz.
However, Adolf would not pass his fitness exam in the military, being declared too weak and unsuitable for combat as well as incapable of firing a weapon. However, after the start of the first world war in august, he enrolled voluntarily and his time as a struggling artist came to a sudden end.
A photograph of Adolf Hitler in World War I, c. 1914/1918. He is pictured with his war comrades of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16. You can spot Hitler and his large moustache on the far right of the gentlemen who are sitting; Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-082-44 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons
Hitler’s Vendetta Against Art
Both Hitler’s failure to be accepted into the art academies as well as the political inclinations he started to lean towards in those early days in Vienna most definitely had a major influence in creating the nearly mythical persona that would lead him to power. Not only did he wish to exterminate Jews from the German State, but people of color, homosexuals, Roma travelers, and dissenters of Nazism as well.
He also rallied against modern art, referring to it as degenerative and a product of the Jews and Bolsheviks. It is not a far stretch to think that his artistic shortcomings and tastes influenced his views on the subject of modern art.
Around 16,000 artworks considered to be degenerate by Hitler were seized from various German Museums by his henchmen in 1937.
Photo of Berliner Kunsthalle at Königsplatz 4, the exhibition hall in Berlin for the infamous “Degenerate Art Exhibition” (Entartete Kunst). This was a propaganda exhibition displaying and mocking “un-German and unhealthy” art by Jewish and modern painters and sculptors. The text on the banner sign on the wall reads: Ausstellung der NSDAP Gau Berlin ENTARTETE KUNST (“Exhibition of the Nazi Party in Berlin district: Degenerate Art”), c. 1938; Uncredited photographer / Struck (Struck-Photo-Postkarte, a defunct German postcard publishing company), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
These included works by famous artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as works by Jewish artists. Hitler then proceeded to hold a “Degenerate Art” exhibition of these non-representational and abstract works of modern art. However, he did not wish to portray the art positively, and the art was displayed haphazardly and with no care, intentionally hanging them skewed and clumped in a very unaesthetic manner.
He wanted the work to be seen as revealing the corrupt morals and intentions of the movement.
Actors had even been hired to pretend to be visitors in the museum and criticize the art while mingling with the crowds. All of this was done to create the impression that modern art was made by degenerates and had no value.
Even though the objective of the exhibition was to influence the public to view the art as disdainful, it attracted around two million viewers before going on tour in Germany, expanding the viewership to another million people at least. Many people attended for the sensational spectacle, others were empathetic towards the Nazi propaganda, while others simply viewed it as potentially the last chance they would get to see these artworks in person, especially in Germany.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels visiting the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich in 1938; Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H02648 / Unknown author Unknown author / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons
Hitler hoped to reflect his personal art tastes to the public by arranging another exhibition that would run at the same time as the other but would be far better curated. The Great German Art Exhibition featured paintings of landscapes, soldiers, and blonde nudes that had been pre-approved by Hitler, conforming to his own unoriginal and traditional preferences in art. He envisioned that the exhibit would be critically appraised in comparison to the farcical exhibition he had created of stolen artwork.
This plan backfired, however, as his show was marred by a much lower attendance rate, presumably leaving his ego more than a little bit damaged and fragile.
Most of Hitler’s paintings were apparently destroyed under his command after coming to power in Germany. Yet, there are still collections around the world that the Nazis seem to have missed, numbering several hundreds of Hitler paintings. The United States owns four of Hilter’s watercolors after they were confiscated during the Second World War. The largest collection of paintings by Hitler can also be found in the US at the International Museum of World War II.
Fake Hitler Artworks
It is legal to sell Hitler’s artwork in Germany as long as the art does not bear any depictions of Nazi symbolism. Hitler’s paintings do, however, cause controversy whenever they are put up for auction. As many as 14 of Hitler’s paintings sold for $450,000 at an auction in Nuremberg in 2015, including paintings such as Neuschwanstein and Old Vienna/Hofburg With Old Passage Way.
Schloss Neuschwanstein (1914) by Adolf Hitler, depicting Neuschwanstein Castle in Upper Bavaria; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Despite many people being vehemently opposed to the sale of work that is connected to figures involved in human atrocities, some people, such as those who represent the auction house, have argued that the value lies in their historical significance.
Moral and historical controversies are not the only issues that arise whenever Adolf Hitler’s artwork is put up for sale. The other major problem that arises is forgery and concerns over the authenticity of the apparent paintings by Hitler.
In 2019, three watercolors that were up for auction at the Kloss House in Berlin were confiscated due to suspicion of forgery. They were supposedly Hitler’s paintings, containing landscape scenes of mountains and rivers. Each work carried a seal of authenticity and was on sale for $4,500 at the auction house. However, police believe that the authenticity seal may have been faked.
Around one month after that, another five works that were apparently paintings by Adolf Hitler were on sale at a Nazi Memorabilia sale. The insane prices scared buyers and fueled rumors of fraud, leaving the artworks on the auction block unbought.
Many people, including those who worked for Kloss auction house, stated that Hitler’s paintings had no real intrinsic artistic value, but that the high asking prices came down to the name in the corner of the painting.
Painting as the Führer
During his time in reign as the Führer, Hitler continued to paint but did so privately. Critics have remarked that his talent was rather undeveloped, as he lacked professional training and was not able to capture the essence of a scene nor exhibit any passion in his work.
Despite his lack of talent, Hitler remained enthusiastic about painting as a hobby and considered himself a bit of an expert on the subject.
Adolf Hitler’s watercolors, paintbrushes, sketchbooks, drafting tools, and watercolors in various stages of completion. He left these in his will to his housekeeper in Munich; leewrightonflickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
As delusional as he was in many other parts of his life, some of Hitler’s personal documents and journals reveal that he did at least take his dedication to the arts rather seriously. Many of Hitler’s paintings, such as The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich (1914), reveal his desire for purified scenery and clinical perfection that permeated beyond his art and into every psychological and political sphere of his life as well.
The Influences and Style of Hitler’s Paintings
Due to his technical education and desire for cold perfection, his paintings are very calculated concerning the representation of architecture. He did not, however, seem to express a desire or ability to progress into a unique style, but copied the works of the masters that preceded him in the 19th century.
He thought of himself as the embodiment and synthesis of many other art movements and styles, but his main influences were primarily drawn from Italian Renaissance art, Greco-Roman Classicism, and Neoclassicism, as can be seen in Hitler’s painting, Mother Mary with the Holy Child Jesus Christ (1913).
Mother Mary with the Holy Child Jesus Christ (1913) by Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It is said that he appreciated the symbolism and technical prowess of the master artists and called Rudolf von Alt his biggest teacher. There are a few similarities between the two artists’ work, but von Alt’s work displays an equal focus on the natural background elements as on the focus on architecture.
Why Is It So Hard to Verify Hitler’s Artwork?
Stephan Klingen from the Central Institute for Art History in Munich has answered that question by stating that it is hard to verify Hitler’s style because he doesn’t have one. Hitler’s artwork has been described as belonging to a moderately ambitious amateur artist with no discernible unique character or technique that could be seen as recognizable hallmarks of his specific style.
Nothing makes his work stand out from the thousands of similarly themed works of the period or region. This is also because the paintings by Hitler were already copies of other paintings done by German artists that he took from postcards, and was thus applying his limited skillset to someone else’s existing work.
Due to the lack of identifiable artistic elements that could be considered conclusively as one of his works, Hitler’s artwork has been the endless subject of forgery.
Vienna State Opera (1912) by Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Another art critic from America, John Gunther, wrote about Hitler’s paintings saying that he felt his artwork was easily forged because it was utterly devoid of unique artistic rhythm, lacked color, was dull to look at, and lacked spiritual feeling or imagination. He described them as the painfully precise work of an architect’s draftsmanship, not the work of true talent or a unique artist. It was little wonder that the professors in Vienna had suggested staying within the confines of the rigid architectural school of design.
As recently as 2019, Hitler’s art still receives scathing reviews from art critics such as Jerry Saltz, who described Hitler’s drawings and art as being spatially dead and academically generic. Saltz went on to explain that if anything, Hitler just barely managed to ape the penmanship of the better artists he copied from postcards. He was perhaps an adequate draftsman, but as an artist, he was utterly unimaginative.
An art critic was once shown some of Hitler’s paintings without revealing who the artist was and was asked for his frank opinion on the art.
The critic remarked that they were “quite good” but upon further examination, he stated that by the way the artist drew the humans in his paintings, the artist seemed to display a disinterest with the human race. Scholars tend to agree with this statement, noting that Hitler’s works reveal sociopathic tendencies; many of his landscapes were created with a sterile and uniform look, where the grandeur of stately architecture and nature take precedence over the humans in the paintings, who tend to be portrayed rather nondescript. An example of this can be seen in his work, Hofbräuhaus, Munich (c. 1919), which is where Hitler first founded the Nazi party.
Hofbräuhaus, Munich (c. 1919) by Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Besides the many paintings by Hitler that were taken out of circulation by the Nazis, many of Hitler’s paintings were confiscated by the US army at the end of the Second World War along with other captured objects, who have been adamant that they remain unexhibited. Other paintings by Hitler are housed in private collections, many of which began to be sold in auction houses in the 2000s.
Mullock’s auction house sold 15 of Hilter’s paintings for $145,358 in 2009, while Ludlow’s auction house sold 13 paintings by Hitler for over 100,000 Euro.
A mixed-media artwork of Hitler’s entitled Maritime Nocturno (1913) sold for 32,000 Euro at an auction in Slovakia in 2012, and in 2014, a watercolor of the old Munich registry office entitled Standesamt und Altes Rathaus München (1914) sold in an auction in Nuremberg for 130,000 Euro. The sale included a letter signed by Albert Bormann for authenticity as well as a bill of sale, both of which could have added to the high asking price of the artwork. Mullock’s sold a further two oil paintings in 2017, one depicting a lake house entitled House at a Lake with Two Mountains (1910)
Scholars have estimated that Hitler only created about 300 works during his lifetime. Hitler’s own words throw this statement into doubt in his autobiography Mein Kampf where he states that he painted around two to three paintings on average per day in Vienna. It has been estimated that he must have made between 600 to over 1000 paintings during his time in Vienna alone.
This estimate was put forward by Peter Jahn, an expert in Hitler’s artwork who was one of the people assigned by Hitler to locate and retrieve the paintings that he had painted between 1907 and 1922, which he did for four years until being called into military service. Peter Jahn later became the art consultant in 1937 for the German Embassy in Vienna.
There, he was meant to find and destroy Hitler’s artworks, although he ended up selling one of the biggest collections of paintings by Hitler.
This consisted of around 18 of Hitler’s paintings, which were sold for approximately $50,000 each. The biggest private collection is currently housed in Natick, Massachusetts in the US, at the International Museum of World War II.
Paintings by Hitler
Hitler painted mainly in watercolor and used it to express his passion for painting scenery and architecture. Critics have noted that his draftsman’s eye for detail was concentrated mainly on the buildings of his landscapes and that the passion for detail did not extend to the surrounding natural elements, such as the trees and mountains surrounding the architecture and on the periphery of the canvas’ view.
An example of a watercolor painting by Adolf Hitler is The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich painted in 1914. It depicts the old court of Alter Hof, which is situated in the center of Munich and was the residence of the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV.
This painting was produced during Hitler’s early years as a struggling artist living in Munich before he volunteered for the army.
The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich (1914) by Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
As with many of his works, the painting reveals an understanding of architectural design and strict form of line and structure, but where the building has been recreated with immaculate attention to certain details, other aspects like the tree remain largely stylized and without any great attention to texture or shading of natural objects in the composition. There is also a water fountain painted on the left of the canvas. The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich is one of the paintings kept in a collection at the Army Center of Military History, archived and stored far away from public view.
The Moral Implications of the Sale of Hitler’s Paintings
In 2015, 14 paintings by Hitler were sold at the Weidler auction house in Nuremberg for $440,000. The collection of Hitler’s drawings and paintings included portrayals of naked women, flowers, and castles and were produced between 1904 and 1922. Bids arrived from countries such as the United Arab Emirates, France, China, Brazil, and Germany, despite being admittedly unimpressive as works of art. Much controversy arose over the profits earned by the auction house from the art of one of the world’s most notorious dictators and mass murderers.
None of the bidders were particularly interested in Hitler’s ability to paint, but rather the value of the signature attached to it.
Signature of Adolf Hitler from one of his paintings; Adolf Hitler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Many people felt that the money raised should have gone to a charity, but it soon became apparent that no charity wanted to receive money that was in any way connected to Hitler. It is highly frowned upon in Germany to be seen making money from the Nazi leader’s work. For example, the state archive of Bavaria refuses to buy any paintings by Hitler but will accept them as a donation to remove them from the art circuit and general public circulation. Despite the moral and ethical concerns voiced by members of the public, no law prohibits the sale of Hilter’s paintings as long as they do not portray any Nazi symbolism such as swastikas.
Today, we have learned more about the lesser-known side of Adolf Hitler, one of the cruelest dictators the world has ever known. From his tumultuous family upbringing with a father that refused to acknowledge his artistic talents, to the professors of academic institutions who failed to find any streak of artistic value in his work, as well as the art critics who found his work dull and unoriginal, it seems that Hitler’s career and passion for art was doomed from the start. Yet despite everything working against him, he sought to make a living on the streets of Vienna and Munich before volunteering for Military service. Even after becoming the leader of a huge empire, the greatest monster in the world still liked to tinker with watercolors in his spare time, an indication that behind the angry and hard exterior of a vicious mass murderer was the soul of a boy who just wanted to paint and lose himself in art.
Take a look at our famous Hitler paintings webstory here!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Themes and Subjects Did Adolf Hitler Paint?
Adolf Hitler showed a preference for traditional themes and styles. In his early days on the streets of Venice, he mostly painted cityscapes that he copied from postcards. The pictures on the postcards themselves were painted by other German painters. Other subjects that Hitler liked to paint were female nudes and flowers. Most of his works show a preference for landscapes that reflect his desire for sterile clinical perfection, and much of his inner psyche is revealed by the fact that he painted with little or no attention paid towards the human figures in his compositions.
Where Are Hitler’s Artworks Now?
Many of Hitler’s works were destroyed by members of the Nazi regime under the order of Hitler himself. Those that remained found their way into private collections and were also stored and archived by certain branches of the United States Military complex, where they remain out of circulation and out of the public eye. Although many of Hitler’s paintings have been sold at great profit, many people remain hugely opposed to others profiting off the dictator’s work.
Isabella studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature & Language and Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate years, she took Art History as an additional subject and absolutely loved it. Building on from her art history knowledge that began in high school, art has always been a particular area of fascination for her. From learning about artworks previously unknown to her, or sharpening her existing understanding of specific works, the ability to continue learning within this interesting sphere excites her greatly.
Her focal points of interest in art history encompass profiling specific artists and art movements, as it is these areas where she is able to really dig deep into the rich narrative of the art world. Additionally, she particularly enjoys exploring the different artistic styles of the 20th century, as well as the important impact that female artists have had on the development of art history.
Cite this Article
Isabella, Meyer, “Hitler Paintings – The Ethics of Valuing Art by Problematic Artists.” Art in Context. August 30, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/hitler-paintings/
Meyer, I. (2021, 30 August). Hitler Paintings – The Ethics of Valuing Art by Problematic Artists. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/hitler-paintings/