In 2015, a painting was sold for 323,190 USD. The painting looks normal, it’s of the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, a beautiful landmark right out of a fairytale. The painting is by Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler is a man that bears his own introduction. He’s often known as “history’s most evil man,” this analysis is not wrong by any means. There is, however, another side to the man’s life, before being the properly titled “the ultimate evil,” he was a painter.
Hitler was said to have completed upwards of 300 paintings throughout the course of his life. He painted as a child, his first dream job being a professional artist. He painted while fighting in the first World War, carrying a pencil and paper with him everywhere he went. He most notably painted in Vienna, where he aspired to attend the coveted Academy of Fine Arts. All of this would come crashing down when he suffered the crushing defeat of two rejection letters for both of his submissions to the school.
So you get the picture, Hitler was a painter before he was a dictator. What’s so interesting? I’d argue that the whole concept is quite interesting, but I think that the meat of that comes from the paintings themselves. The paintings are bizarre but definitely not at first glance. The weird bit about every Hitler painting is that there’s usually something very wrong with it. One could argue that this is because of artistic integrity and for the sake of abstractivity. But one could argue pretty much anything. Hitler, in regards to painting, is known for his dislike of modern/experimental style, instead often referencing or even downright copying the works of painters before him. So, it’s the opinion of mine and many others (including art researchers) that these imperfections were very unintentional.
How I (and the Entire Internet) Found Out
The townhouse painting is probably the most well-known one on the Internet. It garnered attention on Reddit after someone posted this meme:
Hitler’s art has never been sheltered from criticism, but it really hit the mainstream more recently. Originally the meme was posted on the website “FunnyJunk'' about 10 years ago (obviously, seeing as the name of the website is “FunnyJunk”), but it was spread on Reddit by user u/coledog22 in 2013. The image has circulated throughout the Internet ever since. In April of 2022, leftist political streamer Hasan Piker posted a video to YouTube Shorts that garnered nearly two million views to date. In the clip, he says that he had been looking through a lot of Hitler’s art recently and noted that Hitler “was ass at painting,” and, more courteously, “he missed out on a lot of the fundamentals of art.” Many shared this same sentiment.
My opinion on this unnamed townhouse piece is pretty similar. It falls apart as you look at it. This is a shining example of his utter lack of understanding in composition. Composition can basically be broken down in layman’s terms to “where things go in a picture.” This piece, along with many others, definitely encourages one to think that he painted with a “go with the flow” type of method. This method is completely fine but not when you’re trying to do hyper-realism. It doesn’t work. He comes across as an improviser that struggles with thinking on his feet, a man shoved onto a stage and told to dance. His pieces, especially this one, come off as rushed or stressed.
Hitler often struggled with point perspective in his paintings. I think that this is related to the unplanned element of his work but just a general lack of understanding. Artists don’t need to have a perfect grasp on point perspective, but with the genre Hitler is trying to paint, it throws the whole piece off. The way the shadows come off the buildings, and how the windows appear on the building as if placed randomly, are some mistakes. And while they are subtle mistakes, they are deadly in the hyper-realism world.
My final gripe with the paintings of Adolf Hitler is his choice in subject. Hitler has been criticized by artists for years for his technical skills, but most criticism levied against him revolves around the subjects of his paintings. In his book, “Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics,” Frederic Spotts says: “Like most amateurs, he began by painting simple landscapes. With neither innate originality nor professional training, he went on to imitate the watercolors and prints of the south German school and the postcard scenes — everyday urban views that were popular at the time.... Moreover, he had to paint the sort of thing that an unknown and untalented amateur might be able to sell, and that was inexpensive reproductions of familiar places” (p. 125). I feel I could not have said it better myself. His paintings lack originality and inspiration. Furthermore, later on in the book, Spotts asks a modern art critic to review Hitler’s pieces without being told who painted them. To paraphrase, he said that he thought the paintings were good but noted that the noticeably different way he drew human beings showed a “profound disinterest in people.”
Hitler’s War on Modern Art
During the 1930s, there was a huge overlap in art and politics spearheaded by modern artist, George Grosz. Grosz was a political communist working in Berlin. He used his art to spread his ideas, criticize those in power, and mock Adolf Hitler. Naturally, when Hitler decided to wage war on modern art, Grosz was enemy number one. Grosz himself was able to escape the Nazis, but his art was confiscated from museums, along with the pieces of many other modern artists. These pieces were put on display in Hitler’s “Degenerate Art Exhibition.” Hitler, after giving up on art, seemingly came back to seek a bizarre revenge on those who didn’t, those who made it. Hitler had always copied the works of nineteenth-century artists such as Rudolf von Alt. One can assume that after never succeeding through his style, it was probably mind-boggling to him to see artists who could pursue a career in what they loved, painting whatever they wanted. These artists who broke the rules were praised and rightfully so. They broke boundaries and influenced the future of art and art history, something Hitler could never do. This fascist-style revenge shows a true insecurity behind him, at least for me.
The Steve Bannon Comparison
Despite Godwin’s Law, it’s to my understanding that this comparison has not really been properly discussed. I was talking to my therapist about writing this article and she drew a comparison between Steve Bannon and Adolf Hitler through the “failed artisan to facist pipeline.” I could give you the 9,000-word description on who Steve Bannon is, but I’d prefer to just say that he was a former White House Political Strategist under former president Donald Trump. He has been described as a fascist, he doesn’t like being called a fascist, he is a fascist. Before then, he was also a screenwriter, making many films, some small, some notable. Most of them were conservative propaganda, made to defame democratic candidates, such as Barack Obama, and praise Republican ones, such as Ronald Reagan. Bannon made many films but all of these have been overshadowed by his politics, the evil he harbors, and how he chose to portray himself. It is very interesting but also tragic to see the way that people who have the ability to create will use the art they create, not to achieve creative greatness, but to harm others. Anti-immigration films and Nazi propaganda are an ever-relevent evil within the creative world.
Are Hitler’s paintings absolutely terrible? No. As someone who likes to create, I will never feel inclined to discourage someone from becoming an artist. Art is subjective. and maybe the few people that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the pieces saw something in them that I didn’t.
I’ve refrained from ever using the word “artist” to directly reference Hitler. It’s because he’s not an artist. An artist doesn’t just create, they innovate. Artists change the meta of their entire industry. If you can put paint on paper, you’re a painter, but it takes a lot more to be an artist. Hitler could be considered an artisan. He can make ‘things’ but he has shown that he lacks the ability to creatively innovate. Hitler is not an artist, and it’s important to remember that he, above all else, was a killer.
I will never claim to be an incredibly politically involved person, I’m just someone who hates Hitler and loves art.