Author's Note: The article below appeared in its entirety in the September, 1998 issue of Military Trader, Vol 5 Issue 9. For subscription information write Traderpubs@aol.com Please tell them Charles Snyder referred you from his website.
"The paintings in the collections I bought over the years were never acquired for private purposes, but always exclusively for the establishment of an art gallery in my native town of Linz. It is my heartfelt desire that this legacy be fulfilled." (1) -- Adolf Hitler, from his Last Will and Testament, April 29, 1945.
One area of militaria collecting gaining significant interest is the acquisition of the artworks of the leaders of World War Two. It is not a coincidence that three of the people destined to be world leaders were all artists to some degree or another. Traditional psychology asserts one of the three areas that define intelligence is visiospatial analysis; the ability to render what you see into another medium. Winston S. Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Adolf Hitler all left behind substantial numbers of their original artwork, in essence, a portion of their genius.
In the cases of Churchill and Eisenhower, both survived long enough to be able to validate and authenticate their art, usually by means of a letter, or seeing their art presented to the public in published volumes dedicated to their work.
In the case of Adolf Hitler, the only authentication is by third parties. Hitler himself went through the effort to have many of his original pieces of art found, with the intention of displaying them in a wing of the Führermuseum in his adopted hometown of Linz on the Danube in Austria. As events would have it, his preoccupation with taking over the world interfered with his reacquisition of his early art.
One question that seems to come immediately to people's minds is: How did Hitler's art come to be available at all? Hitler had sold all of his early art to support himself and two roommates -- Gustl Kubizek from February 23 to August 28, 1908 and Reinhold Hanisch from February 9, 1909 to August 5, 1910 -- in the years preceding his military service in World War One.
In 1935, Hitler embarked on one of his most ambitious non-war related projects, codename Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Assignment Linz). It involved establishing Linz, Austria as the art capitol of Europe and stripping Vienna of that distinction. Whether this was for spite or simply his way of acknowledging his adopted hometown isn't clear. It is interesting to note that one of Hitler's first official functions was the dedication of an art gallery depicting a variety of artworks, past and present.(2)
In 1935, the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) was tasked to recover as many of Hitler's paintings as possible, by whatever means necessary. Most were acquired at a cost of 5,000 - 6,000 Reichsmarks each. (The average month's pay for a young bureaucrat in those days was 200 RM). At the time, the German Reichsmark was valued at four to the US dollar. Hitler was particularly interested in locating "Those he had done earlier -- from 1905 to 1908, in 1922, and in the Landsberg Prison in 1924 -- were particularly prized by Hitler."(3)
In 1936, Hitler tasked Herr Schulte Stratthaus of the German Embassy in Vienna to reacquire his works for whatever it cost to buy them back from those who owned them. The art was carefully catalogued in the archives in the Braune Haus and stored in the bunkers in the tunnels below the Platterhof Hotel. Here, too, were many crates containing artifacts and valuables, correspondence, and other personal effects for which there was no immediate need.(4)
There have been a number of articles written about Hitler's art, some by people who did less than adequate research, or perhaps simply writing what they were told "by word of mouth." References to them are included in this article, not because they support the known facts, but because they include insights that are of value in the analysis of his art.
One article, written for a popular Sunday newspaper supplement, examines four watercolors, formerly in the custody of the US Army Office of the Chief of Military History, which stated the paintings are "conservatively estimated to be worth at least one million dollars."(5) This is doubtful at best and pure fantasy at worst. It certainly has no basis in auction prices -- then or now. The prices the NSDAP paid (when they paid) in the 1930s were remarkably close to current values -- or retail prices -- even before adjusting for inflation. The primary value of that magazine article is that there are several photographs of the paintings, which are helpful for comparison purposes. The four watercolors shown in the article would realistically bring around 100 thousand dollars for the lot. Perhaps between 25 and 50 thousand dollars each, at auction, depending on the vagaries and whimsy of the bidders.
Perhaps the best piece the US Army owned was the original of the print shown in the 1935 Adolf Hitler printed by Göring's cigarette company, Cigaretten-Bilderdienst Hamburg-Bahrenfeld.It is pictured on page 71 of that book.(6) This painting is reported as one of the original works Hitler submitted to the Vienna Academy of Art as a part of his entrance examination.
According to records in the former Central Archives of the NSDAP, Federal Archives, Koblenz, NS 26/32, in May of 1938, one watercolor (Grosses Standesamt) realized 6,000 marks ($1,500 US in 1938 dollars) and another watercolor (Peterskirche) realized 8,000 marks ($2,000 US)(7)
In 1942, the Ministry of the Interior declared Hitler's art as 'works of art of National importance.' They were thus subject to registration and could not be sold abroad without the express permission of the Minister of the Interior. One watercolor Altes Hofbraühaus, with a communication to this effect dated 16 February 1942, was offered for sale in 1970 for 30,000 marks (over $10,000 US dollars in 1970).(8)
A realized auction price of $36,000.00 for a typical medium-sized (9-½ inch by 12-½ inch) Hitler aquarelle was reported on January 2nd 1988 in the Reading (PA) Eagle.(9)
A 1959 letter written by James Birchfield of The Evening Star-The Sunday Star (Washington, DC) states "... a few years ago a National magazine had a piece on Hitler's art, and declared that a Hitler painting might bring as much as $20,000 on the open market." (10)
The New Haven (CT) Register of December 3rd 1987 reported a sale of a 1911 Hitler watercolor landscape for a realized price of $8,300.00 at auction.(11)
One large collection of Hitler paintings, most with Peter Jahn authentications, is currently being offered for sale in Michigan. Approximately 18 paintings are represented in that collection with an average asking price in excess of $50,000 each. Several of these pieces have been already sold for undisclosed amounts.
The most realistic values are those seen on works of his that are original, authentic and offered for public sale. Watercolors of the Vienna era typically run from 5 to 9 thousand dollars for postal sizes, to 50,000 or more for the larger pieces, depending on content, signature, postmark (if mailed), size, authentication, and presentation.
The contention Hitler only painted 300 paintings in his lifetime is also completely inaccurate. By Hitler's own accounting, he painted between one and three watercolors a day during his Vienna years. If one assumes he painted only one painting a day, and only three days a week, then the minimum number he would have painted would be six hundred, which is remarkably close to Hitler's own recollection of "over a thousand."(12)
Another story asserts Hitler ordered Martin Bormann, his personal secretary, to destroy his paintings. Hitler was convinced to the end that he would be able to escape Berlin in time to get to Obersalzberg. Bormann was with him the whole time, so there was neither opportunity nor motive to destroy what Hitler spent money, time, effort and energy to reacquire, catalog and archive in the Braune Haus and at Obersalzberg. It's conceivable the assertion he ordered his paintings to be destroyed was a ploy to create an artificially high market value for his work.
Far from being ashamed of his painting, he was fond of giving them as gifts to people he thought appreciated his work."Apparently in his more expansive and generous moods Hitler would present his favourites with paintings from among those he kept for himself. Göring, Himmler, and even Mussolini were favoured in this way." (13)
Peter Jahn, perhaps one of the foremost experts on Hitler's art, said he had two interviews with Hitler. Hitler said in the six years he spent in Vienna and Munich "from 1908 to 1914, he produced over a thousand paintings, a few of them in oils." (14) Jahn was one of the original people assigned by Schulte Stratthaus, before Hitler annexed Austria in 1937. Stratthaus had been appointed by Hitler in 1936 to locate and buy any of the paintings Hitler had painted from 1907-1912, and 1921-1922. Jahn spent nearly four years tracking down Hitler's early works until he was called into military service. (15)
Peter Jahn's story is fascinating. His own words tell the story best.
In 1937, I became Art Consultant to the German Embassy in Vienna and was asked by the Chief Executive, Botschaftstat (Baronet) von Stein, to start a search for Hitler paintings in Vienna. Baronet von Stein had been in the diplomatic service for a long time, and while he was alive, we were in contact with each other.
In the above mentioned connection, I worked in close cooperation with Dr. Lehmann of the Völkischer Beobachter in Vienna, with Dr. Schulte Stratthaus as well as Dr. Detig who at that time was correspondent of the Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung. Up to 1941, I discovered many of Hitler's paintings and handed them over to the Braune Haus.(16)
How does a collector determine if an artwork represented as an original Hitler is authentic?
A letter written in 1959 by Colonel D. G. Gilbert, Chief of Historical Service Division of the Office of the Chief of Military History to LTC Richard F. Taylor, HQ KMAG, states the problem in simple terms."The best means of authenticating any painting is to compare it to recognized works of the probable artist, or to obtain an opinion from someone who is familiar with the artist's signature, style and technique." Colonel Gilbert was the custodian of the four Hitler paintings then in the Army's possession.(17)
Note that even in the thirties, there were forgeries and copies of his work, some of which Hitler ordered destroyed.
A note from Heinrich Himmler made in 1942, refers to several possible forgeries: "The three supposed watercolors by the hand of the Führer...were destroyed today by my order after indication by the Führer in a letter." It is believed Bormann did not destroy the three forgeries, but rather kept them, along with almost 20 others. They eventually ended up in the hands of Gerda Bormann, who later gave them to an Italian, Rodolfo Siviero, before she died in 1946. The paintings still reside in Italy, the property of the government.(18)
Also helpful, but very difficult to find, is a period collection of seven color lithographs assembled by Heinrich Hoffman, Reichsbildberichterstatter (Official State photographer) of the NSDAP. These are authorized reproductions of World War One paintings made by Hitler from 1914 to 1917.
The lecturer, Hermann Nasse, of the Academy of Fine Arts, München, writes of these particular paintings (translated from the German):
The painting 'Dressing Station, Fromelles' belongs to the year 1915. It is rendered in light, sparkling pigment and the buildings with their overhanging eaves are depicted in the most delicate shades and gradations of colour. The watercolor 'Haubourdin' of 1916 is truly entrancing. Seen through the eyes of a German painter, the foreign landscape is experienced as something intimate, familiar and animate, indeed even poetic. One is as if transported to the walls of Nuremberg or Rothenburg. The painting here is exceptionally easy, fluid and full of movement. His superb pencil drawing 'Ardoyle in Flanders' belongs to the summer of 1917. Besides these dated pictures there are two undated ones, 'Dugout at Tournes' and 'House with a White Fence". All these pieces betray the h and of a trained and naturally gifted architect. The master builder of the Third Reich puts to shame the Vienna Academy of that day. What moves us is the genuine German sense of dedication, upright, honest and loving, both to the whole and to every minutest detail." (19)
Billy F. Price, a Texas oil magnate, has compiled information on hundreds of pieces of Hitler's original art, traveling the world seeking out examples of his work.(20) He wrote what is considered the best single source book of Hitler watercolors, Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist. His book has many color plates with detailed descriptions of many of Hitler's works, and a concise history of his artistic career.
What does one look for to distinguish Hitler's art? Regarding his style there are four things to key on, fairly easy to see, once they have been pointed out.
First, notice the treatment of the sky, if present. If there is sky apparent, compare it with known authentic examples. In most of his work, Hitler is well known for his propensity to depict the sky as a roiling -- almost living -- entity. His work was heavily influenced by Rudolf von Alt (1812-1905), and copied his style of active, moody skies."...a prominent watercolorist of the late 19th century, [von Alt] was one of Hitler's favorites: "my teacher," as he [Hitler] said. He adopted Alt's preference for realistic, detailed scenes done in delicate tones, and precisely copied Alt's typically cloudy skies." (21)
Second, note plant life, especially leaves on trees. Leaves are typically daubed and dappled in with little regard for accuracy or realism, often used to "frame" the subject, which is usually architectural. Hitler usually painted in a traditional style: "His typical landscapes, city scenes and still lifes all clearly indicate how completely he was captivated by conventional forms of expression." And "His intense fascination with architecture was reflected in his numerous drawings of houses, churches, public buildings and city scenes."(22)
Third, notice the perspectives. Architectural perspectives are rendered with extreme precision, with almost loving attention to detail; however, people and animals are out of proportion, poorly articulated, and vastly out of scale with the backgrounds. Figures are rendered with wanton disregard for anatomy or accurate animation. This is the primary reason he was rejected by the Vienna School of Fine Arts: "Test drawing unsatisfactory." (23)
Fourth, colors. Most are muted and very traditional in application. This is perhaps the most difficult quality to nail down. Hitler was contracted to paint frame-fillers, art used to sell a frame in a framing store. Occasionally, he took outside commissions where he was required to match a certain color scheme or decor. Again, comparison is your only accurate objective guide.
The discussion of the signature was left apart from the discussion of the art, as it is a subject unto itself. Hitler had many variations of his signature, sometimes printed, as noted on his early Vienna works, sometimes script, sometimes merely block initials, or stylized initials. There are literally dozens of variations. This is not particularly unusual, especially in an artist. The signature is a vanity, and as time passes, it takes on a life of its own. In time, Hitler's scrawled squiggle was perfected into the instantly recognizable form most associate with him. The "lightning bolt" signature Hitler used on documents is rarely seen on his art, unless it was of an official nature.
There are drawings extant which have his "autograph" signature, but many are suspect, attributed to the infamous forger of the Hitler diaries. On the other hand, there are many signed and unsigned drawings that came from the personal collection of Albert Speer, which are genuine.
One surviving sketch is a quick concept drawing of the German Pavilion for the 1942 World's Fair as envisioned by Hitler and conveyed to Albert Speer for his notes.
It was acquired from the collection of Dr. Albert Speer, with an accompanying certificate of authenticity signed by Dr. Speer, dated 1981. The sketch is listed as "20. Ausstellung Rom, Nürnberg Febr. 1939."
The majority of surviving pieces from Hitler's early years were postcards and frame-fillers, usually quickly painted -- at the rate of one to three each day he painted -- and sold for an average of nine Kronen apiece. "There was a market for postcard-sized paintings to be sold in taverns or to art dealers, who acquired them not so much for their artistic value as for filling empty frames." Hitler's monthly rent was twelve Kronen, and his monthly expenses rarely exceeded thirty Kronen.(24)
His larger paintings went for more -- upwards of forty Kronen -- for works he was contracted to do (Kronen were approximately four to the US dollar, at that time).
In 1911, he inherited 4,000 Kronen. This was so much money; he gave up his orphan's pension to his sister to assist her in raising his niece. While the early years were doubtless lean at times, he was not nearly as destitute as he indicates in Mein Kampf.
The photograph shown is of a Hitler original sketch of the Linz skyline (34.0 cm by 25.0 cm) A pencil on linen textured paper sketch signed "Adolf Hitler" and dated "1908" of the Vienna period.
This drawing depicts the skyline of Linz, as viewed from the Urfahr suburbs across the Danube River in a landscape orientation. The bridge, castle, and cathedral, as well as other prominent landmarks of the time are drawn in excellent detail. This particular scene, from this vantage point is described: "Although Linz resembled a large market town with seven or eight stately buildings to testify to its medieval magnificence, it was the cultural center of Upper Austria. A bridge across the Danube led to the suburb of Urfahr, which lay in the shadow of a small mountain called the Postlingberg. From the mountaintop there unfolded a wonderful panorama of the city and the surrounding plains. It was a view that the young dilettante [Hitler] especially admired." (25) And, "A handful of his architectural drawings made at that time have survived, and they show that he was capable of extraordinarily bold designs...." (26)
Further, in a 1908 letter from Adolf Hitler to a friend, Gustl Kubizek, he asks ".... Would you be so good as to buy for me a copy of "Guide to the Danube City of Linz," not the Wöhrl, but the actual Linz one published by Krakowitzer. On the cover there is a picture of a girl from Linz, and in the background there is Linz seen from the Danube with the bridge and the castle...." (27)
Payne speculates from this letter that Hitler was continuing to work on his plans for the reconstruction of Linz, and that Hitler continued to maintain an interest in this city enough to spend 60 Kronen for this guidebook, not an insignificant sum of money in those early days.(28)
Hitler apparently never outgrew his fascination for painting and sketching the city of Linz. Frau Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's three female Reichs Chancellory secretaries, recalled he did "countless sketches" of Linz.(29)
The photograph shown is of the Hitler original The Rotterdam Cathedral. (31.6 x 42.1 cm) An aquarelle (watercolor) signed "A Hitler" and dated "1913" of the Munich period in a portrait orientation depicting a view of the Rotterdam Cathedral showing the streets bustling with early morning activity. Compare the improvement in style and content to the Linz drawing done five years earlier.
Original mounting on cardboard, a small tear, repaired long ago, approximately 12 cm from the bottom, 11 cm in from the left edge, and 4 cm long. It is barely noticeable to the unaided eye and does not detract. There is evidence of framing on the mat, and at the very edges of the painting.
Peter Jahn recalls Hitler favored church views, as they were particularly easy to sell.(30) Jahn also remembered that Hitler used to sell church paintings to wedding parties outside the church.(31)
It was most likely painted in München after May 26th, 1913, when Hitler moved into the Josef Popp residence at 34/III Schleissheimerstrasse.
Frau Popp in an interview several years later recalled "He began his painting straight away and stuck to his work for hours. In a couple of days I saw two lovely pictures finished and lying on the table, one of the cathedral and the other of the Theatinerkirche. After that my lodger [Hitler] used to go out early of a morning with his portfolio under his arm in search of customers." (32)
There is little doubt this is one of the Munich paintings, since Hitler did not paint during 1913 prior to his move to Munich. Munich paintings are much rarer than Vienna paintings, as Hitler was not inclined to actively seek them out in his search of his old works. He spent a little more than a year painting -- from May 1913 to August 1914 -- before he volunteered for the Bavarian military service
The authentication of art is a skill that takes a lifetime to learn. There is little I can offer in a short article other than the very rudimentary basics. Your best guide is your instinct and constant study of his known work. In the end, you need to feel confident of the work, as it stands, regardless of the source or the story that accompanies the art. While apocryphal stories abound regarding the "discovery" of a Hitler original at a garage sale, flea market, or that notorious "little old lady from Germany," your best bet is an authenticated and certified piece. That is what distinguishes an amateur watercolor from The Real Deal.
Charles Snyder has been buying and selling original Adolf Hitler artworks for over 25 years. He bought his first Hitler painting from Peter Jahn in 1972. Since then, he has bought and sold nearly 50 original pieces. His current collection includes of 16 paintings -- one of the largest single collections in the US -- liberated from Berchtesgaden, Obersalzberg, in May 1945 by a US Army paratrooper. These paintings and other items will be featured in his forthcoming book Treasure Trove: The Looting of the Third Reich.
(1) The Private Lives of Eva and Adolf by Glenn B. Infield ©1974,1978 Grosset and Dunlap, New York, page 130
(2) Art in the Third Reich by Berthold Hinz © 1974, 1979 Pantheon Books, New York, page 6
(3) Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist by Billy F. Price, ©1984 Billy F. Price Publishing, page 16
(4) The Linz File: Hitler's Plunder of Europe's Artby Charles de Jaeger ©1981 Webb and Bower (Publishers) Ltd. Exeter, England, page 152
(5) The Classic Collector, volume 1 Issue 2 Winter 1973, "Hitler as an Amateur Painter" by Oscar Hogan
(6) Adolf Hitler: Bilder aus dem Leben des Führers, herausgegeben vom Cigaretten/Bilderdienst Hambug/Bahrenfeld © 1936, F.A. Brackhaus, Leipzig
(7) Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, as translated by Ralph Mannheim, 1969, London
(8) Adolf Hitler:Legende Mythos Wirklichkeit ©1971 Werner Maser as translated by Peter and Betty Ross, Harper & Row, New York 1974, page 53 and footnote page 359
(9) Article in Reading (PA) Eagle January 2nd 1988.
(10) Correspondence between LTC Taylor, HQ KMAG, APO 102 San Francisco and James Birchfield The Evening Star-The Sunday Star (Washington, DC) dated February 2, 1959
(11) New Haven (CT) Register Thursday, 3 December 1987, page 19. Compiled from news services.
(12) The Linz File: Hitler's Plunder of Europe's Artby Charles de Jaeger ©1981 Webb and Bower (Publishers) Ltd. Exeter, England, page 161
(13) The Linz File: Hitler's Plunder of Europe's Artby Charles de Jaeger ©1981 Webb and Bower (Publishers) Ltd. Exeter, England, page 162
(14) The Linz File: Hitler's Plunder of Europe's Artby Charles de Jaeger ©1981 Webb and Bower (Publishers) Ltd. Exeter England, page 161
(15) The Linz File: Hitler's Plunder of Europe's Artby Charles de Jaeger ©1981 Webb and Bower (Publishers) Ltd. Exeter England, page 163
(16) Statement by Peter Jahn dated 22 August, 1985 Vienna, Austria
(17) Correspondence between LTC Taylor, HQ KMAG, APO 102 San Francisco and James Birchfield The Evening Star-The Sunday Star (Washington, DC) dated February 2, 1959
(18) The Washington Post Parade Magazine Sunday, January 29, 1989 "The Strange Journey of Hitler's Watercolors" by Iris Love.
(19) Nasse, Die Neue Literatur. 1936, page 736 cit. Wulf, Die Bildenden Künste in Dritten Reich, page 241.
(20) The Houston (TX)Post Thursday, February 16, 1989 , page A-8
(21) Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist by Billy F. Price, Billy F. Price Publishing Company ©1984, page 8
(22) Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist by Billy F. Price, Billy F. Price Publishing Company ©1984. pages 7-8
(23) Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist by Billy F. Price, Billy F. Price Publishing Company ©1984, page 7
(24) The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by Robert Payne ©1973 Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York, page 85 and 88
(25) The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by Robert Payne ©1973 Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York, page 44
(26) The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by Robert Payne ©1973 Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York, page 45
(27) An excerpt from a letter from A. Hitler to August (Gustl) Kubizek, dated 21 July 1908. Cit.The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by Robert Payne ©1973 Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York.
(28) The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by Robert Payne ©1973 Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York, page 75
(29) Voices from the Bunker by Pierre Galante and Eugène Silianoff ©1989 Doubleday, New York, page 70
(30) The Linz File: Hitler's Plunder of Europe's Artby Charles de Jaeger ©1981 Webb and Bower (Publishers) Ltd. Exeter, England, page 162
(31) Interview of Peter Jahn by Charles Snyder, Vienna, Austria, 1983
(32) Germany's Hitler Heinz A. Heinz ©1934 Hurst and Blackett, London, page 50