Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Paintings by Adolf Hitler Auctioned

An auction of paintings attributed to the German dictator Adolf Hitler was recently held. Bidders from around the world entered the Jefferys auctioneer's premises in Cornwall in the hopes of purchasing one of the pieces. The paintings, which were found in an attic, sold for very high prices. (21 paintings were sold.)

There has been much controversy over the issue of Adolf Hitler and his art. Some feel that art played a major role in his bitterness (due to his failure to 'make it' as an artist himself.)and that it helped him to plan his rise to power. Others feel that his art took a back-burner and that it did not play a role in the decisions he made during his rule over Germany. However, auctions of his work are not the only source of this debate.

A firestorm of debate occured when the movie "Max" (2002) was released in theatres. The movie was loosely based on Hitlers struggle as an aspiring artist and touted the slogan 'Art + Politics = Power'. The film depicted Hitler in a very 'human' manner which caused the film to recieve much critisim since history views him as a 'monster'.

Many feared that people would have sympathy for Hitler upon viewing the film. Thus, the debate over the importance of his art, in regards to his actions, was further fueled.

I recently contacted Dr. Robert Kunath, a professor of history, about this very issue. The following is some highlights of that discussion. Dr. Kunath tried to explain how Hitler's views on art may have played a role in how he designed his rule.

"I've done a good deal of work on the subject of how the Nazis understood art. Hitler's own art was pretty mediocre and the interest in it today is because he produced it, not because it is regarded as especially impressive. Indeed, Hitler himself said that his artistic talent really wasn't in painting, but rather in architecture.

Hitler's architecture was gargantuan, and not to the modern taste, but he did have a certain talent for organizing shapes in space. The best evidence of that is the massive Nazi rallies, which Hitler planned meticulously. In that sense, I think Hitler did see art as a vital force in politics.

The first major building project begun after Hitler came to power was the "House of German Art" in Munich, and the speech he gave there lays out an artistic program in some detail. There was also the Nazi's sustained effort to wipe out modern art in Germany.

Hitler's primary political vision was based in racism, but he also believed that the best proof of racial superiority was cultural excellence. Hitler defined that cultural excellence by the standards of the past, so he wanted buildings in the Greco-Roman style, and paintings following in the tradition of the old masters and the 19th century genre painters.

There's a pretty good documentary about art in Hitler's political world-view: it's called "The Architecture of Doom" and it makes some very interesting connections between Hitler's vision of art and his plans for conquest and mass murder. I think the movie (Max) is wrong to suggest that art was a driving force of Hitler's ideology--Darwinian racism was the foundation--but art was an important component.

One book that you might find useful on this subject is Frederick Spotts' _Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics_, which considers both Hitler's art and his views on the power of art in politics and society. There's also a very good article by O. K. Werckmeister called _Hitler the Artist_ in the magazine _Critical Inquiry_ . There has also been a lot written about Hitler and music--his love of Wagner, for example, which is very interesting because Wagner was a true musical genius, and also a poisonous hater of Jews." - Dr. Robert Kunath

So as you can observe, there are a lot of opinions about Hitler and his art. Does it really matter if we know just how art may have played a role in his wave of destruction? Is it important so that we may have a better understanding of how one man could cause so much strife? Should Hitler be observed for his human-side within the context of his monster-like actions? Does it matter? What do you think about his artwork recieving so much money when many talented artists of greater skill can barely sell one painting? Discuss.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Balhatain said...

What do you think about the people who say that his artwork should be destroyed?

There have been always been rumors about people buying his art simply to burn it.

Anonymous said...

compared with the modern rubbish
that passes as art ,dead animals
and piles of bricks which makes a fortune for untalented con artists
hitler contribution to the art world is of no less value and some of his paintings are quite good

Anonymous said...

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- Norman