F Logo search & site map      link resources
Features Regulars School News Reviews Calendar Comics


a literary

the next f




saic home



about fnews


Pleasant Paintings by Adolph Hitler?

A quaint courtyard scene of old Munich rendered in airy pastel colors. Trees to the left side, filled with leaves. Strong architectural detail of an 18th century structure that is undisturbed by the presence of human beings. Does this brief description sound like a possible rallying point for Nazism? The United States government thinks so.

In May 1945, American troops raided a German castle and found four watercolor paintings whose signatures, upon arriving at the U.S. Army's collection point in Munich, were identified as belonging to none other than Adolf Hitler.

Since then the U.S. government has maintained possession of the paintings, despite attempts by the heirs to have them returned, which has led to a series of lawsuits against the Army.

The pending conclusion of this legal battle over Hitler's watercolors and two archives of photographs documenting his reign of terror will end an 18-year legal fight that really began almost 60 years ago.

In an article published in the May 8, 2001, edition of The New York Times, William Honan summed up the Army's reasoning for not releasing Hitler's art, writing that the government alleges that the works have "such incendiary potential that they must be guarded from the gaze of all but screened experts."

The above image, "Street in Vienna" (1914), is representative of the type of sterile and idyllic representations of quaint Austrian villages that Hitler repeated over and over in his images. To some eyes this battle may seem strange since these pictures are sentimental depictions. But there is a debate that these pictures could be considered charming, and could cast the tyrant in a favorable light.

It is estimated that during the course of his life Hitler created between 2,000 and 3,000 drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings. The dictator's initial career path was to study fine arts in Austria and become a great artist. But his plans were dashed when he was rejected from the Institute of Fine Arts in Linz. Though Hitler continued to draw and paint, and sell his saccharine scenes to the public and as greeting cards, his career path obviously turned in a ghastly direction.

The history of the legal battle over Hitler's art presents an interesting issue in an era marked by battles over ownership of art looted during the Holocaust. Considering that these paintings were made by Hitler, does this battle over ownership present a double standard, given that many museums have begun returning paintings to their rightful European heirs in recent years?

While the answer to that question remains a difficult one, the history of the situation is an interesting one: Systematic looting of art in abandoned museums and hiding spots began even before the final fall of Germany. (Precious art objects had been hidden in caves, mine shafts, and basements.) In early 1945, after the fall of the Nazi regime, as the Allied forces began a joint attempt to put things back in order, millions of dollars worth of stolen war treasures were being looted every day; therefore, the Allied forces had to work swiftly to protect the art.

That same year, Time magazine correspondents looted thousands of photographs of Hitler and other Nazi officials from a castle and the U.S. Army also found a stash of photographs of Hitler (which were eventually used at the Nuremberg trials) in Bavaria. These two discoveries totaled more than 2.5 million photographs detailing Hitler's life, both public and private.

The watercolors and the photographs were owned by Heinrich Hoffman, a close friend of the Nazi dictator, and the only man who was allowed to photograph Hitler. Since Hitler had Hoffman accompany him everywhere during his reign of power, Hoffman amassed a collection that covers 25 years of German history. The watercolors, it should be noted, were personal gifts from Hitler to Hoffman throughout the 1930s and 1940s. During the Nuremberg trials, Hoffman was tried as a Nazi profiteer, found guilty, and sentenced to four years in prison. Upon his release, he began searching for the watercolors and photographs, but would not find them before his death in 1957.

In 1982, Hoffman's daughter, continuing the search, met Billy Price, a Nazi artifact collector from Texas who showed her an informational brochure from the U.S. Army depicting the watercolors. At that point, the Hoffman family gave their ownership rights of the works to Price, an American citizen, in the hopes that he could reclaim them from the U.S. government.

Since then the lawsuit has been through a series of trials and appeals. In 1983, the courts ruled in favor of Price, awarding him $7.8 million of the $99 million worth of damages which he sought, on the grounds that they found fault with the U.S. Army's contention that the paintings cast Hitler in a credible light.

The court released a statement saying that "...four architectural paintings which visually are noteworthy only for their precise rendition of 18th century structures could be 'rallying points for a possible revival of Nazism' is incredulous."

That decision was eventually overturned by the Texas Court of Appeals. In 1999, the district court in Washington D.C., where the case was moved, ruled in favor of the government. In August 2001, Price again lost in the D.C. courts. Price and the Hoffman heirs are now making their final attempts to appeal the case in order to regain possession of the watercolors and the 2.5 million photographs.

Return to top

Features      Regulars      School News      Reviews      Calendar      Comics

Current Issue      Archives      Home