Case Study    
  "Portrait of Adolf Hitler"
by Heinrich Knirr
After Treatment
  Art Historical Considerations  
    Hitler and Art    
Hitler's interest in art began at an early age for he was always drawing and sketching. He was determined to be an artist. In October of 1907, at the age of 18, he moved to Vienna with the hopes of entering the Vienna Academy of Arts. He was denied entry. He re-applied the following year only to be denied again. He was told by the school's rector that he should consider being an architect although he never applied for entrance to the School of Architecture.(9) For the next four years he continued to live in Vienna often supporting himself at odd jobs and selling watercolors of well-known Viennese landmarks. (10)

Adolf Hitler "Landscape" 1919
H. 30 cm. X W. 22 cm. Watercolor

Adolf Hitler Karlskirche,Wien 1908-1913
H. 7 cm. X W. 5 cm. Watercolor
To the end Hitler considered himself "an artist." With dictatorial control he governed the art world under the Third Reich. He assisted in designing many of the large-scale building projects for Berlin, Nuremberg and Munich. His hand was everywhere. Hitler had no love for "modern art." and considered it "degenerate." He wanted to purify Germany of these influences. He felt that art should be beautiful, uplifting and easily understood by the masses. He perceived that the spiritual nature of art was rooted in the Aryan character based on the traditions of the "Classical Ideal." In the end, his perception of the aesthetic as propaganda resulted in the demise of artistic creativity.
    Heinrich Hoffmann    
The link between Heinrich Hoffmann (1885-1957) and Knirr is at the heart of this historical review and is crucial to our understanding of the representations of Knirr's portraits of Hitler. In 1906, Hoffmann studied drawing with Knirr at his private school in Munich. Photography, though, was Hoffmann's first love. He served his apprenticeship in his father's well-established photography studio and went on to study in England from 1907 to 1909. Later he became one of the seven German war photographers during WWI. After the war, he returned to Munich and set up his own studio where Eva Braun, Hitler's future companion and wife, was one of his assistants. Hoffmann met Hitler in 1922. He became Hitler's appointed photographer and was the only man permitted to photograph Hitler for many years.(11) Hoffmann understood the mass appeal of photography and used his skills to develop a god-like classic imagery of the Führer. It was Hoffmann who Hitler appointed to initially jury the works of art for the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung, The Great German Art Exhibit.
  The Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung  
In order to exhibit his ideal of German Art, Hitler collaborated with the Munich architect Paul Ludwig Troost. Together they designed and built the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, The House of German Art. The austere pseudoclassical structure was intended to showcase yearly exhibits of "approved" art. The initial exhibition opened on July 18, 1937. In a speech delivered on that day Hitler stated, "Works of art that cannot be understood but need a swollen set of instructions to prove their right to exist...will no longer openly reach the German nation. With the opening of this exhibition has come the end of artistic lunacy..."(12)
The final selection of the exhibition pieces is well detailed by Hitler's press chief, Otto Dietrich, in his biography of Hitler. "Every year Hitler appointed Heinrich Hoffmann as his preliminary examiner... The works he considered worthy to be looked upon by the Fuehrer were then taken upstairs to the exhibition rooms and provisionally hung so Hitler himself could judge them... (He) would let fall one personal opinion after the next upon the paintings, thereby deciding the fate of the artists...The things he liked would be exhibited; what he rejected was second-rate, and therefore the artist was also second-rate."(13) Hitler appointed himself judge and jury over the exhibit. It was his exhibit and his exhibit alone.

The Haus der Deutschen Kunst
The House of German Art

Hitler at the
Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung
  Artistic Environment  
Each year the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung chose one portrait of Hitler as the "official exhibition portrait." From the hundreds of entries the chosen image and artist gained considerable distinction throughout Germany. The risks of entry were also very real. As stated in a Nazi publication, "The Leader is the highest gift to the Nation. He is the German fulfillment. An artist who wants to render The Leader must be more than an artist. The entire German Folk and German eternity will stand silently in front of this work, filled with emotions to gain strength from it today and for all times. Holy is the art and the call to serve the Folk. Only the best may dare to render The Leader."(14) It was this artistic environment that guided Knirr into a safety net.
(9) Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf. American Edition, 1971. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. p. 20.
(10) The following two images have been provided through the courtesy of and Mr. Charles Turner.
(11) Historical information taken from Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler was My Friend. London. Reprint. First published 1955.
(12) Shirer. Ibid. p. 244.
(13) Otto Dietrich Hitler 1955 Henry Regnery, Chicago. pp.190-191. These statements are corroborated in Hoffmann. Ibid.
(14) The Black Corps, June 19th, 1935, page 12. This was a weekly newspaper of the SS and one of the more "radical" of the Nazi publications.
  Table of Contents, Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5