Case Study    
  "Portrait of Adolf Hitler"
by Heinrich Knirr
1938 After Treatment
  A Re-Examination  
A re-examination of the details within the treated 1938 painting offers opportunities to understand Knirr's artistic methodology and the iconology of the painted elements. The "225" centimeter stretcher stamp on each long side does not correspond to the actual length of the painting. The painting is approximately 3/4" shorter than this, measuring 87 3/4", not 88 1/2". As recorded, the stretcher was labeled for proper re-assembly. The instructions though on the outside short members have been cut off signifying the stretcher was cut down. It seems unlikely that it was cut to reduce the visual awareness of the unpainted border for raw canvas is still visible. The change may have been due to accommodate a size-specific hanging location.

Top Left

Bottom Right
    Medals/Tie Pin    
In all of Knirr's military portraits of Hitler he is painted wearing the Iron Cross and the Black War Wound Badge, although in the 1935 and 1936 images they are not clearly visible. In the 1936 non-military portrait they are absent. In the treated painting the small tie pin is a highly stylized version of the design for the Nazi party parade banner. The same design is partially visible as a decoration on Hitler's hand-held hat. The below representations offer a comparison between the painted image and the original.(27)

Iron Cross

Black War Wound Badge

Tie Pin

Original Iron Cross

Original War Wound Badge
Original Tie Pin

Lower Right Flowers
The use of flowers in a portrait painting is a normal artistic device to suggest or symbolize human traits. The lily is characteristically used throughout Christian painting to represent purity or innocence. The carnation, or pink, is a symbol of love or motherly love. It often appears in Northern Renaissance paintings as a representation of fidelity. Flower images are normally not casual inclusions within a painting. Knirr places several flowers in the painting's lower right corner. High-resolution images of these flowers were sent to three botanical sources for identification. For good reason not one of the sources could identify the flower. Dr. Susanne Resser, Director of Munich's Botanical Garden stated, "I am fairly confident this is an imaginary plant...The plant is certainly no native central-European species...(and) the leaves along the stem look unreal."(28) This "identification" as an imaginary formula plant is in keeping with Knirr's overall artistic instincts.
Signatures can never be used as conclusive evidence to determine a painting's originality. They can be added to the painting for a variety of reasons from direct knowledge of a family member to criminal intent. Under microscope examination, it was easily determined that Knirr's signature was original to the painting. Oil paint cracks as it ages. These cracks, called the crackle pattern or craquelure, are used to differentiate an older original layer from later additions or restorations. The cracks in the Knirr signature were consistent with the original paint layer. Comparison to known signatures helps determine authenticity. A comparison with the 1935 signature clearly reveals the two are both from the hand of Heinrich Knirr.(29)

Knirr München 1935

Knirr 1938
Most artists use an underdrawing to apply the initial composition. In Northern Renaissance panel paintings this was often done in silverpoint. Renaissance fresco artists used a "cartoon" to transfer the intended image to the wet plaster while Vermeer's use of the camera obscura has been well documented. Close examination of the Knirr figure reveals a thin blue contour line. This line is predominately obscured by the paint layer but is clearly visible near the ear, neck, and in scattered areas where the form of the figure comes into contact with the sky and landscape. The below images document Knirr's preparatory drawing technique.

Ear/Neck-Sky Edge

Coat-Landscape Edge

Boot-Landscape Edge
The overall character of the painting is reminiscent of earlier images where Knirr relied on photos to provide the "underdrawing." There is a resulting stiffness and coldness to the figure. One never expects Hitler to move from his petrified position. Knirr's contour line for the profile suggests the use of a transfer technique to apply the drawing to the canvas. These techniques always produce a flattened image for the artist is not working from life and accounts for the discomforting similarity in previous portraits where Knirr used the same pose. A review of his Hitler portrait from 1939 reinforces this conclusion.
(27) Representations of original images courtesy of and
(28) The images were sent to the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, Glencoe, Illinois and the Munich Botanical Gardens, Munich, Germany. Quote received in September 7, 2004 e-mail.
(29) The 1935 signature was provided from the collection of Professor Randy Bytwerk, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Professor Bytwerk owns an original print of the painting reproduced for an April 1936 issue of the Illustrierter Beobachter, the Nazi weekly illustrated magazine. The painting though was completed in 1935. Professor Bytwerk feels the signature may say "H. Knirr" but due to the calligraphic style of Knirr's handwriting a definitive answer is not possible at this time.
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