Case Study    
  "Portrait of Adolf Hitler"
by Heinrich Knirr
After Treatment
  Knirr's Portraits of Hitler  
In late 1935 this Heinrich Hoffmann photo of Hitler first appeared.(15) The image was mass produced throughout Germany and portrayed Hitler in cool tones and a rigid pose. His right hand is placed on his hip, compositionally cut off at the elbow, while his left hand is strategically placed on a chair support. The overall composition would be more influenced by the Baroque parallelogram than the Renaissance triangle.  uversus Í. Draped in a non-descript background, Hitler coldly stares outward recalling the Westeker statement, "The hard eye of the Commander is like lightning or the flash from a bullet shot"(16) Hitler so approved of this image that it became the frontpiece for several of the yearly catalogs for the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung including the 1937 opening exhibit. This signed image is one of these frontpieces for the heading reads Der Schirmherr des Hauses der Deutschen Kunst, The Patron of the House of German Art. With this "stamp of approval," Hoffmann's influence on Heinrich Knirr is seen for the first time for in 1935-1936 he completed the following two images.(17)
Heinrich Hoffman
"Portrait. of Adolf Hitler" ca.1935

H. Knirr "Portrait of Adolf Hitler" 1935
Signed lower right Knirr München 1935
H. 39 1/4" X W. 28 1/4"
H. Knirr "Portrait of Adolf Hitler"
Unsigned and Undated.
Probably 1935 or1936
Hitler's acceptance of Hoffman's imagery became an artistic shield for Knirr. Down to the smallest folds in the coat he has faithfully recreated the Hoffmann image. Only the outward palette has been altered to offer a seemingly "different" painting. Paintings from photographs always produce a flattened image, for the artist is painting from a two-dimensional object rather than a three-dimensional form. The acceptance of Hoffmann's image would have created an instant market for Knirr and his instincts may have been as much in this direction as they were in the choice of the safe road.
It has been recorded that Knirr was the only artist ever to paint Hitler from life. Dietrich states, "It is no accident that all but one of the portraits of Hitler were copied from photographs. He sat for a portrait to only one painter, Professor Knirr, who came and stayed at Berchtesgaden for that purpose."(18) Berchtesgaden was a small town one-hundred miles from Munich where Hitler located his mountain-top Berghof retreat. I believe the below painting is the sole portrait from life of Adolf Hitler. The portrait may have been painted in the Berghof's dining room which was paneled in natural wood.(19) (20) Hitler appears more relaxed and life-like in contrast to the rigidity of the Hoffmann re-creations. The composition displays a painterly intent with the red roses on the left balanced by the green chair on the right.
Heinrich Knirr "Portrait of Adolf Hitler" 1936
H. 53 1/2" X W. 42" Signed and Dated Lower Left
In 1937 Knirr received the ultimate honor. The opening of the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung occurred on July 18 and Knirr's portrait of Hitler was chosen as the official portrait of the Führer.(21) Knirr's connection with Hoffmann, who juried the exhibit, and his personal relationship with Hitler certainly would have influenced this decision. Knirr's prestige at the event must have been considerable. The official portrait hung in Gallery 13 while two other images of Hitler by Knirr hung in Gallery 1.(22) The official portrait carried the subtitle: Adolf Hitler, der Schöpfer des Dritten Reiches und Erneuerer der deutschen Kunst," Hitler, the Creator of the Third Reich and Renewer of German Art. The author is not aware of the current location of this painting.
Heinrich Knirr "Portrait of Adolf Hitler" 1937
Official Portrait 1937 Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung
The portrait almost appears to be a mirror image of the 1935-1936 versions. Instead of his right hand on his hip it is his left. Similarly, instead of his left hand on a chair, it is his right. The earlier non-descript background now gives way to a formula sky. The small stream on the left clearly implies Hitler as the well-spring of life to both German art and the Reich. The portrait though carries the same stiffness and rigidity as seen in the earlier works after Hoffmann's photo. The hardened figure seems pasted against an artificial backdrop. While a photo original may not have survived the war, a second version of the painting, given Knirr's history, strongly suggests that both paintings were based on an earlier prototype.
While the official portrait hung in the museum, Knirr must have received requests for others. A second version, pictured below, corresponds to the "original" in both form and dress.(23) There is a mixture of changes and similarities though. Hitler is seen out of doors instead of on a balcony. His right hand is now supported by a rocky ledge instead of a chair but the drawing remains the same. This is also true for the left hand. Even the folds in the cloth remain consistent. The nondescript sky has been replaced with another nondescript sky. The foliage is similar although the upper right tree has been removed allowing the portrait to be more of a focal point. The Black Wound Badge is lighter in tone in the original.(24) The portraits themselves are slightly different but the overall effect is the same. The changes could easily have been the request of the patron.
"Portrait of Adolf Hitler" 1937
Official Portrait
1937 German Art Exhibit

"Portrait of Adolf Hitler"1937
Second Version
H. 51" X W. 38"
The lower left image is a view of the interior of the Waiting Room from the German Embassy in London.(25) The centerpiece of the room appears to be one of the above paintings. Using photo imaging techniques, the lower right image has been produced to delineate the painting and soften the distortions. The dark versus the lighter Wound Badge and the lack of a balcony line clearly defines the painting as the second version. A black and white comparison of the left horizon also identifies the painting as the second version due to the sharp > shaped lower tree line.(26)

German Embassy Waiting Room London

Black and White Detail
Left Horizon
1937 Official Portrait

Back and White Detail
Left Horizon
Above Photo

Back and White Detail
Left Horizon
Second Version
(15) Image courtesy of
(16) Die Kunst im Dritten Reich. Zentralverlag der NSDAP. March, 1938. This was the Nazi Party art magazine
(17) While these paintings are reproduced many times, the author is not aware of the current location of the second version. The image of the 1935 painting appeared for the first time in an April 1936 issue of the Illustrierter Beobachter, the Nazi weekly illustrated magazine. This was a commemorative issue for Hitler's April 20th birthday. The author thanks Professor Randy Bytwerk from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan for his assistance with these details and for allowing the author to view an original print of the 1935 version.
(18) Dietrich. Ibid. p. 192.
(19) Image reproduced through the courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Army, Army Art Collection. Washington, D.C.
(20) Wood paneling in Dining Room. Dietrich. Ibid. p. 203 and corroborated by Hoffmann. Ibid. p. 185.
(21) Katalog Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung, 1937. Entry title, Führerbildnis. (Portrait of the Führer) Inventory No. 397. Photo Plate No.1.
(22) Ibid. The two paintings from Gallery No.1 are Inventory Nos. 398 and 398a from the above Katalog. Only select pieces from the exhibit were pictured in the catalog. The author has not been able to locate images of these two paintings. The current House of German Art, the Bavarian State Archives and the Berlin City Museum were also not able to provide photographic pictures of Gallery No.1. In a 1939 Hoffmann catalog of "Official Portraits of Adolf Hitler and the Leaders of the Third Reich" the same inventory number is used followed by an "a" or "b" to note the same image in a different size. It may be that Inventory No. 398 was a print of the Official Portrait and No. 398a was the same image in a smaller or larger size or framed. It seems curious that the "Official Portrait" was relegated to Gallery 13 while these images were in Gallery 1. Hoffmann was the consummate businessman and it would have been in keeping with his personality to sell his prints at the exhibit. He also would have been the only person who could have displayed these items in Gallery 1. (In an e-mail dated June 15, 2007, Mr. Ulrike Smalley, Curator, Department of Art, Imperial War Museum, London offered the following: "...the room numbers do not indicate the importance of a room: both room 1 and room 13 were off the main entry hall and equally important. I got this information from Dr. Czech curator of the Art and Propaganda exhibition in Berlin."
(23) Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. London, England.
(24) The Gold Wound Badge was awarded for more than 5 wounds or severe wounds that permanently injured or disfigured the recipient. Hitler always wore his Black War Wound Badge and it isn't possible that Knirr implied a Gold Badge in the first version. Hitler was awarded the Black Wound Badge for receiving less than three wounds. This information was provided through the courtesy of
(25) Sonja Guenther Design der Macht, Moebel fuer Repraesentanten des Dritten Reiches. Published by Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. No date. Probably early 1990s. p. 57. Image provided by Mr. Charles Turner.
(26) The patron for the London painting may very well have been Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's Ambassador to Britain, who was appointed to that position in August of 1936 (Shirer. Ibid. p. 298.) He remained in that position until February of 1938 when he was appointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs.(Ibid. p. 319.) It may be that Frau Ribbentrop commissioned the painting for Hoffmann. (Ibid.) states: "Frau Ribbentrop, a lady of impeccable artistic taste and knowledge, made a most valuable contribution, and thanks to her exertions an almost unique collection of German works of art was gathered together and exhibited at the Embassy." p. 80.
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