July, 2005

  Restoring Hitler:
  A Commission to Retouch a
Portrait of the Nazi Leader
Takes Barry Bauman
on a Ride Through History
by Jeff Huebner
Last summer, The Chicago area art conservator Barry Bauman got a call from Joe Brunson, curator of the World War II Victory Museum in Auburn, Indiana. Brunson asked if Bauman would be willing to restore a piece that a collector had given the museum on long-term loan: a 1938 portrait of Adolf Hitler by a Munich painter named Heinrich Knirr. As it happened, Bauman (whose late father served in World War II) had recently been reading up on Nazi Germany and the war. "I looked at the phone--I couldn't believe he was calling me," says the goateed, affable Bauman, who in 1983 founded the Chicago Conservation Center, a nationally regarded restoration business in River North. (He sold the company in 2003 and established a nonprofit practice working from a studio in River Forest.) "I was thrilled to have the opportunity to preserve a piece of history."
A native of Syracuse, New York, who came here to study art history at the University of Chicago, Bauman began work on the seven-foot-high oil on canvas last August. Bauman had restored Whistlers, Sargents and works by Dutch baroque masters including Rembrandt, but he says that the Hitler portrait was "truly one of the most historically significant paintings" he has ever treated. Battened to a stretcher, the painting showed Hitler full-length, in front of a pastoral landscape. "It was a shock when the painting walked in the house," Bauman recalls. "It was an overpowering image, exactly the type of portrait Hitler would've loved of himself."
While he cleaned and retouched the canvas Bauman discovered that little was known about the painting's origins and its creator. Through interviews with Third Reich historians, experts in German art, and museum curators in the U.S. and Europe, Bauman determined that the Hungarian-born Knirr was Hitler's official painter from 1935 to 1939--Knirr died in 1944--and that he created at least eight portraits of the Führer; all but one, including Bauman's project, were copied from pictures by Heinrich Hoffmann, the Nazi photographer. (In 1936, Knirr painted Hitler from life, the only artist known to have done so.)
Bauman also verified that three other portraits by Knirr had survived the war, but were in storage; two at the National Museum of the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C., and the other at the Imperial War Museum in London. "The research is really a master's degree paper, or a book, for someone else," says Bauman who put his findings online at baumanconservation.com.
The restored painting will "quietly" go on display by July in the Indiana museum's exhibition gallery Rising Tyrants, according to the curator, Joe Brunson. "We have some incredible one-of-a-kind vehicles here," Brunson says, "but I think this is the most important piece we have." The museum is a little concerned about vandalism, so the Hitler, appraised at $85,000.00 two years ago, will be encased. Still, Brunson thinks viewers will understand the context. "It's going to be presented in a way that's directly opposite of glorifying him."




Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532