Adolf Hitler’s affiliation with the art world is one of terror and destruction, much like his reputation in general. He was setting fire to books and destroying modern artworks long before he turned to “purifying” the world’s race through one of the most horrifying genocides in history.
And while the majority of the world might decry any affiliation with the despicable dictator, it seems his personal artistic pursuits continue to be a form of investment and hobby for serious collectors.
On Tuesday, the Guardian announced that a painting drafted by a young Adolf Hitler is going up for auction in Los Angeles. The watercolor, dated to 1912 and signed “A. Hitler,” depicts a brightly hued floral arrangement and is expected to begin its bid at $30,000.
“There have been some Hitler memorabilia and paintings that have sold for a lot of money,” Sam Heller, a spokesperson for the Nate D. Sanders Auction House, told The Daily Beast. “And they thought this would be a good time to sell.”
And even though the painting was deemed a forgery late Tuesday night, the market for the notorious dictator's art remains strong.
The majority of paintings that have previously hit the auction block were all crafted at the dawning of the 20th century, when the soon-to-be Führer was just a young man with a hopeful dream.
He had moved to Vienna in 1905 in pursuit of an art career and began selling his works through Samuel Morgenstern, a Jewish art dealer who Hitler later deported to the Lodz Ghetto.
Unfortunately, the young artist was rejected from the Vienna Academy of Art (twice) because he was not deemed fit for enrollment (art critics still don’t favor his techniques). With his mother recently deceased, he had to abandon his dream in order to survive financially. Had he been accepted, who knows if World War II would have even ever happened?
Sadly, it did. Millions of innocent lives were lost in the Holocaust and the international war that followed left a legacy that has expectedly put a huge stigma onto the purchase of Hitler paintings and memorabilia.
Germany and France have outright banned the public sale of Nazi ephemera, while internationally acclaimed auctions houses, such as Bonhams and Sotheby’s, have previously stated that they don’t partake in sales of Hitler’s works.
In 2001, popular online auction site eBay banned the sale of items owned or affiliated with Nazi leaders such as Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, or Rudolf Hess, or anything containing overt party symbols.
It was a decision that initially upset a lot of amateur collectors.
“'To see a Nazi uniform and be able to say, ‘Oh, my God, this survived’—it’s like reaching into history and having proof,” Mike Peters, an avid collector of World War II artifacts, told The New York Times. “It says, ‘This really happened.’”
He believes that ban on memorabilia only adds to the stigma of the historical artifacts, pushing sales underground out of embarrassment and shame and driving up the prices. “'It’s like Prohibition. It’s going to have the reverse effect.”
He may have been right.
In 2009, Mullock’s Auction House in Britain sold a collection of 13 watercolor paintings signed by Hitler. They had been found by a British soldier stationed in Germany in 1945 and sold for $141,000 (£95,000). The auctioneer, historical document expert Richard Westwood-Brookes, only anticipated £5,000-£6,000.
Then, in 2010, two nude sketches and a drawing of an elderly woman (thought to be his mother) were expected to sell for $30,000. That same year, another lot of 16 watercolors sold for $155,000 (£104,000).
According to Westwood-Brookes, the buyers were primarily from China, India, and Russia, showing it “has nothing to do with an obsession with the Nazis, or neo-Nazis buying” the artworks. “There is a great interest in World War II in these countries and a lot of people with a lot of money to invest,” he added. “They look at these items as an investment.”
Many other auctions have appeared since. Last year, a private buyer from the Middle East paid $161,000 for a 1914 painting of the town hall in Nuremberg where the Nazi party once held their annual mass rallies. It is the highest price paid for a Hitler original.
Because of the work’s controversial past and the ever-growing presence of sensitivity laws, the sales are typically anonymous for both the buyer and the seller. They’ve also been limited to niche auction houses in Britain and the United States.
Manion’s International Auction House in Kansas City, Kansas, (it has since closed) operated for four decades and sold dozens of Hitler’s works.
Nate D. Sanders Auction House, which is located in Los Angeles and hosting the upcoming auction, has been in business since 1986.
“There is no question that Hitler is a despicable person,” Heller told The Daily Beast. “But this is a part of history. It is a part of when Hitler was struggling in Vienna and this is an important memento to show what his life was like when he was an impoverished artist in Vienna.”