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When Hitler Tried (and Failed) to Be an Artist

September 13, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Long before he rose to become a ruthless dictator, the Nazi leader was a struggling young artist.

In early 1908, after the death of his mother, 18-year-old , what Kubizek didn’t know was that before moving to Vienna, Hitler had already been rejected by the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Though he had passed the initial exam in 1907, his drawing skills were “unsatisfactory,” the admissions committee decided.

Years later, in his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf, Hitler claimed that the rejection struck him “as a bolt from the blue,” as he had been so convinced of his success. In the fall of 1908, he again applied to the Academy of Fine Arts, and again they rejected him. Over much of the next year, he would move from one cheap rented room to another, even living in a homeless shelter for a time.

Then in 1909, Hitler finally began earning money by making small oil and watercolor paintings, mostly images of buildings and other landmarks in Vienna that he copied from postcards. By selling these paintings to tourists and frame-sellers, he made enough to move out of the homeless shelter and into a men’s home, where he painted by day and continued studying his books at night.

In Vienna, the frustrated young artist had become interested in politics. Though Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that his anti-semitic views formed during this period, many historians doubt this simplified story. After all, Samuel Morgenstern, a Jewish store owner, was one of the most loyal buyers of Hitler’s paintings in Vienna. But his time in Vienna did shape Hitler’s world view, particularly his admiration of the city’s then-mayor, Karl Lueger, who was known for his antisemitic rhetoric as much as his oratorical skills.

Hitler Moves to Munich

Adolf Hitler (far left) pictured with comrades of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment in France, 1916.

Hitler continued his artwork after moving to Munich in May 1913, selling similar scenes of the city’s landmarks in shops and beer gardens. Though he eventually found several loyal, well-off customers who commissioned works from him, his progress came to a grinding halt in January 1914, when the Munich police tracked him down due to his failure to register for the military draft back in Linz.

As Ullrich recorded, Hitler failed his military fitness exam and was declared by the examiners “unsuitable for combat and support duty, too weak, incapable …read more


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