Five paintings attributed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler went on sale at a German auction this week, with price tags ranging from $21,500 and $50,000 — and none of them received even a single bid.
As the Associated Press noted, the paintings were part of an auction in Nuremberg, the German city famous for holding the post-war trials, where many members of the Nazi leadership were sentenced to death for war crimes. The paintings were just a slice of 68 total paintings that had been seized by prosecutors before the auction, amid allegations that they were fakes. They found that 63 were fake — which were quickly pulled from the auction — but bidders had fears that the five remaining watercolor paintings could be fake as well.
Before rising to power as the leader of German’s Nazi party, Adolf Hitler was a struggling artist in Vienna who painted more than 2,000 pictures. There are many of these paintings still circulating today — as well as a number of frauds — with some art swindlers apparently trying to cash in on the artist’s notoriety to make money off the fakes.
As NPR noted, the gambit seems an odd one, given the very unremarkable nature of Hitler’s artwork. Hitler was famously rejected from Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts school as unqualified — which for decades has led historians on a “What if?” scenario, imagining how history may have been different if Hitler were admitted and went into art instead of politics — and the market for the paintings is apparently small.
An op-ed from the radio station’s website wondered why anyone might want to fake paintings from Adolf Hitler.
“Imagine acquiring the technical proficiency to counterfeit a work of art, only to use those skills not to fabricate a fictitious Picasso, El Greco, Gauguin or Georgia O’Keeffe — but a watercolor by a highly mediocre painter who went on to exterminate six million people and try to enslave the world,” the report noted.
The report went on to cite Jerry Saltz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic, who said that Hitler’s work was mediocre at best.
“Physically and spatially dead,” he said of the paintings, “generic academic realism, the equivalent of mediocre exercises in aping good penmanship. He was an adequate draftsman, utterly unimaginative, and made the equivalent [of] greeting cards.”
Authentic paintings by Adolf Hitler have fetched a big sum in the past, including a 2015 auction, in which one of the German fuhrer’s painting sold for $405,000 at another auction in Nuremberg.