I'm always curious to know the favorite media of well-known people, what they watch or read for their own pleasure when they're off the time clock. I know Stalin was partial to John Wayne films, and Maria Callas liked to read Archie comics. Ayn Rand read detective stories. What, I wondered, did Hitler prefer when he was sitting around in his pajamas, just passing the time? Well, I don't know what he read, but thanks to a recent article in Arts and Letters Daily I do know what art he hung in his private rooms.
According to the article, Hitler's favorite artist was a Swiss landscape painter named Arnold Bocklin. Hitler owned Bocklin's most famous picture, "The Isle of the Dead" (above).
Actually Bocklin did several versions of the same picture, all capturing the scene in different light. The one Hitler owned has been lost.
Here's (above) the Bocklin displayed in a place of honor, next to Hitler's fireplace.
Bocklin was interested in the legendary goings-on of the Aryans in old Germany. He was a friend of the Mitford family, who organized expeditions to search for artifacts of old German history, and who had a special interest in the real-life site that inspired the Isle of the Dead painting. That's Hitler sitting next to Unity Mitford above.
Bocklin was a pantheist who believed the forest possessed a kind of vital energy which we, as creatures of the forest, need to connect with to discover our true natures. In the painting above I assume that's Pan in the bushes.
Bocklin's mystical beliefs certainly gave him an edge. If I were looking for something to draw in the outback, I might have passed by this scrub (above) without taking notice. After all, scrub is usually regarded by artists as nothing more than background for really romantic subjects like cliffs and tall oak trees. Bocklin correctly realized that scrub is the heart and soul of the forest, and probably gives as much shelter to animals as trees do.
Bocklin was also fond of the philosopher's landscape (above) where thinking man and nature co-exist in harmony.
Another favorite was Carl Spitzweg (above). I like Spitzweg too, but I have to admit that he's the kind of artist you like when you're young and still struggling to learn the fundamentals. Hitler's art career was cut off early when that struggle was still with him, and pictures like this might have had sentimental value for him because they reminded him of his youth.
He may also have been fond of Spitzweg because both had the same taste for old, unpretentious urban architecture. If Hitler had remained a painter his style might have taken a direction somewhat like this. This would have caused endless frustration for him as modernism took hold. My guess is that he eventually would have attempted an awkward synthesis of the traditional and modern and come to grief with it.
Spitzweg had another side, which might also have appealed to Hitler. He was a painter of lush, romantic landscapes like the one above.
If posters of the above two Spitzwegs were for sale in retail stores today, my guess is that they'd sell pretty well. They depict the world the way we'd like it to be, and express deep yearning for a calm and rational utopia. It's borderline kitsch, but very appealing at the same time.
Franz Von Stuck (above) is sometimes cited as a favorite of the young Hitler. Over time Von Stuck tried to incorporate modern Deco technique into his canvases (the orange and blue canvas above), which is one of the reasons I thought Hitler might eventually have tried the same synthesis.
Hitler's taste in art did evolve over time. His famous plan for the new Berlin (above, re-named Germania) showed that in his maturity he'd definitely been influenced by Art Deco.
Here's (above) a video commissioned by The History Channel, showing what it would have been like to be a motorist, driving down the main boulevard of Germania. I find this modernist vision to be ugly in the extreme, and not at all consistent with the gentle romanticism favored by Spitzweg.
I agree with Lester who said in a comment that Hitler's heart remained with the Spitzweg style, but there's a lot of evidence that his mature mind was seduced by Deco. A lot of the Nazi propaganda posters were done in that style, and it's difficult to believe that they could have been printed without his approval. .
The mature Hitler is also said to have liked Deco artist Anselm Feuerbach (above), who painted classically-posed contemplative women. A bit cold for my taste. In the 30s and 40s a lot of Germans painted this way, maybe because it was a government approved style. I doubt that Boklin or Spitzweg would have approved.
This Cranach painting (above) hung in one of Hitler's public offices. The painting was a gift and my guess is that Hitler admired it only in a formal way.