Hitler artworks set to fetch high prices at British auction | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 08.04.2010
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Hitler artworks set to fetch high prices at British auction

Adolf Hitler never made it as an artist, but his drawings and paintings have garnered increasingly high bids at auction. Apparently it's not neo-Nazis who are buying, but history buffs and art collectors.

An auctioneer holds a painting by Adolf Hitler

Auctioneer Ian Morris holds a Hitler painting titled "The Church of Preux-au-Bois"

It's no surprise when works by famous artists sell for prices in the tens of thousands. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that drawings and watercolors by Adolf Hitler have commanded similar prices at recent auctions.

The British auction house Mullock's offered 15 pieces by Hitler in an auction last April, drawing a sales total of about 140,000 euros ($187,000). Next week, Mullock's will host another auction featuring 22 pieces by Hitler alongside other objects from the World War II era. Price estimates on the items from Hitler range from about 4,500 to 17,000 euros.

Mullock's is not the only venue for buying the infamous dictator's works. A Nuremberg auction house sparked protest last year by selling two Hitler works for a combined 32,000 euros, while the American collector Charles Snyder, Jr. has dealt in Hitler's artwork for decades. His Web site lists items including a $70,000 watercolor titled "Arc of Triumph in Munich 1914."

A watercolor painting of a country scene painted by Hitler

This watercolor was among the pieces auctioned last year by Mullock's

"These prices are clearly much too high when considered just in terms of the works' artistic value," curator for 20th-century art Stephan Diederich told Deutsche Welle. "I would guess that - for whatever reasons - the buyers are less interested in art and more interested in pieces that recall Hitler."

Wrong assumptions

But many people wrongly assume that buyers are Nazi sympathizers or Neo-Nazis, said Richard Westwood-Brookes of the Mullock's auction house.

"Our buyers last year were interested either from a historical or from an artistic point of view - and in the latter case, I mean they were interested in acquiring the work of such a well-known failed artist," he explained

The works auctioned last year were brought to Mullock's by a man who had bought them for virtually nothing decades before. He hoped to earn enough from the 15 pieces to cover the costs of some home repairs. Both he and Westwood-Brookes were stunned when the works fetched five to 10 times their estimated value.

Since news of last year's sale spread, Westwood-Brookes said he has been contacted by three sellers interested in auctioning their own pieces. They include an Austrian man who discovered the pieces in a chest after buying a complete estate in Austria as well as an artist living in France who was interested in examining the drawings' deficiencies.

Given the steady increase in price on works attributed to Hitler, some buyers may even approach their purchases as an investment.

Shadowy provenance

A picture of a black automobile used by Hitler and later auctioned

Other objects like this car once belonging to Hitler have also brought high bids

Thus far, the pieces at Mullock's seem to have been bought and sold exclusively by private individuals rather than museums or galleries. Russian collectors were particularly interested in buying works at auction, according to Westwood-Brookes.

But the apparent demand for Hitler's art combined with its often shadowy provenance has also led to a proliferation in fakes. In an interview with Germany's Die Welt, Westwood-Brookes acknowledged that it is impossible to be completely certain that the works are authentic.

"We can put together as many expert opinions as we like, but at the end of the day, you have to decide whether you believe them," he said. "We can only make these objects available for public scrutiny and give as much information about them as we have."

As such, the question remains open not only about the works' authenticity but about how much buyers can expect to pay for them in the future.

Author: Greg Wiser
Editor: Kate Bowen

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