Franz Xaver Winterhalter & Die Kunstsammlung Adolf Hitler

Franz Xaver Winterhalter - Duchesse de MornyFriday, 11 June 2010

Dear Diary,

While researching Winterhalter, I came across a curious book by Gunther Haase, Die Kunstsammlung Adolf Hitler (Berlin, Edition Q, 2002). The book centered upon art collecting during the Third Reich, and concentrated on the artworks which were discovered by the Allied Armies in the Altaussee mines in May 1945. A significant number of these works were intended for Hitler’s famed art museum at his birth place, Linz.

The book was supplemented by a facsimile reproduction of the original inventory, which listed all the artworks which were recovered from Altaussee. The list included only thirteen paintings by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

Winterhalter was never high on the list of Third Reich’s collecting priorities. Though he was born and died in Germany, most of the artist’s working life was spent in Paris and London. His clientele was predominantly French, English, and Russian; and his best-known paintings, his acknowledged masterpieces, are likewise portraits of French, English, and Russian women.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter - Duquesa d'AlbaWinterhalter did have a small (though dedicated) following among sovereign heads of German states and their families, who were inevitably related to his French, Russian, and English clients (as well as his erstwhile patrons, the Grand Dukes of Baden).

However, one would search in vain in Winterhalter’s oeuvre for a German equivalent of his Empress Eugenie with her Ladies in Waiting; or his Queen Victoria with Prince Albert and their Five Eldest Children.

This may explain partly why Winterhalter was never high on the list of the Third Reich’s collecting priorities.

The list, however, reveals an interesting quirk about Winterhalters in Adolf Hitler’s art collection. Of the thirteen works, only one is considered a true Winterhalter masterpiece – his 1863 portrait of the Russian-born Duchesse de Morny. Another five are representative of Winterhalter’s oeuvre (though perhaps lacking the same sparkling, inspired quality as the Morny portrait). The attribution of the remaining seven works to Franz Xaver Winterhalter is highly dubious!

Franz Xaver Winterhalter (Attributed) - Amelie de  BaviereThis list bears witness that although Hitler plundered the best public and private collections of the vanquished Europe, he may not have had necessarily surrounded himself with the best art advisors or experts in the field. This observation has been made also by numerous art scholars of the Third Reich. One of Hitler’s “favourite” art suppliers was one Maria Almas-Dietrich, an art dealer who was formerly based in Paris, and then in Munich.

She specialized in 19th-Century art, and sold to Hitler and his retinue numerous artworks provenanced from French private collections. A number of paintings by Winterhalter, including those with a very tenuous attribution to the artist’s hand, bear her gallery label on the reverse. In fact, misattribution runs rife in the inventory of paintings sold by Dietrich.

It is open to speculation what would have befallen these “suppliers” and “advisers”, once their deception – whether deliberate or based on their lack of knowledge and expertise – came to light. The fall of the Third Reich in 1945 put an end to that.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter (Attributed) - Marquise de VilliersBut what has befallen these Winterhalter – and so-called Winterhalter – paintings found in Altaussee? Three of them (all by Winterhalter) are in German public collections. Six of them, which came from French collections (only two of which are verifiably by Winterhalter), have been returned to France and deposited among French museums, including the Louvre, Compiègne, Brest, and others. Of the remaining four (only one of which can be attributed with 100% certainty to Winterhalter’s hand), three appeared on the art market within the last ten years. Only one of them, the so-called portrait of the Marquise de Villiers, is currently untraced.

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

1 Response to “Franz Xaver Winterhalter & Die Kunstsammlung Adolf Hitler”

  1. August 21, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Greetings from New Farm. Thanks for the useful info. I’m doing a project at school and your content was quite useful. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

June 2010


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