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he history of Adolf Hitler’s character has been debated countless times by historians. Among all, one element stands out, the importance of which in the formation of the dictator cannot be underestimated. It requires an exercise in imagination: what would have happened if Hitler had been admitted to the Vienna Academy of Arts?

Just a Child following his Dream

In 1907, Adolf Hitler decided to follow his dream and become an artist. His inclinations were known to him from childhood. He considered this to be achievable with the death of his father, who forced him to pursue another career. At only 18 years old, he enrolled in the entrance exam to the Art Academy in Vienna.

A 1906 drawing from Adolf Hitler’s sketchbook (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately for him (and many others), he was rejected for two consecutive years. The first examination took place in 1907 where he passed the preliminary examination, which consisted of drawing two biblical scenes in two sessions of three hours each. The second part of the exam consisted of presenting a portfolio of papers already done for the examiners. In 1908, on the second attempt, he was not even admitted to the exam.

When he was first rejected in 1907, the motive of the examiners was that the works contained “too few heads,” noting that Hitler had no inclination toward art, but rather toward architecture, something those professors encouraged him to follow. Without finishing school, from which he dropped out at the age of 16, this journey was problematic.

Michael Liversidge, an art professor at the University of Bristol, where he taught art history since 1970 and was head of the department for 21 years, studied these paintings. He revealed that “he doesn’t have many technical skills, but he’s not so bad that he can’t learn — especially when he’s bolder with coal and black chalk.

A failed Artist

Adolf Hitler became, in the strongest sense of the word, a failed artist. This, together with the precarious financial situation of his family, and the death of his mother (who was the only one who supported him in his artistic endeavor) and the social unrest of the period contributed to the creation of the dictator who changed the image of the world forever. Of all these, only one element could upset the entire course of Hitler’s life, along with the course of contemporary history.

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

In the years after these two failures, he continued to draw, representing a modest source of income until he enlisted in the German army with the outbreak of World War I. Some of these images, which are believed to have been part of the exam portfolio, were sold a few years ago, according to The Telegraph, for their historical value rather than artistic value. Another group of 14 works was sold for a total value of 400,000 euros.

Sketches took from the portfolio that Adolf Hitler submitted to the Art Academy of Vienna in 1907 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

After the end of the First World War and his return from the front, Hitler remained in the military structures, in the absence of another perspective. However, he continued to draw, although it seems that he accepted his limitations in art. Germany’s precarious social and economic situation was also a factor, which fueled his hatred of Jews and its sense of belonging to Germany.

With his new “passion”, he discovered another talent, that of a public speaker, which propelled him into the political world. As early as 1919, Anton Drexler, the leader of the DAP, the German Labor Party — an anti-Semitic variant of socialism — appreciated Hitler’s oratorical talents. From his inclusion in 1919 until he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he met various politicians, most importantly, his mentor who really introduced him to the political scene, Dietrich Eckart.

It is astonishing to note how it was not his artistic talent that formed him, but rather his oratorical talent that opened doors for another path.

It was an accumulation of events that had a domino effect, but the first piece was the failure of the artist’s career. Numerous “ifs” have their place in the imagination exercises of historians, from the possibility of acceptance to the Vienna Academy to the attempt to be admitted to architecture.

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