How Hitler's Watercolor Paintings Ended Up at a Military Base in Virginia

Art Curator Sarah Forgey shows Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal four watercolors by Adolf Hitler at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Art Curator Sarah Forgey shows Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal four watercolors by Adolf Hitler at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller, Defense Visual Information Distribution Service // Public Domain

During World War II, the U.S. military launched a full-scale effort to find and save pieces of European art stolen by the Nazis. The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program—better known as the "Monuments Men"—would eventually liberate Rembrandt's Night Watch, parts of Hubert and Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. While a 2014 film by George Clooney helped popularize the organization's efforts, and it was recently announced that a modern version of the "Monuments Men" is being established (and is recruiting), less is known about the group's initiative to seize art made by the Nazis—including works by Adolf Hitler himself.

As an artist, Hitler is usually framed as a failure: He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and spent his early twenties making postcards and street art. But he never really let art go. When he later entered politics, he came in with an understanding of art's emotional potential as a propaganda tool.

"As its leader, Hitler ordered the creation of a corps of artists to document the country's military exploits," journalist Andrew Beaujon wrote in a fantastic piece for the Washingtonian. "They made field sketches of German troops in action and later turned them into paintings, which were then sold to high-ranking officers and displayed in military-run museums and casinos. Other paintings depicted Hitler as half man, half god, often with medieval overtones."

By the height of World War II, German homes and public spaces were awash in these militaristic paintings and sculptures. But American President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the power of art, too, and in early 1945 he joined Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in pledging to, "remove all Nazi and militarist influences from public office and from the cultural and economic life of the German people."

As many of the Monuments Men were busy saving works of art stolen by the Nazis, one man—Captain Gordon W. Gilkey, of the military's Office of the Chief Historian—was busy stealing works of art made by the Nazis. As part of the Allied Denazification program, Gilkey and his crew seized nearly 9000 pieces of propagandist artworks considered too controversial for public consumption, including four watercolors painted by Hitler himself.

Eventually, this trove would be tucked away under lock and key at the Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia. While the most inoffensive artworks were repatriated to Germany over the ensuing decades, the U.S. military still possesses nearly 600 of the most flagrant Nazi works of art.

Overseen by the Center of Military History, the artworks in Virginia include a painting of Hitler fashioned as a medieval knight (with a bayonet hole through his head), a bust of the Führer (scuffed with American boot marks), and, of course, those four watercolor paintings.

In 2020, the U.S Army plans to open the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir. Whether the 185,000 square-foot museum will exhibit any of these controversial works—or whether they will remain buried in the shadows of the fort's archives—remains to be seen.

Meet the Artist Who Has Been Sketching New York City Subway Stations for 40 Years

art2002/iStock via Getty Images
art2002/iStock via Getty Images

The aesthetic appeal of New York City's subway system is often hidden behind a layer of grime or simply ignored by commuters. Philip Ashforth Coppola has been admiring those finer points of public transit for more than 40 years.

The New Jersey-based artist began sketching and researching the subway’s interior in 1978, Atlas Obscura reports. His pen drawings are in black and white, but Coppola notes the exact colors and the historic significance behind each. The beaver plaques at the Astor Place station, for example, represents real estate mogul John Jacob Astor, who first made his fortune in the fur trade.

“I’ve spent a lot of years on it,” he says in the 2005 documentary One Track Mind (also the title of his 2018 book). “But I haven’t accomplished that much.” The former art student is selling himself short: Coppola has drawn at least 110 of the city’s 472 stations, resulting in 2000 sketches spanning 41 notebooks.

In an interview with WNYC, Coppola admitted that he wasn’t a train enthusiast as a child. “When I was a kid, I liked to draw pictures and tell stories or write them down,” he says. “That sort of ... filed into this new adventure.”

Coppola sees the drawings as a way to preserve the subway system's overlooked details. “The idea is to make a record of what we’ve got, before more of it is lost," he says.

Even irritable commuters realized the significance of his endeavors. “People were just thunderstruck when they saw [Coppola’s] artwork,” says Jeremy Workman, the documentary's director. “It reminded them of art they had seen themselves and maybe didn’t notice. We thought that was a powerful message: Reminding people of the beauty that’s right in front of their eyes.”

You Can Rent a ‘Lisa Frank Flat’ in Los Angeles on Hotels.com

Hotels.com
Hotels.com

If you went to elementary school in the 1980s or 1990s, chances are there was at least one piece of Lisa Frank gear in your classroom. The artist's aesthetic helped define the decades, and wide-eyed, technicolor animals still hold a special place in the hearts of millennials. Now, you can live out your childhood dream of having a room that looks like the inside of your 3rd grade backpack: a penthouse suite inspired by Lisa Frank is now available to book in Los Angeles.

The Lisa Frank Flat, a collaboration between Lisa Frank and Hotels.com, screams nostalgia. Each room pays homage to the settings and characters in the artist's vast catalog. The bathroom is painted to look like an underwater paradise, with shimmering dolphins swimming in a pink and blue sea. The kitchen is stocked with snacks from your childhood—like Gushers, Pop-Tarts, Pixy Stix, and Planters Cheez Balls—and painted in bright, rainbow animal patterns that will reflect how you feel when your sugar rush peaks.

Lisa Frank bathroom.
Hotels.com

Lisa Frank kitchen.
Hotels.com

In the bedroom, the colors are toned down only slightly. A light-up cloud canopy and a rainbow sky mural create a soothing environment for falling asleep. And if seeing Lisa Frank around every corner makes you feel inspired, there's a place for you to get in touch with your inner pop artist. The desk comes supplied with pencils, folders, and a notebook—all branded with Lisa Frank artwork, naturally.

Lisa Frank bedroom.
Hotels.com

Lisa Frank desk.
Hotels.com

Interested in basking in the glow of your childhood hero for a night? Online reservations for the Lisa Frank Flat at Barsala in downtown Los Angeles will be available through Hotels.com starting October 11 and lasting through October 27. You can book your stay for $199 a night—just don't forget to pack your Trapper Keeper.

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