The way to end all wars

Hitler and Churchill were both artists. Who would have won a painting throwdown?

Mary’s First Speech, by Winston Churchill (courtesy Wikiart)

The Battle of Britain was a military campaign between the Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe. It was brutal and bloody, with 90,000 civilian casualties, 40,000 of them fatal. It is remembered as the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces. The United States hadn’t yet weighed in against the Axis powers, and Britain and Canada went it alone against the greater strength of German air forces.

The Battle of Britain was also the only battle in history where both leaders were artists. If, in June of 1940, Britain and Germany had instead engaged their premiers in an art competition, who would have won?
“I am an artist and not a politician. Once the Polish question is settled, I want to end my life as an artist,” Adolf Hitler said. He was bitter at his failure to gain acceptance at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and in Mein Kampfblamed that failure on ‘the Jews’.
The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich, by Adolf Hitler (courtesy Wikipedia)
Hitler was rejected twice by the academy. His problem was his portfolio, which was heavy on architecture, light on portraiture and figure. One professor, noting his excellent draftsmanship, suggested that he apply to the School of Architecture. As a drop-out, he would have had to return to secondary school first, and he was unwilling.
Hitler described himself as a ‘student’ of Rudolf von Alt. However, there is no fantasy and little of the natural world in Hitler’s work. He showed a profound disinterest in the people who should have inhabited the architectural spaces he drew. If they appear at all, they are static columns. His painting style was far more conservative and pedantic than the leading lights of fin-de-siecle Vienna, such as Gustav Klimt.
Tree at a Track, 1911, by Adolf Hitler (courtesy Wikipedia)
Winston Churchill did not pick up a paintbrush until the age of 40, but he had more than four decades to practice his great avocation. “Winston found hours of pleasure and occupation in painting,” wrote his daughter, Mary Soames.
“It was a ‘love affair’ with painting – I think that is the only way to describe it. Problems of perspective and colour, light and shade gave him respite from dark worries, heavy  burdens and the clatter of political strife.” Painting enabled him “to confront storms, ride out depressions and rise above the rough passages of his political life.”
Churchill took up painting in June 1915. His sister-in-law was painting in watercolor at the family home, Chartwell. She gave him her son’s kit and urged him to try it. He was so enthusiastic he bought an oil kit the next day.
Lakeland Scene near Breccles, by Winston Churchill (courtesy Wikiart)
“The first quality that is needed is audacity. There really is no time for the deliberate approach,” he said. As a very busy man, he had no patience with the idea of traditional training. “Two years of drawing lessons, three years of copying woodcuts, five years of plaster-casts, these are for the young… We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We just content ourselves with a joy ride in a paintbox.”
Churchill used painting to chase off the “black dog” of depression that haunted him through his life. By 1921, he was showing his work. He would submit pieces for jurying under pseudonyms so as not to influence jurors.
Churchill loved to paint en plein air, and his paintings are full of light and color. While he was not a master painter, he worked within the style and mood of his times, unlike the reactionary Hitler. If I were the juror, I’d give the first-place ribbon to him. Then again, I know how it ended.

Time like the tide

Pointe du Hoc, Lee Haber, 11×14, oil.
Baby Boomers’ youth was shaped by two galvanizing events that were also polar extremes. We were the children of men and women molded by the last heroic war, World War II. Yet we came of age during the deeply cynical and anti-heroic years of Vietnam.
Last Friday was the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, which marked the end of World War II in Europe. Most of its soldiers have joined the long grey line marching silently into history. Their wives and sweethearts wait out their days in nursing homes.
Omaha Beach #2, Lee Haber, 11×14, oil.
For those of us whose fathers served in the war, this is a stunning realization. We remember our fathers as young men, reminiscing about their wartime experiences. To realize that the better part of a century has elapsed is astonishing.
Remnants, Omaha Beach, Lee Haber, 16×20, oil.
Earlier this year, painter Lee Haber visited France, including the beaches where Allied troops mounted the vast D-Day assault on the German Atlantic Wall defenses. Casualties were heavy on both sides: of 156,000 Allied troops, there were at least 10,000 casualties.
“I grew up during the war and realize the actions that very young men—boys, really—were compelled to do,” he told me. “I consider myself a bit of a World War II historian, and can hardly imagine the horror, the pain, the hurt.”
Omaha Beach, Normandy, Lee Haber, 12×16, oil.
I’m glad that Lee is painting what is there now, rather than trying to reconstruct the assault itself. Instead, the energy in his paintings is suppressed, lying within the sea and sky. In this work, time, like the tides, eventually washes away all human endeavors, worries, and losses.
You can visit Lee’s website here.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.