Most people probably don’t think of dictators when they think about famous artists. Rembrandt, Picasso, Michelangelo, and Pollack (to name a few) might come to mind quicker, but believe it or not, there have been a few famous dictators who paint. Famine, destruction, and total ruin are more commonly associated with the word "dictator," but these guys were just a bunch of dudes with hobbies just like the rest of us before they became totalitarian, barbaric narcissists with an insatiable and deranged taste for power.
Don’t worry: your interest in this topic is totally normal. Just chalk it up to a psychological study by way of dictator art. What better way into the minds of the deranged than by examining their artistic expressions? That being said, there's only evidence of two major dictators who were artists: Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco. The rest are either too antiquated to provide visual evidence (like Nero of ancient Rome) or have only dabbled in art, like Putin. Given what you may know of these dictators, some of their preferred styles of art still may surprise you. Check out these paintings by famous dictators.
Hitler Painted This Not-at-All Creepy or Foreboding LandscapePhoto: Adolf Hitler/Public Domain / WikiArt
Artist Facts: This dark and seedy painting was done pretty early on in Hitler’s life, in 1913, to be exact. The New York Post reports “the artwork comes from descendants of the family that accommodated the young Hitler as he was trying to get into the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.”
Art Cred: When Hitler was living in Vienna, he used to paint watercolors of images on the backs of postcards and sell them on the street for money. It's entirely possible that this painting, titled "Maritime Nocturno," is one of those watercolors. Jaroslav Krajnak, owner of the auction house that sold the painting, said, "I look at him as an artist - in 1913, when Hitler painted this picture, he didn't know what would become of him in the decades to come.” Even still, it is a little hard to ignore the ominous nature of this painting even so early on in his life.
Weirdness Score: Imagining Hitler as a young lad desperately selling painted postcards to tourists hints at a person seeking approval. Since he kept getting rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the approval he sought was never satisfied. This gets a 7 out of 10 for its ominous foreshadowing.
Francisco Franco Loved the Quiet Country Life
Artist Facts: In 1931, the military academy that Franco ran was shut down. This may be what ignited him to lead the leftist revolt a few years later. The revolt resulted in Franco assuming the role of Caudillo until his death in 1975.
Art Cred: In between generating all that destruction, Franco liked to get away with his family. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and spent lots of time in the country. This is probably just a reflection of what he saw out on his peaceful retreats while his people were being ruthlessly slaughtered.
Weirdness Score: This gets an 8 out 10 for the cognitive dissonance required to enjoy a quiet country life and also oversee the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
- Photo: Vladimir Putin/Fair Use / VSE
Artist Facts: Vladimir Putin is both the second and the fourth President of Russia. Much like the US, in Russia, presidents can only serve for two consecutive four-year terms. But there's no rule against stepping down after your second term and then running again four later, which is exactly what Putin did. But, okay, he's the President... doesn't being elected generally run counter to being a dictator? Put simply, there is no one strict definition of dictatorship, and many would argue - even though Putin was elected - he still wields an outsized amount of power and bends the laws to his will.
Art Cred: In 2008, several prominent Russian figures, including Putin, were asked to create works of art based on the theme "Christmas Eve" so they could be auctioned off for charity. Some people speculated that the painting, titled "A Pattern on a Hoarfrost-Encrusted Window," couldn't have been created by Putin because it looks too sweet and feminine, but those claims were denied.
Weirdness Score: The painting isn’t the work of a skilled artist but the fact that he tried is kinda sweet. Its sale raised 1.1 million dollars for charity, so this gets a 5 out of 10 for being for a good cause but also honestly, Vladimir Putin, you have a pet tiger and you chose to paint a window?