Case Study    
  "Portrait of Adolf Hitler"
by Heinrich Knirr
Heinrich Knirr "Portrait of Adolf Hitler" 1938
H. 87 3/4" X W. 57 1/4" Signed and Dated Lower Left
Before Treatment
August 6-10, 2004

Horizontal View of Stretcher
The pine stretcher is H. 87 3/4" X W. 57 1/4". It is comprised of four outside members and three cross-members, two horizontal and one vertical. The long outside members carry a 225 cm. stamp. All of the members are 3" wide except for the short outside members which are slightly less than 2.5". The outside long members have been cut with a V-shaped cut and then reinforced along the join with a mahogany batten. The vertical cross member has been cut similarly and centrally reinforced with a metal mending plate fastened with four straight-edge screws.
The corner joins are a simple mortise and tenon design with double miters and keys, Buck type 4a.(4) All keys are present. The cross-member joins include a double cut overlapping contact reinforced with a straight-edge screw. All of the members have been labeled and marked for re-assembly. Each outside long member carries a singular stretcher-maker stamp. These have faded but enough can be distinguished to read the company name, Franz Dury, and, one half-inch lower, the word München. In general the stretcher is in good condition with only a slight warp to the cross-members.

225 cm. Stretcher Stamp

Stretcher Batten
Stretcher Re-Assembly Instructions
Franz Dury Stretcher Stamp
München Detail of Stretcher Stamp
The ground has been thinly and evenly applied, probably white when first applied, but now slightly discolored from oil staining. The gesso appears to be calcium carbonate and is well intact. There are no areas where the ground has been used as a transitional tone within the painting. The upper 23 inches, along the right side, have been painted to the edge. The lower 64 inches show a raw gesso border varying in width from 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. Along the left side, the lower 31 inches show exposed gesso varying in width from 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch. The upper edge is painted fully to the border while the bottom left corner has a 1-inch gesso border receding to complete disappearance at W. 47".

Detail Left Edge

Detail Right Edge Horizon

Detail Left Bottom Edge
The fine-weave linen support is unlined with 34 threads to the inch on both the warp and weft. Distinct cusping of the canvas threads is apparent on all four sides testifying to the fact that the canvas has not been cut down. Several sets of holes are present along the tacking edges documenting numerous restretchings. The tacking edge is now weak and torn in several areas with considerable fraying. The support is currently fastened to the stretcher with metal staples.There are no verso patches and only one small 3/4" tear along the upper right edge. In racking light severe canvas draws become apparent.

Detail Tacking Edge
Canvas Tear
Canvas Draws as Seen in Raking Light
The portrait is slightly over life-size. Hitler was 5'8'' while in the painting he is 6'2". He is depicted in his customary uniform draped with a gray trench coat and staring slightly to his left. His right hand rests on his hip while his left hand holds his military hat. He appears to be standing on the edge of a precipice allowing the composition to include a panoramic non-descript recessional landscape. The painting contains only a few details. Two of these are the Iron Cross, First Class medal which Hitler was awarded in August of 1918 and his Black War Wound Badge awarded on May 18, 1918.(5) His tie-pin, though small, is clearly meant to portray his 1922 design for the Nazi party parade standard which included a wreathed swastika surmounted by an eagle.(6) A few small flowers are included in the lower right corner.

Right Hand


Left Hand

Iron Cross

War Wound Badge

Tie Pin

Right Corner Flowers

Left Horizon

Right Horizon
The paint has been smoothly applied throughout with no distinct areas of impasto. The layer is vehicular in nature.(7) The form appears to be modeled directly in one layer as opposed to several layers of diaphanous hues. The paint is generally secure although numerous hard-edged losses have occurred along the outer edges in a rhythmic pattern implying damage while the canvas was in a rolled position. One previously-mentioned tear along the upper right edge has resulted in loss of paint and ground. No areas of in-painting or surface abrasion are present suggesting the painting has not received previous restoration.

Detail Surface Losses

Detail Surface Losses
     Surface Film    
The paint surface is coated with a dirt and grime layer. The thickness of the film is less than one might expect from a 1938 painting and may be due to long-term rolled storage. The film is consistent to the edges also suggesting long-term rolled storage for framed paintings normally exhibit cleaner edges in the areas protected by the frame. The surface is presently unvarnished resulting in an overall blanched appearance to the darker tones.
(4) "Stretcher Design, A Brief Preliminary History." Intermuseum Laboratory, Oberlin, Ohio. October, 1972. p. 16.
(5) Historical information from William Shirer The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich 1981 Simon and Schuster. New York p. 30. There are no specific records as to why Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross. It has been cited that he won it for capturing 15 enemy soldiers. Two months later, on October 13,1918, he suffered a gas attack at the Battle of Ypres, which at the time left him partially blind. Date of War Wound Badge offered by Charles Turner from John Toland's biography of Hitler.
(6) Design from Shirer. Ibid. p. 44.
(7) George Stout, "Classes of Simple Paint Structure," Technical Studies, Volume VI, 1938, p. 231.
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