A Glibertarians Exclusive:  The Painter II

Rome – 1926

“And this,” Adolf pointed out to the exhibition guest, “is the Reichstag building in Berlin.  I did the sketching when I was there last year, and finished it here in Rome.”

“Excellently done, signore Hitler,” Italy’s new dictator complimented the artist.  “You do the German people credit.”  The bombastic Italian moved on to another painting, standing before it with his hands behind his back, rocking back and forth on his heels.  “And this?”

“Schloss Charlottenburg, Duce,” Adolf replied.  “A seventeenth century palace in Berlin.”

“Beautiful.”  Benito Mussolini leaned in, examined the painting closely.  “You have an eye for detail.”

“Have you been through the section on Rome, Herr Mussolini?”

“I have.  You are gifted, signore.

“Rome gives one much to work with.”  That much was true; Adolf was increasingly a German partisan, but the architecture and history of Rome was inescapable.  If only Germany could attain the greatness of the Roman Empire, Adolf thought.  Then the other nations of the world would see something.  So far, his work had not been terribly successful – oh, Adolf had achieved no small commercial success, especially as his work improved through practice.  But the Europe-wide recognition of his vision of Germany had not yet come to pass.

There was another matter.   Adolf had, in 1923 and 1925, given exhibits in New York and Boston, and in between had traveled through that country; he saw for himself the steel industry in Pennsylvania, the manufacturing might of Detroit, and the impossibly vast sweeps of rich farmland in the upper Midwest.  He had seen the booming growth of the USA as an industrial and economic powerhouse.  The United States’ growing might was – or at least, should be – a matter of the greatest concern to any European power, including the hamstrung Weimar Republic.  America had the potential to become the next great lion of the world economy, and having seen that country for himself, Adolf could scarcely overlook that possibility.

The Americans were fractious, undisciplined, incorrigible – but somehow it worked for them.  Adolf found it difficult to resolve that seeming contradiction.

“How long have you been painting, signore Hitler?” Mussolini asked.

Adolf snapped out of his reverie.  “Since I was a boy,” he replied.  “Beginning with street scenes in Austria, where I grew up.  As you did, Duce, I served in the Great War, which delayed my work.  But after the war, thanks to the patronage of Herr Goldberg – he sadly passed away last year – I resumed my career as an artist.”

“Signore Goldberg would be proud to see all you have achieved,” Mussolini agreed.

“I hope so,” Adolf replied.

Mussolini wandered away, his small retinue following.  Adolf spent the balance of the evening talking to other viewers of his work, finally leaving the exhibit at about ten o’clock and walking alone through the darkening streets of Rome.

His studio was dark and deserted.  Adolf walked around aimlessly.  The faint noises of the street outside intruded only slightly.  He was lost on thought.

Nearby stood his largest easel.  On it was a canvas, covered with a piece of cloth.  The canvas, Adolf knew, was blank.  For all his efforts, for all his work, for all the success he had achieved, the one great masterpiece he longed for still eluded him.

He sat on a hard wooden chair for an hour, regarding the blank canvas.  Finally, he gave up.  Sleep, he told himself.  Sleep, and tomorrow will bring fresh perspective.

The next day brought no new perspective; there was too much to do.  The next few days were instead occupied with taking down the exhibition, removing the paintings back to the studio, and arranging shipping of those that had been sold.  Adolf was pleased and bemused to find that Benito Mussolini had purchased one of his paintings, a large study of the Roman Coliseum.

With that finally done, Adolf sat down for his typically Spartan supper – a bowl of vegetable soup and a boiled egg.  He ate at a small table, from which he could still see the blank canvas.

Mussolini, he mused, he would have the Roman Empire restored, with himself as Caesar, no doubt.  Why should Italy be so glorified, when the German people still suffer under the rule of Weimar?  Why, when Germany still suffers under the treaty at Versailles?

Paul von Hindenburg, the pompous, obese old Field Marshal, was now President; as far as Adolf could see the old man had done little to retrieve Germany’s status in the world of nations.

He finished eating, washed up in the studio’s tiny sink, brooded over the empty canvas for a while and then went to bed.

Adolf awoke early the next morning.  He washed and ate, then sat down to work on a painting of a street scene he had sketched in Munich the year before and was mildly annoyed when there was a knock on the studio door.  Dropping his brush, he stumped to the door and opened it, a testy look on his face.  “Jah?  What is it?”

“You are Herr Adolf Hitler?”  The caller was a portly man with dark hair, thick glasses, and a distinctly Bavarian accent.

“I am,” Adolf replied.

The man stuck out his hand.  “I am Anton Drexler,” he introduced himself.  “Chairman of the German Worker’s Party.”

“I’ve heard of you,” Adolf admitted.  “Your group attempted to seize control of Bavaria, is that not true?”

“We did.  We paid the price for that attempt.  May I come in?”

Adolf stepped back and held the door open.  “Very well.”  He led Drexler into the studio and indicated a chair.  “I have no coffee,” he apologized.  “There is tea, if you like.”

“Not necessary.”  Drexler dropped his battered hat on the narrow table Adolf used for eating and sat down.  He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I have no ashtrays,” Adolf said testily.

“As you wish.”  Drexler put the cigarette pack away.  “I have come from Munich to talk to you about your work on behalf of Germany.”

The man has a bit of Mussolini’s bombast, Adolf thought.  “Ach.  So?”

“So, we would like you to put your talent to greater use.”

“To promote another putsch?”  Adolf’s face clearly displayed his distaste.

“No.”  Drexler shook his head.  “We learned many hard lessons from that attempt.  No, Herr Hitler, now we will seek the resurrection of Germany through political means.”

“I am an artist,” Adolf pointed out, “not a politician.”

“And a good portion of your art portrays your Fatherland,” Drexler pointed out.  “You do want to present Germany not as it is, but as you hope for it to be, is it not so?”

“I wish to,” Adolf admitted.  “I strive to.  It is my struggle, that much is true.”

Drexler leaned forward.  “Tell me, Herr Hitler, how may we help you in this?”


Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum,
Dodging lions and wastin’ time.
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em.
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb.
Train wheels runnin’ through the back of my memory,
As the daylight hours do increase,
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody,
When I paint my masterpiece.