Friday, February 29, 2008

Hitler Plagiarized Disney Cartoons

An article in last weekend's Telegraph, linked by Pajamas Media, peaked my curiosity, as it did I'm sure for many thousands of other readers around the globe.

In a story originating from Reuters, we learned that a Norwegian museum director had found some drawings of Walt Disney characters, seemingly made by, of all people, Adolf Hitler:

The director of a Norwegian museum claimed yesterday to have discovered cartoons drawn by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.

William Hakvaag, the director of a war museum in northern Norway, said he found the drawings hidden in a painting signed "A. Hitler" that he bought at an auction in Germany.

He found coloured cartoons of the characters Bashful [sic... it's obviously Sleepy, not Bashful] and Doc from the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which were signed A.H...
...Mr Hakvaag, who said he had performed tests on the paintings which suggested that they dated from 1940, said: "I am 100 per cent sure that these are drawings by Hitler. If one wanted to make a forgery, one would never hide it in the back of a picture, where it might never be discovered."

No news account of this story seemed to ever identify which actual museum this was. Well, I found it: it's the Lofoten World War II Memorial Museum in Lofoten, Norway. I wanted to learn about this museum, and its director, in order to follow up a particular hunch I had. To my surprise, the museum's website carried a more detailed article with yet another "Hitler drawing" of another dwarf, Dopey:

When you see these sketches, do you think, "this Hitler seems like a rather good artist"? Well, he's not. As soon as I saw these sketches, I had a nagging sensation that I had seen them before, that they were only copies, not originals. Which is why I wanted more details from the museum about their provenance. I had seen these poses before, somewhere... but where?? It took a bit of digging, but I succeeded in locating the real source. It turns out that they are from this book:

My copy pictured here is a 1993 reprint of a book originally published back in 1938, in England, by William Collins, the former incarnation of HarperCollins. This 1993 edition was meant as a faithful reproduction of the rare original. Here's a picture I took from its contents:

Does this Dopey sketch on the right look familiar to you..?

Here are scans I've made right out of the book, of the ORIGINAL two dwarf sketches that the world saw copied, courtesy of that Reuters article. Compare these two to the two at the top of this post:

Whether the drawings are actually by Hitler's hand or someone else, the fact is that these are such meticulous copies; it seems pretty obvious they are mere tracings of their originals. There's nothing inherently artistic, nothing remotely creative, involved in what "A.H"/Hitler did: he put a piece of paper on top of his 1938 edition of "Sketchbook of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" [the book's original title] and traced a handful of someone else's drawings.

The proof that these are tracings comes, unknowingly perhaps, from the very mouth of the museum curator, William Hakvaag:
I discovered that Hitler thought this [Snow White] was one of the best movies ever made. As a matter of fact, he was so in love with it that he had his own copy of it for his private movie theatre in Obersalzberg. It is said that the Fuehrer was furious that German movie makers could not make a movie that good.
For that reason Hakvaag believes Hitler sat down with pencil and paper to see if he at least could match Disney's drawings as well as the creators.
"When you look at these drawings you realize they have been done with great affection", says Hakvaag.
"In two corners of the papers you can see little holes from the pins that kept them in place while the artist was working."
And so with "great affection" the fuhrer pinned his paper in place to more effectively recreate a slavish copy of American artwork.

I think this reveals a lot about Hitler's shallowness as a thinker. He skips over everything "inside" the drawings that made them what they are, i.e. their structural foundation. He only copyies the "outside" lines, in order to presume to arrive at the same result as the harder working American artists.

The Disney studio followed a style they called "solid drawing", devoted to the portrayal of form; all their figures' lines are really "edges", edges of shapes. First the Disney artists made an elaborate series of inner shapes, and from them they painstakingly find the final, outer lines.
There are two stages, not just the one that Hitler copied.

No wonder Hitler was "furious that German movie makers could not make a movie that good"; he tried to just jump to the finish, to skip over the truly hard part. Few see the initial, messy, structural, stage when they look at the second, cleanly linear, stage... but that doesn't mean this first stage didn't happen, or isn't important. It seems a cruel fate of the craft that nobody sees all the hard work that goes into the final result; we the viewing public just get to enjoy the elegant beauty of the "outside" of the cartoonists' art, leaving us with the unfair assumption that the shell itself is the sum total of the art.

Hitler evidently just looked at outcome, decided "that's all there is", and resented not being able to reach the same results of others; he was probably unwilling to admit that the intense struggle involved in true creation, truly adding to the existing wonders of our world, follows a humbling path necessarily filled with honest admissions of error. (Ironic for someone whose autobiography was entitled, "My Struggle"... Mein Kampf) One wonders if his earlier painting career stumbled from a similar limitation: did he expect to be given the same opportunities as the other candidates for the prestigious Austrian art school that turned him away, even though he was unwilling to work as hard as they did to build talent worthy of that school?

Maybe I'm reading too much into the original Reuters piece, but it appears to me as if the article is implicitly trying to suggest Hitler had a certain amount of artistic skill. Well, laborious copying is hardly comparable to, and scarcely as valuable as, original artistic creation. What's next, will Reuters serenade us with revealed excerpts from a supposed "original Hitler script":

"This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

An international army of Shakespeare fans would immediately spot this plagiarism a mile away, whether "A.H."'s handwriting matches or not. There doesn't seem to be much effort being made here by journalists, let alone this museum, to contact anyone in cartoon animation, at Disney or otherwise, to put this discovery into a proper context. As a lifetime Disney fan, as someone who has long admired the dedication of their great artists to persevere through grueling disappointments in order to dare to create great art, I hope this post can be seen as providing some much-needed context for the Reuters story, so that a talentless hack doesn't get credit for finished work he stole from others.

These Hitler sketches should be appraised, and sold, for what they truly are: empty shells, empty of the mixture of laughter and tears impregnated within the breath of life with which any Artist worthy of the title, "animates" their art.


Anonymous said...

no hitler fan, but plagiarism? Come on... drawing a few cartoon characters I've seen for fun is not quite what I understand plagiarism to be.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

D.W. said...