Hitler Fails Art Exam

After dropping out of high school in 1905 at age sixteen, Adolf Hitler spent the next few years in brooding idleness. His indulgent mother patiently urged him to learn a trade or get a job. But to young Hitler, the idea of daily work with its necessary submission to authority was revolting.

With his father now dead, there was no one who could tell young Hitler what to do, so he did exactly as he pleased. He spent his time wandering around the city of Linz, Austria, visiting museums, attending the opera, and sitting by the Danube River dreaming of becoming a great artist.

Hitler liked to sleep late then go out in the afternoon, often dressed like a young gentleman of leisure and even carried a fancy little ivory cane. When he returned home, he would stay up well past midnight reading and drawing.

He would later describe these teenage years free from responsibility as the happiest time of his life.


His only friend was with another young dreamer named August Kubizek, who wanted to be a great musician. They met at the opera in Linz. Kubizek found Hitler fascinating and a friendship quickly developed. Kubizek turned out to be a patient listener. He was a good audience for Hitler, who often rambled for hours about his hopes and dreams. Sometimes Hitler even gave speeches complete with wild hand gestures to his audience of one.

Kubizek later described Hitler's personality as "violent and high strung." Hitler would only tolerate approval from his friend and could not stand to be corrected, a personality trait he had shown in high school and as a younger boy as well.

Young Hitler did not have a girlfriend. But he did have an obsessive interest in a young blond named Stephanie. He would stare at her as she walked by and sometimes followed her. He wrote her many love poems. But he never delivered the poems or worked up the nerve to introduce himself, preferring to keep her in his fantasies. He told his friend Kubizek he was able to communicate with her by intuition and that she was even aware of his thoughts and had great admiration for him. He was also deeply jealous of any attention she showed to other young men.

In reality, she had no idea Hitler had any interest in her. Years later, when told of the interest of her now-famous secret admirer, she expressed complete surprise, although she remembered getting one weird unsigned letter.

Hitler's view of the world, also based in fantasy, began to significantly take shape. He borrowed large numbers of books from the library on German history and Nordic mythology. He was also deeply inspired by the opera works of Richard Wagner and their pagan, mythical tales of struggle against hated enemies. His friend Kubizek recalled that after seeing Wagner's opera "Rienzi," Hitler behaved as if possessed. Hitler led his friend atop a steep hill where he spoke in a strange voice of a great mission in which he would lead the people to freedom, similar to the plot in the opera he had just seen.

By now Hitler also had strong pride in the German race and all things German along with a strong dislike of the Hapsburg Monarchy and the non-Germanic races in the multicultural Austro-Hungarian Empire which had ruled Austria and surrounding countries for centuries.

In the Spring of 1906, at age seventeen, Hitler took his first trip to Vienna, capital city of the empire and one of the world's most important centers of art, music and old-world European culture. With money in his pocket provided by his mother, he went there intending to see operas and study the famous picture gallery in the Court Museum. Instead, he found himself enthralled by the city's magnificent architecture.

Hitler had developed a big interest in architecture. He could draw detailed pictures from memory of a building he had seen only once. He also liked to ponder how to improve existing buildings, making them grander, and streamlined city layouts. In Vienna, he stood for hours gazing at grand buildings such as the opera house and the Parliament building, and looking at Ring Boulevard.

As a young boy he had shown natural talent for drawing. His gift for drawing had also been recognized by his high school instructors. But things had gone poorly for him in high school. He was a lazy and uncooperative student, who essentially flunked out. To escape the reality of that failure and avoid the dreaded reality of a workaday existence, Hitler put all his hope in the dream of achieving greatness as an artist.

He decided to attend the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In October 1907, at age eighteen, he withdrew his inheritance money from the bank and went to live and study in Vienna. Hitler's mother was by now suffering from breast cancer and had been unsuccessfully operated on in January. But Hitler's driving ambition to be a great artist overcame his reluctance to leave her.

He took the two day entrance exam for the academy's school of painting. Confident and self assured, he awaited the result, quite sure he would get in. But failure struck him like a bolt of lightning. His test drawings were judged unsatisfactory and he was not admitted. Hitler was badly shaken by this rejection. He went back to the academy to get an explanation and was told his drawings showed a lack of talent for artistic painting, notably a lack of appreciation of the human form. He was told, however, that he had some ability for the field of architecture.

But without the required high school diploma, going to the building school and after that, the academy's architectural school, seemed doubtful. Hitler resolved to take the painting school entrance exam again next year. Now, feeling quite depressed, Hitler left Vienna and returned home where his beloved mother was now dying from cancer, making matters even worse.

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