The Duel of Painters

Sir Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965), Marrakech, 1948. A gift from Churchill to Harry S. Truman, in 1951, and with the Truman family ever since, Recently sold by Sothoby's in London. Photo: Wikipedia

Madame Tussaud decided to give Adolf Hitler a face in the new exhibition in Berlin. Hitler will appear together with 75 other historical figures. The return of the dictator, who left Berlin and a continent in ruins, will be less violent than his farewell suicide, his hateful testimony and his disastrous legacy. Hitler will not be lonesome in his bunker this time. On the contrary, he will be in good company of Winston S. Churchill, who shares the same room. Both historical figures never met, although a meeting had been arranged in München in 1932.

Hitler had the intention to pay a visit to Westminster without invitation in 1940, accompanied by his ‘invincible’ armies. Poised on the edge of and fleshed with victory, however, he was fatally undecided about how to close with Britain. Churchill, threatened by invasion, standing alone and without allies after the defeat of France, was determined to hold on. The duel between these two men should decide the fate of the free world, humanity and democracy. Although the ‘Battle of Britain’ (August-September 1940) was decisive from a military point of view, the preceding months May-July 1940 were decisive for the British (political) persistence.

The duel between Hitler and Churchill started already in the twenties, when Churchill took notice of the rise of Nazism (and communism) in Germany. He rightly stated that Nazism was an ugly child of communism. From the thirties he warned without hesitation about the ‘braun’ threat, without neglecting the causes of German anger.  In The second World War, The Gathering Storm, (London 1948), p. 34, Churchill coined, in vain, the maxim “The redress of the grievances of the vanquished should precede the disarmament of the victors’. The reality was the other way around. Hitler not only lost the military duel. He was also defeated as artist. Both figures never attended an academy of art (Hitler failed to gain entry twice, Churchill started painting in 1915 and should never have gained entry neither). From 1915 painting was Churchill’s main relaxation from the stresses and strains of politics (and the First World War, where he served in Flanders after his resignation as First Lord of the Admirality because of the Dardanelles fiasco, Hitler served also at the Western front in Flanders and Northern France, but at other locations). Hitler dreamed of becoming a great artist in Vienna, ending his artistic career as house-painter and drawing pictures of buildings. He took the disastrous decision to become a politician, he wrote a pamphlet in staccato style, called it a book, and died as dictator. Churchill was a politician from the day of his birth, he started writing about 1900 and he was called to office again in 1940. However, he ended his life as man of arts, Nobel price winner for literature and he painted until his death in 1965. Madame Tussaud brings ‘Der Führer’ and Churchill finally together. The Duel continues. (Source: J. Lukacs, The Duel. Hitler vs. Churchill 10 May – 31 July 1940 ( London 1990).