Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Austin Osman Spare - Self as Hitler

Austin Osman Spare, Self as Hitler, 1936

Hannen Swaffer, the British journalist, reports (Hannen Swaffer, "The Mystery of An Artist", in London Mystery Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 5, 1950) that in 1936 Spare wilfully rejected a chance for international fame. He relates that a member of the German Embassy, buying Spare's above self-portrait, sent it to Hitler. According to Swaffer, the Führer was so impressed (according to this account because the eyes and the moustache were somewhat like his own) that he invited Spare to go to Germany to paint him. Spare, instead, made a copy of it, which came into Swaffer's possession. Swaffer indicates that written at the top of the portrait is the reply that Spare "sent to the man who wanted to master Europe and dominate mankind":
“Only from negations can I wholesomely conceive you. For I know of no courage sufficient to stomach your aspirations and ultimates. If you are superman, let me be for ever animal.”
In 1941, a German bomb totally obliterated Spare's studio flat, depriving him of his home, his health and his equipment. For three years he struggled to regain the use of his arms until finally, in 1946, in a cramped basement in Brixton, he began to make pictures again, surrounded by stray cats. At the time he had no bed and worked in an old army shirt and tattered jacket. Yet he still charged only an average of £5 per picture.


  1. I find this story implausible and confusing. Was Spare's inscription actually addressed to Hitler, or did Hannen Swaffer (who claimed to have the purported copy) just assume, because Spare looked a bit like Hitler, that the inscription was to addressed to the Fuhrer? The Hitler moustache wasn't such a rarity in l936 Europe and it's possible Spare was thinking about something entirely else when he wrote it. Why reject the offer of a portrait commission by copying a self-portrait, inscribing it with a cryptic insult and then giving or selling it to a person it wasn't intended for? This story smacks of propaganda journalism. Spare wasn't stupid and I doubt that he hated Hitler enough to have wasted his time on a prank like this.

  2. the entire nazi regime seems implausible but it was a horrifying reality .. so an inscription , very plausible.