One famous applicant rejected by the Vienna Fine Arts Academy was of course, Hitler. I got to thinking: so who was accepted instead?

To make sense of this we would need to know how was the admission process structured: were the applicants ranked and the top N (how many, btw?) accepted? Or was each applicant initially screened on his own merits/demerits before being compared to the others?

I realize there might be insufficient information to figure this one out, but the question is of the kind that is hard to put aside...

  • +1 and favorited. For asking who, or what kind of person, took the "last place," which, had it been given to Hitler, would have spared the world a lot of grief.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 30, 2013 at 12:40
  • 3
    @TomAu Heh, you can't know what the other person would have done if they weren't admitted. They might have been a lot worse than Hitler (hard to imagine, but you never know).
    – yannis
    Apr 30, 2013 at 12:59
  • @YannisRizos: If it were up to me, I'd be willing to take "a chance against a certainty."
    – Tom Au
    Apr 30, 2013 at 13:40
  • @TomAu Why do assume that Hitler's life would have turned out significantly different if he had got the admission?
    – Drux
    Apr 30, 2013 at 20:15
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    Hmm ... I wonder if it's that simple. Who could know what kind of artist Hitler would have become? Some Hollywood screen artists even became U.S. president(s). IMO Hitler was an pathological character and as such perhaps much more driven than taking rational choices. Of course, this is only a (somewhat informed) speculation, as it has to be since this is not how history went.
    – Drux
    Apr 30, 2013 at 20:38

1 Answer 1


For a partial answer, you can work backwards from the birth dates of prominent students. It was customary to start this kind of education after finishing high school at the age of 18: A Benjamin Strasser (1888–1955) did so in 1905.

As for the admission process, the place and time suggests to me that once the applicant was able to muster the basic requirements (high school diploma and suitable examples of artistic works) it would most likely have come down to an individual decision by the admitting faculty member: much more like in an apprenticeship system than SAT scoring, say.

UPDATE: So it turned out that there is more concrete information in Brigitte Hamann's Hitler's Vienna: A Portrait of the Tyrant as a Young Man:

Like the building, the professor's college was modeled in the spirit of the Ring Boulevard era. In art, historical painting was still the dominating style and genre. Female students were not admitted, inasmuch as they were alleged to bring the students' overall level of by virtue of their dilettantism. In short: the Academy, which, in Oskar Kokoschka's words, people attended "clad in velvet robe and beret" in order "to be considered artists", was a refuge for conservatives. ("Superruffian" Kokoschka, three years Hitler's senior, attended the Academy's modern counterpart, the School of Arts and Crafts.) [...]

The examination procedure then was hardly different from today: the decision whether a candidate qualified for even taking the exam is based on the works submitted. In early 1907 Hitler was one of 112 candidates who would take the admission tests: he set out with a pile of drawings, convinced that it would be child's play to pass the examination. He passed this first part of the test and was admitted to the drawing exam [...]

The academy's drawing exam was administered under supervision on October 1 and 2, 1907, in two separate groups, lasting three hours each in the morning and the afternoon. Eight "composition tasks" had to be carried out from one group of themes each, such as "(1) Expulsion from Paradise (2) Hunting (3) Spring (4) Construction Workers (5) Death (6) Rain." This time Hitler's works did not meet the requirements. The "Classification List of the General Painting School 1905-1911" [sic!] contains the entry: "Adolf Hitler, b. in Braunau on the Inn, Upper Austria on 20 April 1889, German, Catholic senior official of the Dual Monarchy (father), few heads," and the result: "Drawing exam unsatisfactory." Of 113 candidates who showed up, only 28 were accepted into the painting school, which appropriately equals today's admission percentage [...]

Speculations tracing Hitler's anti-Semitism back to his rejection by Jewish Academy professors are entirely unfounded: not one of the responsible men during the examination was Jewish.

Hamann cites her original sources (as one would expect), and she also names the key faculty members involved (in a fragment I did not yet cite).

  • Excellent answer, thanks! Btw, did any of the alumni of those two classes become famous? May 1, 2013 at 5:39
  • Thx. Re notable alumni (famous is perhaps 2 subjective, context-specific category), I would e.g. recommend Otto Wagner 4 the Academy of Fine Arts & perhaps Gustav Klimt 4 the School of Arts and Crafts. However, 4 top quality in arts education look no further than the Vienna music schools, i.e. mdw and Konservatorium Wien, which IMHO (still) punch above the country's weight :)
    – Drux
    May 1, 2013 at 21:42
  • P.S. And BTW, Benjamin Strasser (Academy of Fine Arts, class of 1912, also mentioned above) had to emigrate (to Switzerland, then England, then finally U.S.A.) thanks to the malicious policies of his almost classmate.
    – Drux
    May 1, 2013 at 22:17

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