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Fritz Erler, Adolf Hitler

Fritz Erler, Adolf Hitler Fritz Erler, Adolf Hitler Fritz Erler, Adolf Hitler

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Fritz Erler, 'Adolf Hitler in SA-uniform', August 30, 1931
This painting is based on a photo by Heinrich Hoffman (below), showing Adolf Hitler surrounded by students from the Münich SA-Führerschule, during the closing ceremony of the third course at 30 August, 1931. The third course was held from 9 August to 30 August 1931.
The photo was published by the newspaper 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' in 1932 and printed in the book 'Deutschland Erwacht', 1933. It was also printed on cigarette cards and on postcards issued by the Heinrich Hoffmann publishing company.
The Führerschule in Munich, located in the Briennerstrasse 44, was the first officer's training school of the SA in the Third Reich. 
     
- condition : II       
- size : 116 x 94 cm, unframed 100 x 80 cm
- signed : right, under. Created in 1931-1932. Provenance on request 
- type : oil on canvas                                              
- misc. I : written on the back: 'Für Grete, Johann W.'
- misc. II : professional cleaned; framed restored


 
Hitler visiting the Führerschule in Munich, August 30, 1931      
Except for one time with Heinrich Knirr, Hitler did not pose for painters or sculptors. Even the official Court Painters had to use photographs, mostly taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, as the basis for their paintings. German Art Gallery found the original Heinrich Hoffmann photograph that was the basis for this painting by Fritz Erler, depicted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung 1932, on cigarette- and postcards, and in the book 'Deutschland Erwacht', 1933. The text under the foto in 'Deutschland Erwacht' reads: ‘Adolf Hitler, with students of the Führerschule’. ‘Füherschulen’, later ‘Reichführerschulen’, founded by the NSDAP, were elite training schools for officers of the SA and SS. They were the equivalent of Britain's Sandhurst and the USA's West Point. These leadership schools provided a political-, military- and physical training to the leading cadre of the SA and SS. The candidates had to meet stringent requirements before being allowed into the officer schools; all SA/ SS officers had to be a minimum height of 1,74 centimeters and required was a ‘Greater Aryan certificate’, a certificate that traced the German family pedigree down to 1750. In 1937 the Füherschulen were transformed into SS-Junkerschulen, military academies for the children of the SS. 

The original and complete Heinrich Hoffmann photo: Adolf Hitler surrounded by students from the Münich SA-Führerschule, during the closing ceremony of the third course at 30 August, 1931 (Foto: The Ian Sayer Archive).



Standing, first row from left to right: Theodor Berkelman (1894 - 1943) general, who held the rank of Obergruppenführer during World War II. Berkelman was a teacher at the Führerschool in Munich; Wilhelm Brückner (1884 – 1954), in 1934 appointed as SA-Obergruppenführer. Until 1940 he was Adolf Hitler's chief adjutant In 1940 he went into the Wehrmacht and became a colonel by war's end; Gottlob Berger (1896 - 1975), held the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS. Standing right next to Hitler: Kurt Kühme ( 1910 – 1978), a highly decorated Major in the Wehrmacht and an Oberstleutnant in the Bundeswehr. In the SA he was promoted to Obergruppenführer in 1933. Kühne was the Head of the Munich Führerschule from 1931 to 1934. The third man left to Hitler: Baron Otto Wächter (1901 – 1949), head of the Civil Administration in the Kraków and Galicia districts in the General Government, before being appointed as head of the German Military Administration in Fascist Italy. He finished his career with the honorary rank of SS-Gruppenführer.

Left: the Heinrich Hoffmann photo depicted in the book 'Deutschland Erwacht', 1933. The text under the foto reads: ‘Adolf Hitler, with students of the Führerschule’ ('Adolf Hitler, im Kreise von Teilnehmern der Führerschule').
Right: the painting by Fritz Erler.
   


Left: the Heinrich Hoffmann photo depicted in the 'Süddeutsche Zeitung', 1932. The newspaper described the photo as: 'Hitler surrounded by SA-men in uniform, Munich, 1932.'.
Right: Heinrich Hoffmann postcard, date of issuance unknown.
  
  

Signature-book of the third course of the Munich Führerschule. Also signed by Alfred Rosenberg (24-8-1931) and Ernst Röhm (28-8-1931), probably in their role as teacher (source: The Ian Sayer Archive).



The first Führerschule, founded 15 June, 1931 in Munich

The very first Führerschule was founded at 15 June 1931, in Munich, Briennerstrasse 44. The photo below shows the the closing ceremony of the first course at 4 Juli, 1931.

 
    
The Heinrich Hoffmann photo is also printed on the cover of the book ‘The Charisma of Adolf Hitler’, by Laurence Rees, published in 2012. The book and the related BBC-movie were published in various languages.
   



Fritz Erler, one of the 5 major 'Court Painters' of Hitler
The five major ‘Court Painters’ of Hitler were: Fritz Erler, Conrad Hommel, Heinrich Knirr, Franz Triebsch and Karl Truppe. Paintings by these artists depicting Hitler or other Nazi-leaders are extremely scarce since they were destructed in 1945 on a massive scale. Most of those that still exist were confiscated by the Americans at the end of the war and shipped to the U.S. Army Centre of Military History in Washington, D.C., where they are still stored. We know that only the following works of these Court Painters depicting Adolf Hitler have survived and are at the U.S. Army Centre of Military History in Washington D.C.:
- Conrad Hommel: ‘Hitler’ (Head in Profile, 1941) and ‘Portrait of Adolf Hitler’ (1941);
- Heinrich Knirr: ‘Hitler with Red Roses and a Chair’ (1936) and ‘Portrait of Hitler’ (1939);
- Franz Triebsch: ‘Portrait of Hitler’ (1939);
- Karl Truppe: lost;
- Fritz Erler: lost.
A Heinrich Knirr painting from 1937, 'Portrait of Hitler', is in the possession of the Imperial War Museum, Londen. 
 
    
Adolf Hitler in SA-uniform 
Hitler depicted in the SA-uniform with Swastika bracelet and cross belt. On his tie we see the self-designed golden tiepin with an eagle and swastika. Left at his breast we see the contours of the Iron Cross First Class, which Hitler was awarded in 1918, and his Wounded Mark (also earned in World War I). Later, after 1933, Hitler also wore the golden Nazi Party Badge, with the inscription on the back 'Number 1'. This Party Badge was removed from his charred corpse in Berlin in 1945; later -in 2005- it was stolen from an exhibition in Moscow. Hitler often wore simple, modest clothes. Unlike the leaders of the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic, he did not wear flamboyant, expensive uniforms, covered with rows of distinctions. This was meant to cultivate the image -in line with the Prussian ideals of toughness, discipline and thrift -of a great man with outstanding moral authority. Part of the iconography of Hitler is his fanatical, grim facial expression. It is meant to display willingness, determination and strength, because politics is a battle. 

Hitler’s attire from 1920 to 1945
The clothes and/or uniforms that Hitler wore were specific to the time of the portrait:
From 1920 to 1933: he wore the brown-shirt uniform with a cross belt. Before 1927 he also wore a trenchcoat, during the mid 1920's a brown SA-shirt with black riding breeches and after 1930 he wore a brown SA-Uniform with black boots.
From 1933 to 1939: he wore a brown tunic plus a white shirt to express his statesmanship.
From 1939 to 1945: he wore a field-gray tunic with a white shirt. 
   
Fritz Erler, postcard. 'Portrait of the Leader', Room 1 at the Great German Art Exhibition in 1939. Bought for 25.000 Reichsmark by Edoardo Dino Alfieri, the Italian Minister of Culture and Propaganda. The painting shows similar rugged hands from Hitler. However, Fritz Erler hardly had time to follow the advice of Minister Adolf Wagner (below) in May 1940: as he died in December 1940. Also depicted in 'Kunst dem Volk', 1939. 
  



As can been seen in both Erler paintings, the hands of Hitler were -just like on the photos- depicted quite gracelessly. In May 1940, Fritz Erler received a letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs, in which Minster Adolf Wagner advised him to pay more attention to the hands of the Führer.
'Herr Staatsminister führte am 14. März 1940 anläslich des Besuches im Bernheimer Haus auss, das er z. B über das Führerbild von Prof. Erler deswegen entsetzt gewesen sei, weil dieser keine Ahnung von den Handen des Führers habe. Er habe sich in die letzte Tagen einschlägige Literatur und Bilder kommen lassen, aus denen die Künstler in reichem Mase die hände des Führers studieren können. Die Künstler machen es sich heute viel zu leicht. Sie arbeiten heute in der regel ein viel zu Kurzes Vorstudium des zu mahlen objektes aus. Herr Staatsminister beabsichtigt, die ober erwähnten Studien zusammenzufassen und den Müncherer Künstlern zu übersenden, damit sie einmal Gelegenheit haben, sich eingehend mit den Händen des Führers zu beschäftigen.'

            
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Deutscher Erkundungstrupp im zerstörten Ypern’, 1915 (‘Reconnaissance unit in the destroyed City of Ypern’). In the possession of the Deutsches Historiches Museum, Berlin. Size 80 x 68 cm.
Right: Fritz Erler, ´Offiziere´ ('Officers´), also named 'Patrouille im Osten' ('Army patrol in the East'). Early 1916, just before the introduction of the Steelhelmet.
    

 
Left: Fritz Erler: Helft uns Siegen! 1917. Call to buy war bonds, 1917. Perhaps Erler's best-known work. With this poster the campaign brought in at least 13.1 million marks more than any other campaign. Copies are currently displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, and in the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr, Dresden.
Right: Fritz Erler, 'Gedenkblatt für die gefallenen Helden der Bayerische Armee' ('Memoraial-sheet for the fallen heroes of the Bavarian army'). Depicted in 'Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte', 1916/17.
  



The Dresdner Kunstausttellung 1935
The Dresdner Kunstaustellung, 29 Juni- September 1935, was an art exhibition organized to showcase art approved by the Nazis. The exhibition held under patronage of Martin Mutschmann, Gauleiter of Saxony from 1925 to 1945, had a ‘Sonderschau Kriegbilder’, a special department with war-depictions. Many war painters known from their depictions of World War I were represented, including: Claus Bergen, Ludwig Dettmann (88 works), Franz Eichhorst, Otto Engelhardt-Kyffhäuser (110 works), Erich Erler-Samaden (22 works), Erich Fraas, Oskar Graf (32 works), Hans von Hayek (23 works), Anton Hoffmann and Willy Waldapfel.
Fritz Erler displayed 15 works at the exhibition. Some of them like 'Der Kompagnieführer' and 'Kämpfer vor Verdun' -depicted in the 1935 exhibition catalogue- were displayed again in 2016 at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, Museum Wiesbaden.  


Fritz Erler, 3 of 5 works which are in the possession of the Museum Wiesbaden. They were donated to the city of Wiesbaden in 1954 by the industrialist Ernst Boehringer, who bought the paintings in the mid-twenties direct from Fritz Erler. The works have been displayed at the ‘Kriegsbilderausstellung in der Königlichen Akademie der Künste’, 1916, Berlin, at the ‘Grosse Münchener Kunstausstellung’, 1918, Glaspalast, and some at the Dresdner Kunstaustellung 1935 (Sonderschau Kriegsbilder).
In 2016 they were displayed at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, Museum Wiesbaden.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Kämpfer vor Verdun’, 1916 (‘Combatans for Verdun’).
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Im Kampf’, 1916 (‘Battle’).  
Below: Fritz Erler, ‘Der Kompagnieführer’ (‘The leader of the Compagny’), 1917.
  




Fritz Erler, ‘Soldat‘ (‘Solder‘), 1917, painting with bullet holes. Size: 90 x 79 cm, sold at a German auctionhaus in 2011.



Fritz Erler, 'Mann mit Stirnschiled' ('The First Stahlhelm'). Depicted in the catalogue of the exhibition 'Fritz Erler in Verdun, von der Scholle in den Krieg', Museum Wiesbaden, 10 June - 9 October 2016. 
  


         
Fritz Erler, wall-paintings (2 of 5) in the Senator Lounge in Schloss Wolfsbrunn, Hartenstein. Signed 1918.
    


Left: Fritz Erler, 'Minister and Gauleiter Adolf Wagner', 1936. GDK 1939, room 23. Bought by Hitler for 12.000 Reichsmark. In the possession of the US Army Military Center of History.
Right: Adolf Hitler visiting the GDK 1939 (room 23). Left Gerdy Troost and in white uniform the Italian propaganda minister Dino Alfieri. At the background (right respectively left) two paintings by Fritz Erler: ‘Porträt des Staatsministers und Gauleiters Adolf Wagner‘ and  ‘Porträt des Reichsministers Frick‘. Hitler bought both works for 12.000 RM each. Nowadays they are in the possession of the US Army Centre of Military History (photo: Österreichische Nazionalbibliothek).
  


Adolf Hitler at the opening of the Great German Art Exhibition, July 16, 1939. At the back two works by Fritz Erler. The pictures are from the movie 'Art in the Third Reich', part I (at 1.08).


Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Reichswirtschaftminister Walter Funk’, GDK 1940, room 23. Bought by Hitler for 8.000 Reichsmark. In the possession of the US Army Military Center of History.
Right: Preliminay viewing of the GDK 1940. Behind Hitler: Director of the Haus der deutschen Kunst Karl Kolb, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, Gauleiter Adolf Wagner and Standartenführer Max Wünsche. At the back the painting ‘Reichswirtschaftminister Walter Funk’ by Fritz Erler (photo: Bayerische StaatsBibliothek, München).
  


Left: 'Portrait of Professor Joseph Wackerle', by Fritz Erler. GDK 1940, room 23. Bought by Hitler for 8.000 Reichsmark. Size 117 x 94 cm.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Professor Joseph Thorak’, GDK 1939 room 4. Sold for 12.000 Reichsmark. In the possession of the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Size 135 x 100 cm.
   


Left: Fritz Erler, 'Nazi People on November 9.', created 1935.
Right: ‘Nazi People Giving Nazi Heil!’, created 1935.
Both paintings (size 68 x 37 cm each ) are in the possession of the US Army Center of Military History.
     


Right: Fritz Erler, 'Hindenburg', displayed at the Grosse Münchener Kunstausstellung 1935 in the Neue Pinakothek.



The fresco’s by Fritz Erler in the Wiesbaden Kurhaus, and Kaiser Wilhelm II
The Wiesbaden Kurhaus was designed in 1902 by the architect Professor Friedrich von Thiersch, who also designed the Berlin Reichstag. The magnificently equipped ‘shell saloon‘ (‘Muschelsaal‘) was decorated in 1906 by Fritz Erler with five frescoes: 'Summer', 'Autumn', 'Winter', 'Spring' and 'Annosity and Youth'. 
From 1983 to 1987 the Kurhaus was renovated for 65 million DM. Based on the original plans by Friedrich von Thiersch it was possible to recapture the original style of 1907 with all its elements of Williamese architecture.
The Washington Post of 19 May 1907 writes that when Kaiser Wilhelm II entered the shell room, he was 'more than surprised' by Erler's unique frescoes. The emperor, who disliked modern art, at once turned and left the rooms. Architect Von Thiersch, however, commented in the newspaper that ‘Erler had produced a work of a quality not heretofore attained in modern mural painting,- certainly not in a German building' (the story was written in several other American newspapers).
Left: 'Herbst' ('Autumn').
Right: 'Sommer' ('Summer') or 'Seebad' ('Bathing in Sea').
  

Left: 'Frühling' ('Spring').
Right: 'Winter' or 'Karnaval' ('Winter' or 'Carnival'). 
   

The 'Allegorie auf Jugend und Alter' ('Annosity and Youth').




‘Works of Contemporary Artist of the Empire’, Chicago, 1909
Fritz Erler, ‘Die Pest‘ (‘The Plague‘), triptych created in 1899. Displayed at the exhibition ‘Works of Contemporary Artist of the Empire’ in the ‘Chicago Art Institute’, 7 April 1909. An ‘exhibition in America representing the best expression of the contemporaneous art movement in Germany’. Earlier that year, the work was displayed at exhibitions held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Boston.
Described in the Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 April 1909: ‘..in the large square gallery are a number of large decorative compositions of which the most striking is ‘The Plague’, a tryptich by Fritz Erler’.
The triptych ‘The Plague’, also displayed in the Glaspalast in 1899, was designed for the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden.



Murals in Villa Neisser, Wrocav
Fritz Erler, murals in the music room of the Villa Neisser, Wroclav. Neisser and his wife Toni were art lovers and patrons. The Villa Neisser was richly endowed with art treasures and cultural center of the city of Wroclaw. Friends of the couple included the architect Hans Poelzig, the sculptor Theodor von Gosen, the composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, the writer and Nobel Prize laureate Gerhart Hauptmann and the painter Eugen Spiro. In the villa were numerous works of art, included paintings by Giovanni Segantini (lunch time in the Alps), Arnold Böcklin (triptych Venus Genetrix), Oswald Achenbach, Hans Thoma, Frijts Thaulow, Eugen Spiro, and artworks by Constantin Meunier, Franz Stuck, Ignatius Taschner and Theodor von Goshen.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Scherzo’, created in 1898.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Tanz’ (‘Dance’), created in 1898.
  


Left: Fritz Erler, 'Circe', 1909. Depicted in 'Künstler Monographien, Fritz Erler', 1921. Sold under the name ‘Calma‘ (?) for 31.250 GBP by Sotheby London in December 2016. Size 251,50 x 163 cm.
Right: Fritz Erler, sold by Sotheby London under the name ‘Spanish Woman‘ (?) in November 2013 for USD 50.000. Size 90 x 82 cm.
  



Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Erde’ (‘Earth’), part of the sereis ‘The Four Elements’ (‘Earth, Fire, Water, Ear’). Fresco in  the ‘Pavilion des Haubtrestaurants der Ausstellung München’, 1908. Depicted in ‘Künstler Monographien, Fritz Erler’, 1921.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Eisen’ (‘Iron’, the accompanying fresco was named ‘Gold’). Fresco in the ‘Pavilion des Haubtrestaurants der Ausstellung München’, 1908. Depicted in ‘Künstler Monographien, Fritz Erler’, 1921.
  


Fritz Erler, Frescoes in the Council Chambre of the Münchener Rückversicherungs Gesellschaft, Munich, around 1930.



Erweiterungsbau der Reichshauptbank in Berlin/ Haubtkassenhalle
Fritz Erler designed 10 monumental gold-mosaics -representing Economic and Cultural Life- for the Main Hall of the extension of the Reichshauptbank in Berlin ('Hauptkassenraum der neuen Reichsbank').
Left: Mosaic designed by Erler (destructed) in the Main Hall of the extension of the Reichshauptbank. Depicted in ‘Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich’, 1940.
Right: the Main Hall of the Reichsbank in Berlin, depected in the architect magazine 'Baugilde', 1941, book 8/9.
     



Hitler as art
Thirty-six paintings and busts of Hitler were displayed at the Great German Art Exhibitions from 1937 to 1944. The first painting that people saw when they entered the exhibition was one of Der Führer in Room 1. In similar fashion, the official exhibition catalogues all started with a picture of the “Schirmherr (patron) Des Haus der Deutschen Kunst”. Around 450 portraits depicting Hitler and other Nazi-officials and symbols are currently stored in the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington. Keeping this German War Art Collection in the US is not seen by the Americans as a violation of the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Treaty on cultural property, as they don’t classify these paintings as art. 
This remarkable point of view leads us to the following question: Is a painting of Angela Merkel, Joseph Stalin, Benjamin Netanyahu or General Spoor art or non-art? And who decides this? Respectively German left-wing extremists? Russian civilians? Palestinians or Indonesian civilians? Can people be interested in a portrait of Napoleon (or Hitler) because of it’s historical significance? Or does their interest mean that they are automatically right-wing extremists with the aim of conquering the whole of Europe? This last point of view echoes the theory of Hannah Ahrend who states: “The essence of terror lies in the immediate transition from accusation to conviction. One thing we learned very well from the tragic 1930s and 1940s is that classifying art as ‘non-art’ and forbidding books for political reasons is a dead-end street. No matter how much one dislikes Hitler, Napoleon, Caligula or Stalin, and no matter how much their depictions were used as propaganda, a painting or sculpture of them cannot be reclassified as 'non art'.

The extreme scarcity of National Socialistic art

Massive, systematic destruction of Nazi art since 1945: the Potsdam-Agreement
From 1933 to 1949 Germany experienced two massive art purges. Both the National Socialist government and OMGUS (the U.S. Military Government in Germany) were highly concerned with controlling what people saw and how they saw it. The Nazis eliminated what they called ‘Degenerate art’, erasing the pictorial traces of turmoil and heterogeneity that they associated with modern art. The Western Allies in turn eradicated ‘Nazi art’ and forbade all artworks military subjects or themes that could have military and/or chauvinist symbolism from pictorial representation. Both the Third Reich and OMGUS utilized the visual arts as instruments for the construction of new German cultural heritages.
The Potsdam Agreement of 2 August 1945, subparagraph 3, Part III, Section A stated that one purpose of the occupation of Germany was ‘to destroy the National Socialistic Party and its affiliated and supervised organizations and to dissolve all Nazi and militaristic activity or propaganda.’ In accordance with Allied Control Council laws and military government regulations, all documents and objects which might tend to revitalize the Nazi spirit or German militarism would be confiscated or destroyed. For example, Title 18, Military Government Regulation, OMGUS stated that: ‘all collections of works of art related or dedicated to the perpetuation of German militarism or Nazism will be closed permanently and taken into custody.’ As a consequence, thousands of paintings –portraits of Nazi-leaders, paintings containing a swastika or depicting military/war sceneries– were considered ‘of no value’ and destroyed. With knives, fires and hammers, they smashed countless sculptures and burned thousands of paintings. Around 8,722 artworks were shipped to military deposits in the U.S.
OMGUS regulated and censored the art world. The Information Control Division (ICD, the key structure in the political control of post-war German culture in the American zone) was in fact a non-violent version of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). With its seven subdivisions (i.e. press, literature, radio, film, theatre, music, and art), the ICD neatly replaced the Reich Chamber of Culture. The ICD established through its various sections a system of licensed activity, with screening and vetting by Intelligence to exclude all politically undesirable people.

‘Free’ German artists producing ‘free German art’ after 1945
In the ideology of OMGUS, painting was conceived of as a strategic element in the campaign to politically re-educate the German people for a new democratic internationalism. Modern art allowed for the establishment of an easy continuity with the pre-Nazi modernist past, and it could serve as a springboard for the international projection of Germany as a new country interacting with its new Western partners.
‘Free’ artists producing ‘free art’ was one of the most powerful symbols of the new Germany, the answer to the politically controlled art of the Third Reich. Modern art linked Western Germany to Western Europe – separating the new West German aesthetic and politics from that of the Nazi era, the U.S.S.R., and East Germany -and suggested an ‘authentically’ German identity.


Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Selbstportrait’, 1912. Displayed in 2016 at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, Museum Wiesbaden.
Right: Fritz Erler, self-portrait, signed 1908. Printed on the cover of the magazine Jugend, 1914.
            


Gravestone of Fritz Erler, created by Joseph Wackerle. Located in Holzhausen, near the Ammersee. A portrait of sculptor Joseph Wackerle by Fritz Erler hung in the GDK 1940 (bought by Hitler).






Fritz Erler, 'most highly endowed of the Scholle Group', New York Times, 1909
Fritz Erler (1868 – 1940) was a painter, graphic designer and scenic designer who is perhaps best known for several propaganda posters he produced during World War I. He studied at the ‘Königlichen Kunstschule Breslau‘, as 'Meiserschüler' from Albrecht Peter Bräuer, and from 1892 until 1894 at the  the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1895 he went to Munich; from 1918 onwards he lived in Holzhausen am Ammersee. In 1896 he became co-founder of the magazine ‘Die Jugend‘ and three years later co-founding member of the ‘Künstlervereinigung Die Scholle‘. 

At 7 April 1909 the exhibition ‘Works of Contemporary Artist of the Empire’ took place in the ‘Chicago Art Institute’: an ‘exhibition in America representing the best expression of the contemporaneous art movement in Germany’. Erler displayed his triptych ‘Die Pest‘ (‘The Plague‘), created in 1899. Earlier that year, the work was displayed at exhibitions held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Boston. Described in the Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 April 1909: ‘..in the large square gallery are a number of large decorative compositions of which the most striking is ‘The Plague’, a tryptich by Fritz Erler’. ‘The Plague’, also displayed in the Glaspalast in 1899, was designed for the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden. The New York Times described the paintings by Fritz Erler in an artical of 17 januari 1909 as 'the most highly endowed of the 'Scholle' group.
After 1911, when die art association 'Die Scholle' was dissolved, Erler became a member of the 'Münchener Secession'; numerous works by Erler were displayed in the Glaspalast. He painted several portraits around the start of the 20th century; his most notable portraits are of composer Richard Strauss and Gerhart Hauptmann, the German dramatist and novelist who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912. In the same period he created various fresco's, for example in the ‘Villa  Neisser’, Breslau, in the ‘Pavilion des Haubtrestaurants der Ausstellung München, the ‘Repräsentationssaal der kunstgewerblichen Metallarbeiten’, in the ‘Weinhaus Trarbach, Berlin, etc. In 1907 Fritz Erler created the five well known fresco’s (see above) in the ‘shell saloon‘ (‘Muschelsaal‘) of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus, a building designed by architect Professor Friedrich von Thiersch (who also designed the Berlin Reichstag). The Washington post of 19 May 1907 writes that when Kaiser Wilhelm II entered the shell room, he was more than surprised by Erler's unique frescoes. The emperor, who disliked modern art, at once turned and left the rooms. Architect Von Thiersch, however, commented that ‘Erler had produced a work of a quality not heretofore attained in modern mural painting,- certainly not in a German building' (the story was written in several other American newspapers). The fresco’s are still existing. Erlers fresco's, triptych and paintings were often inspired by German mythology.
Also in 1907, Erler was appoined 'königlichen Professor'. 
Along with Arthur Kampf, Erler was one of the official military painters for the Oberste Heeresleitung. His paintings were commissioned as war propaganda; for his war-depictions he was in 1916 awarded the 'König-Ludwig-Kreuz'. The promotional poster for the sixth war bond (sechste Kriegsanleihe) was adorned with his painting 'Helft uns siegen!' (1917), which is perhaps Erler's best-known work. With this poster the campaign brought in at least 13.1 million marks more than any other campaign. The poster shows a soldier, his face darkened from the muck of the trenches, gazing beyond the viewer into No Man's Land with eyes that shine as if from an inward light. This heroic image depicts the widespread contemporary belief that trench warfare would somehow be a morally cleansing experience. Many of his War Bond posters now hang in the Imperial War Museum in London. 
In 1924 Fritz Erler was represented at the XIV Biennale in Venedig with is work 'Ritratto di Rigazzo' ('Potrait of a Boy').
He was awarded several Gold- and Silvermedals. In 1922 he was appointed ‘Ehrenmitglied der Akademie der Bildenden Künste’ in Munich; in 1928 he received the ‘Bayerischen Maximiliansorden für Wissenschaft und Kunst‘ and finally in 1935 the ‘Hessische Staatsmedaille für hervorragende Malerei‘.
Later during the Nazi period, Erler's paintings featured heavily in National Socialist exhibitions. In 1937/38 Erler created his last and biggest monumental work, a series of ten huge glass-mosaics (based on Germanic-Nordic themes) for the ‘Reichshaubtbank’ in Berlin. This work was commissioned by the Nazi-regime, likely by Adolf Hitler himself. His portraits of Adolf Hitler were very remunerative: one of his paintings, in which he pictured Hitler in front of a huge monumental sculpture, was shown in the Great German Art Exhibition in room 1. This place was a grandstand, as it was the first painting people saw when they entered the exhibition. The work was bought for 25.000 Reichsmark by Edoardo Dino Alfieri, the Italian Minister of Culture and Propaganda. Erler also painted Reich Minister Walter Funk (GDK 1940, room 23), State Minister Adolf Wagner (GDK 1939, room 23), Reichminister Frick (GDK 1939, room 23) and sculptor Joseph Wackerle (GDK 1940 room 23); all of these paintings were bought by Adolf Hitler and are now in the possession of the U.S. Army Centre of Military History, Washington, D.C. 
Other pantings by Fritz Erler in the possession of the U.S. Army Centre of Military History include 'Nazi People Giving Nazi Heil!' (1935), 'Feldherrnhalle at Munich', and 'Nazi People on 9th November' (1935). 17 works by Fritz Erler are in the possession of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. The German Historical Museum holds 'Portrait of Professor Joseph Wackerle' and 'Deutscher Erkundungstrupp im zerstörten Ypern’. The Museum Wiesbaden holds 5 large paintings depicting war scenes from the Ost- and Westfront, created between 1915 and 1917; they were displayed at the exhibition 'Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg', 2016, Wiesbaden.