Terrifying Taste: 21 Despots, Dictators, and Drug Lords, and the Art They Loved

Many of the most notorious dictators of our time have, at one point or another, attended (or sent a representative to appear at) major auctions, while some of the great faces of evil have one or two masterpieces hanging on their wall. Since this is hardly news, more compelling than “who,” perhaps, is “what” — as in, what kind of art do these terrible people like?

NAME: Adolf Hitler
KNOWN AS: Der Führer of Germany (1934 – 45)
INFAMOUS FOR: WWII, the Holocaust, psychosis, redefining evil
COLLECTED: German Romantic painters, garish propaganda art, Swiss landscape artists, particularly Arnold Böcklin; favorite painting was “Isle of the Dead”

Arnold Böcklin, “Isle of the Dead,” 1883

NAME: Hermann Göring
KNOWN AS: President of Reichstag (1932 – 45)
INFAMOUS FOR: Nazism, being Hitler’s goon
COLLECTED: ca. 1,375 Medieval and Renaissance works including Botticelli’s “Mary with Jesus and St. John the Baptist,” Rembrandt’s “Portrait of an Old Man,” and Dürer’s “Sketch of a Stag Beetle”

Albrecht Dürer, “Stag Beetle,” 1505

NAME: Nicolae Ceausescu
KNOWN AS: Dictator of Romania (1965 – 89)
INFAMOUS FOR: Totalitarianism, imposing poverty, abortion-banning
COLLECTED: Romanian artists Constantin Artachino, Nicolae Tonitza, Theodor Pallady, and Gheorge Petrascu; engravings by Goya

At left:
Constantin Artachino, “Scânteia”

NAME: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue
KNOWN AS: Son of the President of Equatorial Guinea (current)
INFAMOUS FOR: Hoarding most national revenue, overall corruption
COLLECTED: Degas, Renoir, Gaugin, Rodin; much of Yves St. Laurent estate collection; also Michael Jackson memorabilia

NAME: Pieter Menten
KNOWN AS: Businessman/Collector/Nazi Collaborator
INFAMOUS FOR: Assassinating Jewish neighbors, concealing war crimes
COLLECTED: Nicolaes Maes, Jan Sluyters, and Francisco Goya

NAME: Pablo Escobar
KNOWN AS: The #1 Colombian Drug Lord (1975 – 93)
INFAMOUS FOR: Controlling the cocaine industry, being ruthless
COLLECTED: Dali, Picasso, and Botero works used to launder money; Botero later revenged himself with iconic “The Death of Pablo Escobar”

NAME: Manuel Noriega
KNOWN AS: Military Governor of Panama (1983 – 89)
INFAMOUS FOR: Trafficking, racketeering, murdering opponents, “pineapple face”
COLLECTED: Pre-Columbian pottery and figurines; erotic coasters; paintings of Hitler and Gaddafi

NAME: King Farouk
KNOWN AS: King of Egypt (1936 – 52)
INFAMOUS FOR: Corrupt and ineffectual governance, spending all his time shopping
COLLECTED: Massive collections of coins, timepieces, and erotic art: including sculpture, painting, pornography, and “erotic watches”

At Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Antiquities Museum

NAME: Kim Jong-Il
KNOWN AS: Supreme Leader of North Korea (1994 – 2011)
INFAMOUS FOR: Repressive rulership, human rights violations, wanton production of nuclear weapons, magically controlling the weather
COLLECTED: 200,000-plus films; propaganda artists such as Song Byeok (pseudonym), who now satirizes the Dear Leader

NAME: Fulgencio Batista
KNOWN AS: President & Dictator of Cuba (1940–44, 1952–59)
INFAMOUS FOR: Corruption, slaughtering dissidents, turning Cuba into a Mafia playground
COLLECTED: Historic selection of of Cuban colonial to modern-art masterpieces; later donated to a Daytona, Florida museum

NAME: Marshal Josip Broz Tito
KNOWN AS: President of Yugoslavia (1953 – 80)
INFAMOUS FOR: Repressing civil rights, planting the roots for genocide
COLLECTED: A 3,500-work collection primarily of 16th – 19th century Old Masters, preference to Rembrandt; hung Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski’s “Lone Wolf” and Gebrand van den Eeckhout’s “Tribute Money” in bedroom

Vlaho Bukovac, “Youth, the queen of life,” 1915

NAME: Zhang Xueliang
KNOWN AS: Warlord of Manchuria (1928 – 29), Political Hero
INFAMOUS FOR: Kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek
COLLECTED: Fan paintings and calligraphy of Chinese Old Masters; many works by friend/icon Zhang Daqian

Detail of Lan Ying’s “Landscape After Wu Zhen”

NAME: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
KNOWN AS: Shah of Iran (1941 – 79)
INFAMOUS FOR: Autocratic ruling, oil wealth hoarding, throwing crazy parties
COLLECTED: Massive collection of modern art, including some of the most valuable 20th-century masterpieces such as Warhol’s Mao paintings and Pollock’s $250-million “Mural on Indian Red Ground”

Jackson Pollock’s “Mural On Indian Red Ground”

NAME: Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos
KNOWN AS: President & First Lady of the Philippines (1965 – 86)
INFAMOUS FOR: Corruption, nepotism, imposing martial law; shoe mania
COLLECTED: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir, and Manet, Picasso, Rembrandt; missing for 25 years since regime’s fall, now the center of a scandal with secretary’s sales of Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas” (1899) and “L’Église et La Seine à Vétheuil” (1881)

Alfred Sisley, “Langland Bay,” 1887

NAME: Fidel Castaño
KNOWN AS: Colombian drug lord/Escobar rival (1981 – 84)
INFAMOUS FOR: Drug trafficking, paramilitarism
COLLECTED: Dozens of Fernando Botero works; was once painted by Oswaldo Guayasamin

NAME: Bashar & Asma al-Assad
KNOWN AS: President and First Lady of Syria (current)
INFAMOUS FOR: Being thoroughly corrupted by power
COLLECT: Amid EU luxury goods-embargo during July 2011 protests, attempted to purchase works by Nick Jeffrey, including “Ornithop Callicore IV”

NAME: Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi
KNOWN AS: Dictator of Libya (1969 – 2011)
INFAMOUS FOR: Sponsorship of terrorism, political repression, erratic fashion sense
COLLECTED: Likely owned a few works by son Saif (pictured here), a formerly aspiring abstract-surrealist whose paintings of tigers, the desert, and Dad were panned by critics

“The Challenge,” 2000

NAME: Saddam Hussein
KNOWN AS: President of Iraq (1979 – 2003)
INFAMOUS FOR: Kurdish genocide, gross human rights violations, driving up oil prices
COLLECTED: Public sculptures of himself, sex-and-violence themed “fantasy art”

NAME: Slobodan Milošević (1988 – 2000)
KNOWN AS: President of Serbia
INFAMOUS FOR: Ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims, torture and other crimes
COLLECTED: A rare etching from Goya’s aquatint print series “Los Caprichos,” “Muchachos el Avio”

Goya’s “Muchachos al avio”

NAME: Goran Hadžić
KNOWN AS: President of the Republic of Serbian Krajina (1992 – 94)
INFAMOUS FOR: Croatian genocide, torture and other crimes
COLLECTED: Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Man,” sale of which ended his 7-year run as a fugitive

Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Man”

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