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?

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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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