Ginger Churchill goes to hell on Austrian church ceiling

On the ceiling of the Three Kings’ church in Hittisau, western Austria, is a large scale painting of The Last Judgement. That is not unusual. What is unusual is that one of the figures depicted going to hell is Winston Churchill in a red wig.

The Roman Catholic parish church of Hittisau was built in 1842, funded by a bequest from priest Josef Schnell who stipulated in his will that construction on the new church would have to begin within five years of his death or no dice. Schnell died in 1838, so they just made it in under the wire. The Three Kings’ church was completed in 1845. In 1850, artist Josef Bucher made three altarpieces to adorn the high altar, but other than that the interior decoration was quite spare.

When Father Josef Maisburger was assigned to the parish church in 1934, he wanted to gussy it up a little. In 1936 he contacted well-known Munich artist Waldemar Kolmsperger the Younger to explore the idea of painting a mural on the ceiling. Waldemar Kolmsperger the Younger followed in the footsteps of his father Waldemar Kolmsperger the Elder (1852-1945) whose Neo-Baroque extravaganzas earned him the title of the “last Baroque painter.” The younger Kolmsperger specialized in church decoration, a signature of the elder, and worked in a style reminiscent of the Baroque flourishes that had made his father famous. A professor of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, the son of a famous artist and a leading church painter in his own time, Kolmsperger the Younger didn’t come cheap. His final price was too high for a small village church budget, so Maisburger packed his dreams away for a rainy day.

That rainy day came in 1940. Now Austria and Germany were the same country, and it was a country at war. New church mural commissions were few and far between and this time when Maisburger reached out to Kolmsperger, his fee had dropped enough to make him affordable for the Three King’s church. The linked article says Kolmsperger was motivated to accept this small-potatoes gig in a tiny village in rural Austria in part because he feared conscription, but he was born in 1881 and I seriously doubt 60-year-old men were in fear of the draft, not in 1940 at any rate. It was at the end of the war when old men and young boys were dragged into service.

As the Battle of Britian raged in the late summer and fall of 1940, Waldemar Kolmsperger began work on the Apotheosis of Christ in Heaven and Hell. He worked behind a white sheet so people didn’t see the painting until after it was completed in 1941. When the work was finally revealed to the public, the people of Hittisau were horrified to find that Kolmsperger had not only flipped the entire village the bird, but he had pulled a Dante and put a living political figure in hell.

Hans Weiss said: “The fresco did not include on one side heaven and hell on the other, apparently the artist disliked the area so much, he decided to paint two hells.

“Secondly, there was quite noticeably a picture of Winston Churchill right at the heart of the hill where Judgement Day was being carried out, showing him carrying a huge bag of money which represented his ill-gotten gains for his treacherous behaviour, and containing the writing “100,000 pounds”.

“Despite the protests of locals the artist refused to change it, and there was a huge row that went right up to the bishop. Locals were convinced that once bomber command found out about the insult, they would deliberately target the church in order to eradicate it.

“The Bishop apparently agreed and he eventually ordered the artist to disguise Churchill by giving him a red wig, and to change the word pounds to gold.”

So Kolmsperger grudgingly made the changes, plopping a ginger Moe wig on Churchill’s head so instead of looking like a bomb-baiting Winston Churchill, he looked like a bomb-baiting Winston Churchill in a ginger Moe wig. He wasn’t happy about it, though, and apparently plotted revenge. His plan was to add a few of the locals to the hellscape, and since he’d already put a couple of topless ladies in the mural who were eerily similar to women from the village who Kolmsperger was suspected of having bedded, nobody put it past him. The villagers are said to have chased him out of town before he could make his final alteration.

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Comment by Marnie
2016-01-03 10:00:44

What a fascinating and amusing story.

I would love to see a photo of the rascal Kolmsperger.

Comment by John U.K.
2016-01-03 13:53:06

Fascinating article. However, I am a bit lost with
Kolmsperger had not only flipped the entire village the bird

an expession I’ve not met before and its meaning is lost on me!

Comment by Jonny
2016-01-03 14:06:57

To flip them the bird means he gave them the middle finger.

Comment by Alf Wirth
2016-01-03 16:59:43

An amusing story! But your comment on drafting older men is not quite correct. Up to and including 60 year olds who were unemployed or had special skills like engineering were drafted and sent into the field (at least in advisory positions) starting late 1939. By that year end, even concentration camp inmates who had been incarcerated because they were deemed politically unreliable (eg. monarchists) could exit by volunteering for the NAZI fighting forces…

Comment by The Jannie
2016-01-03 19:14:13

That is a BAD syrup. It looks as if it was added by some passing graffitist!

Comment by mystory
2016-01-04 01:30:04

The title of the article took me for a loop!
I was thinking that some so-called artist with the name of “Ginger Churchill” had “touched up” some painting in Austria, thereby ruining it by doing a hell of a job on it (a la the old lady in Spain and the head of Jesus.
Then, I read the article and it began to sink in. Duh! I do still like the incongruity of the title with the article – of it meaning one thing, but saying something else.
If you ever come up with a story about an artist named Ginger Churchill, who made a hell of mess out of something, then please report it and I will be sure to chuckle.

Comment by Al
2016-01-04 08:30:06

Hello. I really like your site and I know it doesn’t make a difference but its 1000000 gold.

Comment by Hermione
2016-01-05 04:50:42

Somewhere out there is a cat who should be named Ginger Churchill.

Comment by george m.
2016-01-05 20:02:00

I’m not sure that I see a strong resemblance between the painted figure and WSC but if the people of the time saw it I suppose I have to accept that.

Also, the figure whispering in WSC’s ear looks suspiciously like a Nazi stereotyped Jew. The nose in particular looks like the stereotype. That would fit the Nazi assertion that the Allies were controlled by the Jews.

Comment by Alf Wirth
2016-01-10 21:09:26

I too think that before TV and in wartime in a country village of under 1,500 with no movie theatre, that only a few would have recognized WC.
And I think you’re right about the other figure too, it is the caricature of the Bad Jew…

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