Degenerate Art

Adolf Hitler and Adolf Ziegler visit the Degenerate Art exhibition, 1937

Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party (Nazi) came to power in Germany in 1933.  Promising to build a “master race” cleansed of “degenerates,” Hitler launched a campaign to eradicate modern art, and to restore a more traditional style of realism, based on classical models.  In 1937 he ordered the confiscation of all works of modern art from German museums:

“All art that did not correspond to the National Socialist aesthetic was considered “degenerate.” This expansive category included modern and avant-garde works by the Expressionists, Impressionists, Surrealists, and the Fauves, works by artists of Jewish descent, and socially critical works, such as those by Käthe Kollwitz.”

Guidebook cover to the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, Munich, 1937

The confiscated works were placed on display in Munich in an exhibition titled “Entartete Kunst,” or “Degenerate Art.”  Many of the works were considered “degenerate” because they were influenced by cultures deemed “racially inferior” by the Nazis:

The exhibition displayed works that were deemed insulting to religion, the state, or the German people; produced by Jews and other minorities; or evidence of foreign and “degenerate” influences such as modernism and expressionism, African culture, homosexuality, and communism. Pieces were crammed chaotically together in the exhibition space alongside derogatory graffiti-style comments and notes about how much the state had spent to obtain them. Among the 650 items were works by Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, George Grosz, Mondrian, Kandisnsky, and Paul Klee. Entartete Kunst became “the first traveling blockbuster show of the 20th century”, touring for two years across Germany and Austria and attracting 3 million visitors (Time). 1938 saw the opening of a sister exhibition, Degenerate Music, which targeted modern styles such as jazz.”
Laura Massey, “Degenerate Art – Entartete Kunst”

Degenerate Art – 1993, The Nazis vs. Expressionism

In the same year as Entartete Kunst, the Haus der Deutschen Kunst was opened, which displayed Nazi-approved art:

“Every year from 1937 to 1944, the House of German Art in Munich hosted a so-called Great German Art Exhibition to highlight art that embodied the National Social aesthetic and world view. Invariably, the works on view included heroic representations of healthy “Aryan” bodies and Nordic landscapes . . .  Each show also featured a new portrait of Hitler (right) and a reinterpretation of the German state symbol, the eagle.

The official style of the Nazi regime was called “National Socialist Realism,”   which was characterized by a realistic style based on Academic tradition, and subjects that celebrated the honorable virtues of the German volk.  Nazi art also drew upon classical idealism to portray Hitler’s imagined Master Race, and Nazi architecture also drew heavily on classical models.  Hitler saw architecture as an instrument of propaganda, and cclassical architecture proclaimed Germany as the racial heir to ancient Greece and Rome.

Paul Troost, House of German Art, 1937 (Smarthistory)


Web Resources:

The Greatest Theft in History:  Degenerate Art 

Degenerate Art:  A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust 

Degenerate Art (Tate Gallery)

GHDI (German History in Documents and Images)

Werner Hammerstingl, “Entartete Kunst,” Art We Don’t Like

Summary Notes for Film – includes pictures

Fascist Architecture

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