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Degenerate Art: Hitler’s War Against Modernism Rebecca Field Art and Art History Teacher DS Freeman High School Henrico County
• During the latter half of the 19 th Century and the 1 st quarter of the 20 th Century, the center of the art world was in Paris. • Artists from all over Europe and America flocked to Paris to study under the first great masters of Modernism: The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, 1888, Paris
Cezanne, The Bathers, 1875
For the first time, artists felt free to use subject matter that came from internal sources, rather than an exact reflection of the world around them. It was called “Expressionism” Klimt, Three Ages of Woman, 1907, Vienna
Matisse, The Joy of Life, 1905 -1906, Paris
Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913, Berlin
• Germany emerged as the leading center of the avant garde (Jazz, expressionist art sculpture and film) • Nazis found the culture of the Weimer period with disgust • The supposedly "Jewish" nature of all art that was indecipherable, distorted, or that represented "depraved" subject matter was explained through the concept of degeneracy, which held that distorted and corrupted art was a symptom of an inferior race. • Most of these new Modernist movements were greatly influenced by the Great War. • Many of these artists were very critical of the political systems under which they lived. • Artists began to question old artistic Ideas and became quite distanced from the general population of art patrons and collectors.
“ ‘Works of art’ that are not capable of being understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence- until at long last they find someone sufficiently browbeaten to endure such stupid or impudent twaddle with patience-will never again find their way to the German people. ” Adolf Hitler
Hitler considered himself an artist. • He was rejected twice from the Vienna Academy of Fine Art. • He wished to eclipse Vienna as an art center by building a gigantic museum in his hometown of Linz. • He spent vast resources of money and manpower to steal countless works of art from all over Europe, from museums, and private collections. • All high-ranking Nazi officers were required to have “collections” of art. • Art was seen by Hitler as a vehicle for the development of a master race • He saw Greek and Roman art as uncontaminated by Jewish influences
Adolf Hitler, 1910 -1918
Adolf Hitler, 1917
On Hitler’s approved list of artists, were: • Rembrandt • Hals • Vermeer • Cranach • Greek and Roman art These artists were realistic, easy to understand, and free from Jewish influence Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1640
Franz Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1630
Vermeer, Girl in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663 -1664
As a way of purging the German mind of the Expressionist artists that were putting Germany at the forefront of modern art, Hitler designed a traveling exhibit of art that would sway Germany to dislike modernism.
In 1937, The National Socialist Society for German Culture had an art exhibition in Munich entitled “Entartete Kunst” or Degenerate Art. • Included 22, 000 works of art by more than 200 artists including: • Picasso • Chagall • Van Gogh • Klee • Munch • Kandinsky • Mondrian Only 6 artists included in the exhibition were Jewish.
• Art was seized from collections across Germany- museums and private collectors • Art was hung in a purposely chaotic way to promote confusion • Art was accompanied by labels that insulted the art and artists • Next to the painting were inflated price tags showing viewers how much German money had been wasted on the horrible art • Attracted almost 3 million visitors • Goal was to increase public revulsion- to show racially inferior points of view
• Art was accompanied by labels that insulted the art and artists There were slogans painted on the walls. For example: • • Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist rule Revelation of the Jewish racial soul An insult to German womanhood The ideal—cretin and whore Deliberate sabotage of national defense German farmers—a Yiddish view The Jewish longing for the wilderness reveals itself—in Germany the Negro becomes the racial ideal of a degenerate art • Madness becomes method • Nature as seen by sick minds • Even museum bigwigs called this the "art of the German people"
Adolf Ziegler (organizer the Entartete Kunst exhibition) commented, “He who paints our youth as wasted idiots, and the German mother like a Neanderthal woman, has shown undeniable proof of his degenerate character, and he who submits a bad, mediocre or unfinished work to such a perfect House of Art [referring to the Museum of German Art], proves that he has not understood the cultural demands of our time. ” Juxtaposition of works of “degenerate” art by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Dix, and Amedeo Modigliani and photographs of facial deformities, 1928. Stephanie Barron, ed. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991, pp. 12 -13
Much of the art included in the Degenerate Art exhibit was sold by Swiss auction houses for extremely reduced prices- many pieces of art were bought by American Museums -Picasso’s Head of a Woman sold for $1, 800. It was sold again in 2001 for $6. 8 Million -Many works of art were simply burned in bonfires It is important to remember that modern art was globally misunderstood during the first half of the 20 th c. Art critics in America blasted German Expressionist movements and even called it “degenerate” as well.
1939, Gallery Fischer Auction, Switzerland
Kirschner, Self-Portrait, 1915 Self Portrait as a Soldier Kirschner commited suicide in Switzerland
Kollwitz, The Survivors, 1923, Berlin
Jean Arp, Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916 -17, Zurich
Otto Dix was a decorated WWI veteran • Upset by the treatment of veterans by the German people after the war • Nazi party took away his teaching position at the Dresden academy • Forced to join the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts • Was forbidden to paint anything but landscapes Otto Dix, War Heroes, 1918
George Grosz, Hitler in Hell, 1944 George Grosz left Germany and emigrated to America in 1933
Paul Klee, Ad Parnassum, 1932 • Bauhaus School of Art was shut down by the Nazi party, Klee lost his teaching position and fled Germany for Switzerland in 1933 • 102 of Klee’s works were seized by the Nazis
Emile Nolde, White Tree Trunks, 1908 Nolde was a member of the Nazi Party and was very supportive of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic idealshe was one of the most popular artists in Germany When Nolde’s work was seized by the Nazis, he protested, but was not allowed to buy painting materials and was prevented from painting ever again Started painting with watercolors to avoid the smell of oil paint
Emile Nolde, Dance Around the Golden Calf, 1910
Max Ernst, L’Ange du Foyeur, 1937 Escaped the Gestapo and fled to America
Marc Chagall, Solitude, 1933 Fled Paris, escaped deportation by fleeing through Spain and Portugal Spent the war in the United States and returned to Europe in 1948. Chagall’s hometown had a Jewish population of 240, 000. 118 survived after the war
Mard Chagall, White Crucifixion, 1911
Many of the artists who fled to America were instrumental in developing an American-led art movement called Abstract Expressionism • Because of the war, the center of the art world moved from Paris to New York City. New York has led the thoughts and actions of the art world for the last 70 years.
Important questions for discussion: 1. Art is the most divine part of humanity. Renaissance thinkers thought that through the creation of artwork, we are undeniably linked with God. If Hitler was such an extreme art lover, how could he simultaneously be so inhumane? 2. How does the censorship of art carry over into contemporary society? Are Americans ever confronted with an official artistic agenda? 3. What made the public’s view of art so important to Hitler? 4. What was the intended role of art in the Nazi regime?
5. How did the Nazi’s need to reject abstraction reflect their racial policies? 6. How does the censorship of art carry over into contemporary society? Are Americans ever confronted with an official artistic agenda? 7. What is an art lover supposed to be like? 8. How do you feel when you can link your own qualities with those of the Hitler’s?