Art History


CONTENT

1. Other countries’ perception of the Great German Art Exhibitions
Classical Realism versus Degenerated/ Modern Art

2. Hitler as art

3. German War Art in the Pentagon
‘Very good, outstanding and brilliant in conception…’

4. What happened to the art Hitler purchased at the Great German Art Exhibitions?

5. The extreme scarcity of National Socialistic art

Massive, systematic destruction of Nazi art since 1945: the Potsdam-Agreement

6. Art competitions at the Olympic Games

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1. Other countries’ perception of the Great German Art Exhibitions:
Classical Realism versus Degenerated/ Modern Art

What was the perception of foreign countries regarding the Great German Art Exhibitions? And what was their view on Entartete Kunst?
Below we have tried to provide answers to these questions, with the help of articles by Keith Holz, professor of Art History at Western Illinois University (“Brushwork thick and easy or a Beauty-parlor mask for murder? Reckoning with the Great German Art Exhibitions in the Western Democracies’, RIHA Journal, September 2012) and Cora Goldstein, professor of Political Science at California State University (‘Capturing the German Eye: American Visual Propaganda in Occupied Germany, 2009).

Clearly the media of other countries has paid little attention to the Great German Art Exhibitions. Besides the outbreak of the war -after which patriotism turned public opinion in foreign countries against Germans and their culture- there were four reasons the foreign press paid limited attention to the Great German Art Exhibitions:

a. The myth that Nazi art was bad art, all the same, propaganda, not art at all, or the opposite of modern art.
'It would be so much easier if bad men and bad politics made bad art'

Art writers were predisposed to believe that there was nothing positive for them to write about. Elitism, modernist exclusivity and modern condescension were already established by 1933. Especially in France, the indisputable belief was that only freely creating artists could make real art. Other critic noted the fact that the thematically wide-ranging exhibitions did not include a single religious work, or that German Expressionism was the most important art genre in German.
It took more than 70 years before the William Cook wrote in the British Spectator in 2017 the daring article “Was Nazi Art Really that Bad?". Cook: 'The conventional wisdom is that everything Hitler approved was rubbish, and everything he vetoed was superb. It's convenient and conforting to believe that tyrants have no taste, but the truth is a bit more complicated, and a lot more interesting than that....However, between the Alpine kitsch he loved and the modernist masterpieces he hated lay a lot of artworks whose merits were less clear-cut...Artist under the National Socialists (the exhibition in the Pinakothek der Moderne) comprises only 11 paintings but it's the most interesting room of the whole museum....  Its shows that in Nazi Germany, things were rarely black and white. ..It would be so much easier if bad men and bad politics made bad art.... but when you look at this picture with fresh eyes (The Four Elements by Adolf Ziegler) you are forced to acknowledge an awkard truth. Despite the repugant morals of the man who made it, it's actually not that bad...'   


b. Cultural authorities were afraid that the ordinary public in the democracies would be attracted to and appreciate the German art exhibited at the GDKs.

Publications about the GDK-art might stimulate its admiration. Art magazines and news editors seriously feared that the artistic preferences of Western citizens might coincide with Nazi artistic taste, and that they would agree with the Nazi rejection of Modern art/ Entartete Kunst.
Concerns that Nazi art would appeal to audiences in the democracies went hand in hand with the related fear that the exhibition of modernist German art would stimulate a backlash from pro-Nazi elements within the democratic public sphere.
Illustrative of this is a comment made on 30 November 1937 by the curator of the Basel Kunstmuseum, Georg Schmidt. He was concerned with the potentially anti-modernist and pro-Nazi responses to modern art around Europe and in the United Kingdom, as the Paris exiles grappled with how to formulate a counter-exhibition to answer the GDK and Degenerated Art Exhibitions in 1937. Schmidt wrote: ‘if one is not certain that the English public is spontaneously shocked that such great works are being banned by the Nazis, then better to let the matter be. And advocate for modern art without any anti-Nazi viewpoint. With us in Switzerland, one can likewise cultivate much more anti-Nazi sentiment, if one simply writes in the newspaper: ‘the world-famous picture of the greatest German painter of the 20th century, The Tower of the Blue Horses, is being condemned by the Nazi’s!’ But when one shows the painting, the effect shall rather be pro-Nazi. For this reason, the values of modern art are not yet certain enough. In Paris it is little better, but at the moment where the cause of anti-Nazism is raised, the people come in to see the modern pictures for the first time – and the reaction is pro-Nazi.”

As an answer to the two 1937 exhibitions in Munich, a group of Westheim and London art dealers staged an exhibition in 1938 of 300 examples of modern German art in London at the New Burlington Gallery. The reactions of the public were as the Swiss curator already predicted. Raymond Mortimer, critic for the left-liberal New Statesman & Nation, suggested why it might be better not to put modern German art before the eyes of the British public. He wrote: “in so far as the German Exhibition at the New Burlington Gallery is propaganda, it is, in my opinion, extremely bad propaganda. People who go to see the exhibition are only too likely to say: If Hitler doesn’t like these modern pictures, it’s the best thing I’ve heard about Hitler. For the general impressionism made by the show upon the ordinary public must be one of extraordinary ugliness.”
Put differently, the anxieties articulated by Schmidt and Mortimer about the public might best be regarded as the recurrence of a nightmare long suppressed by modernist champions through their long-time and institutionalised neglect of the taste of the masses.
A scaled-down version of the London exhibition ‘Twentieth Century German Art’ was somewhat later held in several cities in the USA. The art works were often met with incomprehension, abomination and rejection. Through the press, people openly advocated the belief that in matters of art Hitler must be right.
And in 1939, on the occasion of the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston’s modernist exhibition ‘Contemporary German Art’, the Boston Globe wrote: “...There are probably many people -art lovers- in Boston, who will side with Hitler in this particular purge. …So it is that the war of opinions has come to Boston -the judgement seat of the United States in art matters- with the emphasis slightly on the side of traditions which Hitler seems to respect.”


c. Writers and cultural figures were blinded by National Socialist cultural propaganda.
Foreign art critics seldom analysed the GDK art in relation to any point of reference (for example history or tradition), or asked questions about it, other than those suggested or prescribed by the Nazis. As a result of the Nazi regime and propaganda, art critics in the democracies were put per definition in defensive positions; they rarely considered the art and exhibitions outside of Nazi-defined terms.


d. During the immediate and ongoing post-war years, American, British and French art historians never developed an art history of National Socialist art that reckoned analytically with the GDKs.

After 1945, the very idea of an empirical assessment of Nazi art, including the Great German Art Exhibitions, was unthinkable, and it would have to wait until decades into the future.


And nowadays?
In the first years after 1945, OMGUS (the U.S. Military Government in Germany) regulated and censored the art world. The Information Control Division (ICD, the key structure in the political control of post-war German culture in the American zone) was in fact a non-violent version of the Reichskulturkammer. With its seven subdivisions (i.e. press, literature, radio, film, theatre, music, and art), the ICD neatly replaced the Reich Chamber of Culture. In the ideology of OMGUS, painting and sculpting were conceived of as a strategic element in the campaign to politically re-educate the German people for a new democratic internationalism. Modern art allowed for the establishment of an easy continuity with the pre-Nazi modernist past, and it could serve as a springboard for the international projection of Germany as a new country interacting with its new Western partners. ‘Free’ artists producing ‘free art’ was one of the most powerful symbols of the new Germany, the answer to the politically controlled art of the Third Reich. Modern art linked Western Germany to Western Europe -separating the new West German aesthetic and politics from that of the Nazi era, the U.S.S.R., and East Germany- and suggested an ‘authentically’ German identity.
Thus Classical Realism disappeared for more than 7 decades to the background and Degenerated / Modern Art became the most favourite style. The former Nazi art genre became the ‘new degenerated art’.

As stated above, it took more than 70 years before the British Spectator finally wrote in 2017 the daring article “Was Nazi Art Really that Bad?” To find an answer to that question, we go to the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. In 2015 they staged the exhibition ‘Degenerated Art – Nazi Art’. The museum displayed the large marble Nazi sculpture ‘Zwei Menschen’ by Joseph Thorak next to the Entartete bronze ‘Der Aufstieg’ by Otto Freundlich (one of Freundlich's works was depicted on the cover of the catalogue of the Entertete Kunst exhibition in Munich 1937); The Pinakothek also displayed Adolf’s Ziegler’s ‘The Four Elements’ (which hung in the Führerbau) versus the triptych ‘Temptation’ by the entartete painter Max Beckmann.
- which sculpture do you think the public liked the most?
- which triptych do you think the public found magnificent, before reading the explanatory text next to it?
Nothing seems to have changed; the public opinion about art is still subordinated to the view of a small group of art elites, who continue to think it is their mission to teach people what good and bad art is. The taste of the masses? Who cares?

The Taste of the Masses? Who cares?

Left: 'Zwei Menschen' by Joseph Thorak, 1941. Marble, height 2,90 meter.
Right: 'Der Aufstieg', by Otto Freudlich, 1928. Bronze, height 2,00 meter.
  


On top: 'The Four Elements’ by Adolf Ziegler, before 1937 ('Actually not that bad', according to the Spectator.
Below: 'Temptation' by Max Beckmann, 1936/37.





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2. Hitler as art

Thirty-six paintings and busts of Hitler were displayed at the Great German Art Exhibitions from 1937 to 1944. The first painting that people saw when they entered the exhibition was one of Der Führer in Room 1. In similar fashion, the official exhibition catalogues all started with a picture of the ‘Schirmherr (patron) Des Haus der Deutschen Kunst’.
Around 450 portraits depicting Hitler and other Nazi-officials, Nazi-symbols, German Soldiers and battle fields are currently stored in the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington. Keeping this German War Art Collection in the US is not seen by the Americans as a violation of the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Treaty on cultural property, as they don’t classify these paintings as art.

In 2004 Brigadier General John Brown, outgoing head of the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History, was interviewed about the Army’s view of the legal status of these 450 objects in the German War Art Collection that remained in the custody of the United States. When asked if the Army’s continues sequestration of these works, which had been determined to be in volation of U.S. and German laws in 1947, could not also be construed as a volation of the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO treaty on cultural property, he replied, “No. That would only be true if the objects in the German War Art Collection could be defined as cultural property or art. Our position is that these paintings are no art” (‘Nostalgia for the Future’, Gregory Maertz, 2019).

This remarkable point of view leads us to the following question: is a painting depicting Angela Merkel, Joseph Stalin, Benjamin Netanyahu or Mao Zedong art or non-art? And who decides this? Respectively German left-wing extremists? Russian civilians? Palestinians or Taiwanese civilians? Can people be interested in a portrait of Napoleon (or Hitler) because of it’s historical significance? Or does their interest mean that they are automatically right-wing extremists with the aim of conquering the whole of Europe? This last point of view echoes the theory of Hannah Ahrend who states: ‘The essence of terror lies in the immediate transition from accusation to conviction’. One thing we learned very well from the tragic 1930s and 1940s is that classifying art as ‘non-art’ is a dead-end-street, just like burning and forbidding books for political reasons. No matter how much one dislikes Hitler, Napoleon, Caligula or Stalin, and no matter how much their depictions were used as propaganda, a painting or sculpture of them cannot be reclassified as 'non art'.

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3. German War Art in the Pentagon

‘Very good, outstanding and brilliant in conception…’

House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Investigation Subcommittee, Washington, D.C. , September 23, 1981
At September 23, 1981, the House of Representatives discussed the return to Germany of 6.337 pieces of war art that were seized from the German Government by the United States Army in March 1947. Below some remarkable quotes from the discussion.
George William Whitehurst (Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, journalist, professor) about the 6.337 pieces of German war art:
‘They are similar to the military works of art hanging on our own committee and subcommittee rooms. Part of the German collection is on display in the Pentagon…. This is war art, showing the life of German military personnel under the best and the worst conditions, as indeed soldiers, sailors, and airmen of all nations experienced it... ‘Asked by the Chairman about the value of the art: ‘Some of it is very, very good. The large canvas in my office is an outstanding work of art’.   

Marylou Gjernes, Army Art Curator, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Department of the Army:
‘..The Air Force similarly favors retention of German war art integral to its museum operations at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and a small exhibit of paintings that they have in the Pentagon.’…. ‘Some of the paintings and drawings are brilliant in conception and execution. They show by their artistry, color and mood, the spirit of combat, and the desolation, destruction and tragedy of war. There are illustrations of the despair and boredom of the troops…They are a testament to the sensitivity of the artist regardless of nationality. The collection ..is utilized in ongoing exhibition programs and displays to provide a unique view of World War II that supplements and supports the written history of the conflict..'


Extreme scarce work of art

Art works considered as overt propaganda were massively destroyed
As described below, in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement of August 1945, the Allied Control Council laws and military government regulations, all collections of works of art related or dedicated to the perpetuation of German militarism or Nazism, were destroyed. Thousands of paintings were considered of ‘no value’ and burned. Around 8,722 artworks were shipped to military deposits in the U.S. In 1986 the largest part was returned to Germany, with the exception of 200 paintings which were considered as overt propaganda: depictions of German Soldiers, war sceneries, swastika’s and portraits of Nazi leaders.

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4. What happened to the art Hitler purchased at the Great German Art Exhibitions?
With his insatiable passion for collecting art, Hitler was the most important purchaser of works from the GDKs. Every year, several times, he visited the Haus der Deustchen Kunst. From 1937 to 1944 he bought in total 1316 works at the GDKs.  
Hitler’s mass art purchases were mostly undertaken without a plan regarding the future location of the works. He only had a specific usage in mind from the start for a few of these works of art. The majority of the paintings and sculptures acquired at the GDKs faced an uncertain future. They were stored at the Haus der Deutschen Kunst until further notice (some were eventually taken to the Führerbau).  
Below we describe the fate of a limited number of artworks which were - as an exception- given a special destination by Hitler:
1. 144 paintings, sculptures and graphic works were bought by Hitler in 1938; they were transported to Berlin and placed in the Neue Reichskanzlei under construction, which was completed in January 1939. The list of 144 works (in our possession) is not exhaustive. Hitler did buy more works at the GDK in 1938, and in later years, which were also placed in the Reichskanzlei.
2. In 1939 Hitler gave 10 works of art to the Jagdmuseum in Munich: works by Carl von Dombroswki, Ludwig Eugen, Felix Kupsch, Friedrich Reimann (5), Karl Wagner and Renz Waller.
3. A few pieces were used to decorate Hitler’s various offices and private residences; for example, Adolf Ziegler’s ‘Die Vier Elemente’ was famously placed over the fireplace in a salon of the Führerbau in Munich.
4. In April 1943 Hitler had 21 paintings from the GDK delivered to his Munich apartment in the Prinzregentenstrasse. This delivery included works by Anton Müller-Wischin, Franz Xaver Wolf, Freidrich Schüz, Hermann Urban, Ludwig Platzöder, Sep Happ and Sepp Meindl.
5. In 1939 Hitler bought two works, explicitly meant for his own personal use: ‘Beethoven’ by Josef Jurutka and ‘Bauernkrieg’ by Franz Xavier Wolf.

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5. The extreme scarcity of National Socialistic art
Massive, systematic destruction of Nazi art since 1945: the Potsdam-Agreement
From 1933 to 1949 Germany experienced two massive art purges. Both the National Socialist government and OMGUS (the U.S. Military Government in Germany) were highly concerned with controlling what people saw and how they saw it. The Nazis eliminated what they called ‘Degenerate art’, erasing the pictorial traces of turmoil and heterogeneity that they associated with modern art. The Western Allies in turn eradicated ‘Nazi art’ and forbade all artworks military subjects or themes that could have military and/or chauvinist symbolism from pictorial representation. Both the Third Reich and OMGUS utilized the visual arts as instruments for the construction of new German cultural heritages.
The Potsdam Agreement of 2 August 1945, subparagraph 3, Part III, Section A stated that one purpose of the occupation of Germany was ‘to destroy the National Socialistic Party and its affiliated and supervised organizations and to dissolve all Nazi and militaristic activity or propaganda.’ In accordance with Allied Control Council laws and military government regulations, all documents and objects which might tend to revitalize the Nazi spirit or German militarism would be confiscated or destroyed. For example, Title 18, Military Government Regulation, OMGUS stated that: ‘all collections of works of art related or dedicated to the perpetuation of German militarism or Nazism will be closed permanently and taken into custody.’ As a consequence, thousands of paintings –portraits of Nazi-leaders, paintings containing a swastika or depicting military/war sceneries– were considered ‘of no value’ and destroyed. With knives, fires and hammers, they smashed countless sculptures and burned thousands of paintings. Around 8,722 artworks were shipped to military deposits in the U.S.
OMGUS regulated and censored the art world. The Information Control Division (ICD, the key structure in the political control of post-war German culture in the American zone) was in fact a non-violent version of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). With its seven subdivisions (i.e. press, literature, radio, film, theatre, music, and art), the ICD neatly replaced the Reich Chamber of Culture. The ICD established through its various sections a system of licensed activity, with screening and vetting by Intelligence to exclude all politically undesirable people.

‘Free’ German artists producing ‘free German art’ after 1945
In the ideology of OMGUS, painting was conceived of as a strategic element in the campaign to politically re-educate the German people for a new democratic internationalism. Modern art allowed for the establishment of an easy continuity with the pre-Nazi modernist past, and it could serve as a springboard for the international projection of Germany as a new country interacting with its new Western partners.
‘Free’ artists producing ‘free art’ was one of the most powerful symbols of the new Germany, the answer to the politically controlled art of the Third Reich. Modern art linked Western Germany to Western Europe – separating the new West German aesthetic and politics from that of the Nazi era, the U.S.S.R., and East Germany – and suggested an ‘authentically’ German identity.

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6. Art competitions at the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games during its early years, from 1912 to 1948, included art competitions in addition to the athletic contests. Bronze, Silver and Gold medals were awarded for exhibits of town planning, architecture, drama, poetry, music, graphic arts and paintings as well as sculpture, reliefs and medallions. All of the entered works had to be inspired by sport, and had to be original and not previously published.
The competitions were part of the original intention of the Olympic Movement's founder, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, who believed that sports and the arts were inextricably linked.
The juried art competitions were abandoned in 1954 mainly because of the idea that artists were considered to be professionals, while Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs (however, the athletic events would later radically evolve to accommodate professional athletes).
Also, a continuing subject of discussion and debate was the fact that sporting achievements can be measured in easily-understood metrics such as time and distance, but judging the arts is undeniably subjective. Finally the arts competition suffered from the guiding parameter that the works created had to be associated with sport, limiting the entries to tiresome imagery of athletes and odes to sporting achievement.

The 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, best-documented Olympic Art Competition

At the opening ceremony of 1936 Olympic Art Competition, Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels reminded his audience that each work entered in the competition was required to have been created within the last four years. This restriction, he declared, ‘enables us to derive from the Exhibition an estimate of international conditions.’
The detailed descriptions in the Official Report of the 11th Olympic Games not only provided a dazzling depiction of this charmingly peculiar Olympic-art phenomenon, but also a chilling snapshot of Germany during the emergence of the Third Reich. Home-field advantage greatly worked in Germany's favor that year; the international jury consisted of 29 German judges and 12 from other European countries. It was also a welcome, if not surprising, spike in gold medals for the German artists, who won five of the nine gold medals awarded that year. Charles Downing Lay was the only American to win a medal in 1936, taking home silver in the Architecture category. The German brothers Werner and Walter March took home gold in that category for their design ‘Reich Sport Field.’
The 1936 art competition was one of the most successful on record. More than 70,000 people visited the accompanying exhibition over the course of its four weeks on display. Prominents like the Reich Ministers Frick, Goebbels, and Rust, the Italian Minister of Education, and the Baron Morimoura of Japan all purchased works from the exhibition.