‘U-60 near Helgoland’
SM U-60 was one of the 329 submarines of the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) serving in World War I. The U-60 was built in 1916 at the AG Weser Yard in Bremen. Her Commanders were Karl Georg Schuster, Karl Jasper and Franz Grünert. The U-60 executed ten missions in the East Atlantic in World War I, in which 52 commercial ships were destroyed. The largest ship the U-60 sank was the British Vessel ‘Armadale’, on her way from Manchester to Thessaloniki, carrying troops and military equipment. Although at times U-boats were efficient fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, they were most effectively used in an economic warfare role (commerce raiding), enforcing a naval blockade against enemy shipping. The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from Canada, the British Empire and the United States to the islands of Great Britain and (during World War II) to the Soviet Union and the Allied countries in the Mediterranean. At the end of January 1917, Germany declared The Unrestricted U-boat Warfare. After several American commercial ships -delivering supplies to the UK- were torpedoed, the USA declared war on Germany. At the end of the war, the U-60 was handed over to the United Kingdom (21 November 1918). In the last tour, on her way to be scrapped, the U-60 stranded on the East coast of the UK and sunk.
Technical details: 2400 PS, 7 torpedoes, 4 officers, 32 sailors, length 25% metre, gauge 3.74 metre, max submerge 50 metre.
At the bottom of this unique painting, Claus Bergen made a rough sketch of the U-60.
Under the German Empire the islands became a major naval base. The first naval engagement of the war, the Battle of Heligoland Bight, was fought nearby in the first month of World War I. During the Nazi era the naval base was reactivated. In World War II the civilian population remained on the main island and were protected from Allied bombing in rock shelters. Following the island’s penultimate air raid, on 18 April 1945 using 969 Allied aircraft, the island was evacuated. From 1945 to 1952 Helgoland was used by the Royal Air Force as a bombing range to dispose of bombs left over from the European War and at the same time to destroy the U-boat facilities that had been developed during the war. Free fall bombs had little effect on the U-boat facilities that Hitler’s Kriegsmarine had built up. The task of the disposal of munitions gave the British the chance to also destroy the facilities that free fall bombs could not. The intention was that the island could never be used as a naval base against Britain at a time when the Cold War was unfolding. On 18 April 1947, the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tonnes of explosives (which was known as the ‘Big Bang’ or ‘British Bang’), creating one of the biggest single non-nuclear detonations in history. While aiming at the fortifications, the island’s total destruction would have been accepted. The blow shook the main island several miles down to its base, changing its shape (the Mittelland was created). In 1952 the islands were restored to the German authorities.
Helgoland (Heligoland), located 46 kilometres off the German coastline
The U.S. House of Representatives, 1978, discusses the return to Germany of 10 paintings by Claus Bergen
On August 9, 1978, the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Investigation Subcommittee, Washington, D.C., discussed the return to Germany of 10 paintings by Claus Bergen -depicting the German navy- that were seized from the German Government by the United States Army in March 1947. In 1979 these 10 works by Bergen were handed over to the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum in Bremerhaven (two years later, in September 1981, the House of Representatives discussed the transfer to Germany of all the pieces of war art (6.337) that were seized from the German Government). Below some remarkable quotes from the discussion in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978.
George William Whitehurst (Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, journalist, professor) about the 10 paintings by Claus Bergen:
‘They are dramatic renderings of submarines and destroyers at sea and apparently have long inspired German Navy men…’These paintings have no political significance and in no way glorify the Hitler era. They are instead renderings by a respected artist of German naval tradition. Their worth is clearly artistic and inspirational, not political.’
The Chairman of the Committee about the question whether the Claus Bergen paintings might have something to do with German militarism:
‘We had from World War II and the other world wars an artist group that painted a number of wartime paintings, many of which hang in the corridors of the Pentagon. ..And those would be regarded as, if not perpetuating American militarism, at least trying to pay some tribute to those who served in uniform? And we don’t regard them as bad in our own Government, do we?… Otherwise they would not be hanging up in the Pentagon… It seems a little bit strange here, that maybe we’re applying a double standard.’ …’and our own Government is so dedicated to militarism that they have commissioned artists from all of our mores whose painting hang in the Pentagon, and a number of which had been loaned to Members of Congress to hang in their offices.’
|– condition||: II|
|– size||: 53 x 46 cm, unframed 31 x 24 cm|
|– signed||: left under|
|– type||: tempera|
|– misc.||: professionally reframed; museumglass; acid free cardboard on the back|
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BIOGRAPHY: CLAUS BERGEN
Claus Bergen, ‘Kette deutscher Flugzeuge über den Wolken’ (‘German planes above the clouds’). Art print*. Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings’, Monatshefte’, 1937.
Left: Claus Bergen, postcard, ‘Against England’. GDK 1940, room 1.
Right: Wall painting ‘Gegen England’ in the Todt-bunker at Cap Gris Nez, near Calais.
(photo Arthur van Beveren, www.arthurvanbeveren.com)
Left: Claus Bergen, ‘U-53 im Atlantik’ (‘U-53 in the Atlantic’). Displayed at the ‘Dresdner Kunstausstellung, Sonderschau Kriegsbilder’, 1935. Depicted in the exhibition catalog.
Also displayed at the GDK 1937 room 13. Source: Jörg-M. Hormann depicts in ‘Schiff & Zeit/ Panoram maritim’, nr. 73, 2011, this photo from the estate of the artist; Claus Bergen had written on the backside: ‘Ausstellung Haus der Deutschen KUnst 1937, angekauft vom Führer’.
Right: Claus Bergen, postcard*. ‘Im Atlantik’, GDK 1942, room 1. Bought by Robert Ley for 25.000 RM. In the possession of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Size 320 x 180 cm.
Left: Claus Bergen, postcard. ‘Unter Kriegsflagge’ (‘Under the war flag’). German propaganda postcard of 1915 aimed to support a fundraising campaign for submarine warfare.
Right: ‘Das rettingsboot Fürstin Bismarck, vor Wangerooge’. Postcard after a painting by Claus Bergen.
‘Im Dienste der Menschheit: das Rettungsboot “Fürstin Bismarck“ der Rettungsstation Wangerooge der Deutschen Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger leistet einem gestrandeten Segler bei schwerem Wetter die erste Hilfe.’
‘In service of mankind. The lifeboat ‘Fürstin Bismarck’ at the rescue point Wangerooge of the German Maritime Search and Rescue Services, providing assistance to a ship in distress.’
Claus Bergen, ‘Beschiessung der Westerplatte’ (‘Shelling of the Westerplatte’), postcard. GDK 1940, room 27; depicted in the exhibition catalog. Bought by Hitler for 5.000 RM. Also displayed at the ‘Münchner Kunstausstellung Danzig‘, 1941; depicted in the exhibition catalog.
The first shots of WWII were fired in Danzig by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, built in 1906 and used against a Polish fortress in the harbor on September 1, 1939. Though old -the Schleswig-Holstein fought in both World Wars- she still overpowered the garrison and achieved some notoriety throughout the Third Reich after her victory.
Claus Bergen, postcard. ‘Von Feindfahrt zurück’ (‘Returrning from the enemy’). GDK 1941, room 9. Bought by Hilter for 15.000 RM. In the possession of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Size 320 x 180 cm.
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
Artworks considered as overt propaganda were massively destroyed
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, swastikas and portraits of Nazi leaders.
‘Nei paesi della guerra – sull’Atlantico’
Left: Claus Bergen, postcard. ‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ (‘The Atlantic Battlefield’). Displayed at the GDK 1941 room 9; depicted in the exhibition catalogue. Again displayed under the name ‘Nei paesi della guerra – sull’Atlantico’ at the ‘XXIII Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte’, 1942. Bought by Hitler for 12.000 RM; currently owned by Deutsches Historische Museum, Berlin. Again displayed ath the exhibition ‘Geschichten im Konflikt‘, 2012/ 13, held in the Haus der Kunst, Munich. Size 320 x 180 cm. Also displayed at the exhibition ‘Artige Kunst, Kunst und Politik im Nationalsozialismus‘ (‘Compliant Art, Art and Politics in the National Socialist era’) held at Museum Situation Kunst, Bochum (November 2016 – April 2017), Kunsthalle Rostock, Rostock (April – June 2017) and at Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg (July/ October 2017).
Right: ‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ was one of the 8.700 paintings which were, as part of the ‘German War Art Collection’, shipped to the USA in 1947. In the 1970s it hung in the officers’ mess of the USA Navy Base in Norfolk.
‘Nei paesi della guerra – sull’Atlantico’, ‘XXIII Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte’, 1942.
‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’, hanging in a room of the Venice Biennale, 1942. Photo taken at June 23, 1942.
Left from Bergen’s painting: ‘Luftlandetruppe, -Panzerjäger H.M.’ (‘Airborn Forces, -Tank-hunter H.M., or ‘Truppe Aerotrasportate , -Cacciatore di Carri Armati H.M.’) by Ferdinand Spiegel.
Right from Bergens painting: ‘Luftlandetruppe, Panzerjäger H.‘ (‘Airborne Forces, Tank-hunter H.’, or ‘Truppe Aerotrasportate , -Cacciatore di Carri Armati H.’ by Ferdinand Spiegel.
Claus Bergen, ‘Wiedererstanden, U26‘, GDK 1937, room 13.
Left: Heinrich Hoffmann (left), Adolf Hitler and architect Prof. Leonhard Gall at the opening of the GDK 1937. The painting was bought for 4.000 Reichsmark by Adolf Hitler and hung in the New Reich Chancellery.
Right: VLTR Adolf Ziegler, Gerdy Troost, Hitler, Heinrich Hoffmann.
Claus Bergen, postcard, ‘Ein heimkehrende U-Boot grüsst ein auslaufendes Kreuzergeschwader’, Wilhelmshafen, 1915 (‘Returning U-boat greats a departing cruiser squadron’, Wilhelmshafen, 1915). The original painting (97,5 x 25%,5 cm) was sold at a German Auction in 2015.
Left: Claus Bergen, postcard, ‘Deutsche Wacht in der Nordsee’ (‘German Guard at the Northsea’). GDK 1940, room 1. Painting of 270 x 150 cm, bought by Hitler for 8.000 RM. In the possession of Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Also depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’ 1941, under the name ‘Deutsche Zerstörer auf der Wacht in der Nordsee’.
Right: ‘Deutsche Wacht in der Nordsee’, in the possession of the Deutsches Historisches museum.
Claus Bergen, ‘Helgoland in Sicht’ (‘Helgoland in sight’). Postcard. The text at the back reads: ‘Long distance trip of U-boat; 12 orignal paintings, based on personal experience of Claus Bergen’.
Claus Bergen, ‘Ran an den Feind’ (‘Attacking the Enemy’). GDK 1941 room 31. Sold for 10.000 Reichsmark. Depicted under the name ‘Angriff auf feindlichen Geleitzug’ (‘Attack on Convoy’) in the book ‘Feuer und Farbe, -155 Bilder vom Kreige’, 1943.
Claus Bergen, ‘Begegnung im Atlantik’ (‘Encounter in the Atlantic’). Depicted in ‘Feuer und Farbe, -155 Bilder vom Kreige’, 1943.
Claus Bergen, ‘U-Boot beschiesst feindliche Dampfer’ (‘U-Boat firing at hostile ship’). Art-print. Displayed at the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung 1940. Depicted in ‘Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte’, 1941, Heft 131.
Claus Bergen, ‘Battle of the Denmark Strait, 24 May 1941’. GDK 1944 room 9. Bought by Hitler for 25.000 Reichsmark. Depicted are the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (center) and the battleship Bismarck (left, distance) firing on British warships Hood and Prince of Wales (the Hood was destroyed). Owned by the US Army Centre of Military History; given back to Germany in 1986. Nowadays in the possession of the German Historical Museum.
Exhibition of German War Art at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 6 December 1946.
At the War Art exhibition in the Städelmuseum, organized by U.S. Army Captain Gordon W. Gilkey, 103 German art works were shown. These 103 works were selected by Gilkey from the art collection he had found in:
– Schloss Ringberg near Tegernsee (works from the Luftgaukommando VI in Münster);
– the Salt plant in Bad Aussee (and St. Agatha, Austria);
– Schloss Oberfrauenau (in basement and in woodcutters hut);
– the Haus der Deutschen Kunst;
– the Führerbau basement;
– the Kelmheim Befreiungshalle (works from the exhibition ‘Deutsche Künstler und die SS’):
– the Reichs Chancellery.
General Joseph T. McNarney reviewing the exhibition of German War Art at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt on 6 December 1946. McNarney standing in front of Bergen’s work: ‘Battle of the Denmark Strait, 24 May 1941’ (GDK 1944).
Claus Bergen ‘Torpedoboote beim Evolutionieren’ (‘Intersquadron movements of Torpedo Boats’). Created in the 1930s. Size 70 x 50 cm. Depicted in the ‘Ilustrirte Zeitung Leipzig, – Die Deutsche Wehmacht’, 1936, and in ‘J.M. Hormann/ E. Kliem, Claus Bergen. Marinemaler über vier Epochen’, Hamburg, 2002, page 116. Sold by a German auction house in 2019.
Hermann Göring Collection
Hermann Görings entire art collection comprised some 4,263 paintings, sculptures and tapestries. He planned to display them in the ‘Norddeutsche Galerie’, an art gallery which should be created after the war. The Norddeutsche Gallery was to be erected as an annex to Karinhall in the big forest of the Schorfheide, near Berlin. According to the website of the German Historical Museum, the work ‘Die Wikinger’ (‘The Viking’) by Claus Bergen was part of the collection. It was given by Claus Bergen as a present to Göring on 10 April 1935.
Exhibition catalog of the ‘Exhibition of Marine Paintings, by Claus Bergen’, organised by the Gainsborough Gallleries in May 1929, New York.
The four (stolen) paintings by Claus Bergen in the National Maritime Museum London
Four paintings by Claus Bergen were confiscated in 1945 by the British. The work ‘The Bombing of Almeria by the Admiral Scheer’, 1937, had hung in the Reichskanzlei and had been displayed at the GDK 1937. The painting ‘Skagerak’ (‘Wreath in the Northsea, in Memory of the Battle of Jutland’) hung in the Naval Academy Mürwik in the city of Flensburg, at time the seat of the ‘Flensburg Government’, the government of Nazi Germany during a period of three weeks following the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30 April 1945.
Claus Bergen, ‘Der Kommandant’ (‘The Commander’), 1918. Size 160 x 229 cm. In the possession of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Depicted under the name ‘Auf Hinterdeck’ (‘At the Afterdeck’) in color over two pages in ‘Jugend’, 1920, Heft 35, and in ‘Deutsche Seehelden im U-Bootkampf’, 1941, page 151.
A portrait of a German U-boat Commander of World War One standing on the after deck of the U-53, facing towards the horizon. This large painting was the result of official war work undertaken by Claus Bergen when he was aboard ‘U-53’ crossing the Atlantic to Newport and back in a stormy voyage of many weeks. ‘The Commander’ is Captain-Lieutenant Hans Rose. The painting has tried to capture the emotions through the unusual composition: the role of a commander was beset with many perils, the threat of death was ever present, and the painting aims to evoke the vigilance and silence necessary in enemy infested seas, as well as the isolation of command itself.
Below: depicted in color over two pages in ‘Jugend’, 1920, Heft 35.
Claus Bergen, ‘Skagerak’ (‘Wreath in the Northsea, in Memory of the Battle of Jutland’), created in Q4 1935 – Q2 1936. Size 179 x 350 cm. Depicted in ‘Claus Bergen, Marinemalerei im 20. Jahrhundert’, Lars U. Scholl, 1982, page 31. In the possession of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
Former location: the Naval Academy Mürwik (confIscated in May 1945).
The Naval Academy Mürwik in the city of Flensburg was the seat of the ‘Flensburg Government’, the government of Nazi Germany during a period of three weeks around the end of World War II. The government was formed following the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30 April 1945, and was headed by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as the Reichspräsident.
This big canvas shows a large expanse of sea from a low perspective, as if seen from a submarine or a boat close to the water line. In the foreground, slightly to the right, a wreath with a scarlet ribbon, marked with a swastika, floats in the swell. The wreath is the only sign marking the graves of sailors killed in war, as they lie unseen on the ocean bed. The color of the sash could be interpreted as a representation of the universal suffering of war, although the presence of the swastika invites a more specific reading.
Claus Bergen, ‘Admiral Hipper’s Battle-Cruiser: Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916’, 1916. Size 179 x 345 cm. In the possession of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
The painting shows Hipper’s five scouting battle-cruisers at the commencement of the battle, exchanging fire with distant British ships, only indicated through flashes of their guns.
The Battle of Jutland, 31st May–1st June 1916, was the most significant naval engagement of the First World War, pitting the German High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, against the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet under Sir John Jellicoe. Some 250 vessels were involved in the battle, which took place in the North Sea near Jutland, off the Danish coast. In the early stages of the battle Hipper’s battle-cruisers sank two out of the six British battle-cruisers without any losses to themselves. To protect the withdrawal of the High Seas Fleet he was ordered by Scheer to lead his battle cruisers in an attack against the whole of the Grand Fleet. This lasted only four minutes and became a famous incident, but resulted in the sinking of his flagship ‘Lützow’ when Hipper transferred himself and his staff to a destroyer and eventually hoisted his flag in the battle-cruiser ‘Moltke’. There was no decisive outcome, and both sides claimed victory.
Claus Bergen, ‘Die Beschiessung Almerias durch Adimiral Scheer’ (‘The Bombing of Almeria by the Admiral Scheer’), 1937. Size 178 x 318 cm. In the possession of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
The first shots fired by the German Navy since the end of WWI.
According to Claus Bergen this was his only work witch was official commissioned by the Nazi’s.
Although not listed in the official GDK 1937 exhibition catalog, documents of the Bundesarchiv (R43/3575) -related to statements of Bodo Herzog in ‘Claus Bergen, Leben und Werk’, 1987′- confirm that this painting was displayed at the GDK-1937 and that Hitler bought it for the Reich Chancellery. The document in question states that there were not 2 but 3 paintings by Claus Bergen displayed at the GDK 1937, which were all three bought by Hitler for the Reich Chancellery:
– nr. 44: ‘Wiedererstanden U26’ 4,000 RM;
– nr. 44a: ‘U53 im Atlantik’ 4,000 RM;
– nr. 44b: ‘im katalog nicht ausgefürt’ 7,500 RM.
Unclear yet is whether the painting was also shown at the Paris World Exhibition as counterpart to Picasso’s ‘The Bombing of Guernica’.
This painting shows the recently built German ship ‘Admiral Scheer’ engaged in action during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). The vessel, named after Admiral Reinhard Scheer, who had commanded the German High Seas Fleet at the battle of Jutland, was a ‘Deutschland’-class heavy cruiser. Its first service in July 1936 was evacuating German civilians from the developing civil war in Spain. She had an on-going involvement in that conflict, in protecting the delivery of German weapons to the Nationalist forces and reporting on Soviet ships supplying the Republicans. On 31st May 1937, in reprisal for an air attack on her sister ship the ‘Deutschland’, she bombarded Republican bases on the coast of Almería in south-east Spain, which is the subject of Bergen’s painting.
PARIS WORLD EXHIBITION, 1937
The 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (‘International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life’) was held in Paris: the French capital’s sixth and latest International Exposition, after fairs held in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900. It took place between 25 May and 25 November, centered upon the Trocadéro, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The 1937 event was to showcase the best of the world’s contemporary scientific and technological achievements. Pavilions, decorated and designed by top artists and architects, were devoted to the cinema, to radio, light, the railway, flight, refrigeration and printing. The 1937 Exposition Internationale faced some of the most important dualisms that divided humanity against itself: the split between France and her colonies, between art and science, between socialism and capitalism, between fascism and democracy. The official philosophy of the exposition still paid homage to the twin gods Peace and Progress, as all parties at the great ceremony in Paris intoned the faith: no matter how bleak the world seems to be, the twin gods will see humanity through to a glorious future. By June of 1940, Paris would belong to the conquering Nazis.
In the German Pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition in 1937, 22 large formatted paintings were displayed (all 5 x 4 meters). Bergen was represented in the German Pavillion with two huge works: ‘Stapellauf’ (‘Ship Launching;) and ‘Brandenburger Tor’ (‘The Brandenburg Gate’). For one of his works, he received at the Paris World Exhibition a Golden Medal. According to the official exhibition catalog, Bergen’s paintings were located in Section 16 respectively 18. Photo depicted in ‘Die Grüne Post’, nr. 23, 1937.
‘Stapellauf’ by Bergen, Paris World Exhibition 1937.
Map of the German Pavillion, Paris World Exhibition 1937 (appendix of the exhibition catalog).
Section 16: ‘Stapellauf’ by Bergen
Section 18: ‘Brandenburger Tor’ by Bergen
The Bombing of Almeria, Hitler’s counterpart to Picasso’s Guernica
‘The Bombing of Almeria by Admiral Scheer’ by Claus Bergen, Hitler’s counterpart to Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.
Published in the prominent Spanish art magazin ‘Tendencias del Mercado del Arte’, April 2021.
Heinrich Hoffmann, Adolf Hitler and architect Leonhard Gall at the 1937 GDK with
the painting ‘Wiedererstanden, U-26’ by Claus Bergen at the background.
Claus Bergen, ‘The Bombing of America’, National Martime Museum London.
Claus Friedrich Bergen (1885 – 1964) was a German illustrator and painter, who was best known for his depictions of naval warfare in both World Wars. From 1904 onwards he attended private lessons in the Munich area with Moritz Weinhold, Otto Strützel, Peter Paul Müller and Hans von Bartels. Finally, in 1909, he went to the Munich Art Academy where he studied under Professor Carl von Marr. In the first three decades of the century, Claus Bergen was numerous times represented at the Munich exhibitions in the Glaspalast. He was awarded in 1911 a Gold Medal Second Class from the Yearly International Exhibition in the Glaspalast and a Silver Medal from the VI International Art Exhibition in Barcelona, in 1912 the Medal of Honor from the Art Exhibition in Amsterdam and in 1923 he received (again) the Gold Medal from the Yearly International Exhibition in the Glaspalast.
In 1914 he was appointed Marine Painter to Kaiser Wilhelm II. After the Battle of Jutland in 1916 there was enormous demand for depictions of this battle, both from the public and from the captains of ships that had participated. In 1917 Bergen took the unprecedented step of joining the crew of the submarine U-53, under Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose, on an Atlantic combat patrol. The paintings that resulted from this are often considered to be among his finest work. In 1918 a presentation of his Skagerak-battles and U-boats took place in the Glaspalast; for this successful exhibition, visited by King Ludwig III at the opening, he was awarded the title of ‘Königliche Bayerischen Professor’.
In the inter-war period he painted numerous officially-commissioned large-scale land- and seascapes, as well as Atlantic ocean-liners, while his friendship with commanders such as Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz continuously brought him work from the German Navy. Bergen’s brother Otto was an aviator in the Great War. As children, Claus and Otto were friends with Ernst Udet, one of Germany’s top fighter pilots. These associations led to Bergen painting many aviation scenes and receiving commissions from within Germany’s aviation industry. Claus Bergen joined the NSDAP in 1922. From 1926 to 1931 he joined the crew of many navy ships and U-boats. In the same period, until 1928, Bergen created 12 enormous works depicting the history of the Navy. The works, of which two were destroyed during World War II, were destined for the ‘Shipping Hall’ in the Deutsches Museum in Munich. In May 1929 Claus Bergen displayed his works in New York where the Gainsborough Galleries organized the ‘Exhibition of Marine Paintings, by Claus Bergen’. In 1937 Bergen moved from Munich to Lenggries, Upper-Bavaria.
In the German Pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition in 1937, 22 large formatted paintings were displayed (all 5 x 4 meters). Bergen was represented in the German Pavillion with two huge works: ‘Stapellauf’ (‘Ship Launching;) and ‘Brandenburger Tor’ (‘The Brandenburg Gate’). For one of his works, he received at the Paris World Exhibition a Golden Medal. According to the official exhibition catalog, Bergen’s paintings were located in Section 16 respectively 18.
Fifteen of his works appeared in the Great German Art Exhibitions, which were held annually at the House of German Art in Munich from 1937 to 1944. For example: ‘Im Atlantik’ (1938), ‘U-53 im Atlantik’ (1939), ‘Deutsche Wacht in der Nordsee’ (1940), ‘Gegen England’ (1940), ‘Beschiessung der Westerplatte’ (1940), ‘Ran an der Feind’ (1940), ‘Von Feindfahrt zurück’ (1941), ‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ (1941), ‘Erfolgreiche Rückkehr’ (1942), ‘Wiedererstanden U-26’ (1937) and ‘Schwerer Kreuzer Prinz Eugen im Gefecht in der Dänemarkstrasse’ (1940). Nine of these works were bought by Adolf Hitler, one by Robert Ley (Head of German Labour Front) and one by the City Berchtesgaden for prices of up to 25.000 RM.
‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ (‘The Atlantic Battlefield’) was also displayed under the name ‘Nei paesi della guerra – sull’Atlantico’ at the ‘XXIII Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte’, 1942.
During the Second World War Claus Bergen’s name was on the ‘Führerliste’, an extended version of the Gotbegnadeten liste. Those listed as ‘God-gifted artists’, who performed jobs vital to the country and the war effort, were exempt and even forbidden from military service. They worked as ‘Künstler im Kriegseinsatz’.
The work ‘Die Wikinger’ (‘The Viking’) was part of the art collection of Hermann Göring and destinated for the ‘Norddeutsche Gallery’.
In December 1946 U.S. Army Captain Gordon W. Gilkey organized the ‘German War Art’ exhibition in the Städelmuseum in Frankfurt. A total of 103 artworks were shown, including Claus Bergen’s ‘Battle of the Denmark Strait, 24 May 1941’ (GDK 1944).
Claus Bergen died in 1964 in Lenggries from paint poisoning.
In 1978 the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Investigation Subcommittee, Washington, D.C., discussed the return to Germany of 10 paintings by Claus Bergen -depicting the German navy- that were seized from the German Government by the United States Army in March 1947. In 1979 these 10 works by Bergen were handed over to the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum in Bremerhaven (two years later, in September 1981, the House of Representatives discussed the transfer to Germany of all the pieces of war art (6.337) that were seized from the German Government). The 10 returned Claus Bergen paintings included:
– ‘Begegnung im Atlantik’, GBK 1942. Coming from the Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton;
– ‘Gegen England’, GDK 1940. Coming from the National Museum of the US Navy, Washington;
– ‘Erfolgreiche Rückkehr von der Feindfahrt’, GDK 1942;
– ‘Kampf auf dem Atlantik’, GDK 1941. Coming from the Navy Station Norfolk.
Deutsche Historische Museum currently owns ‘U53 im Atlantik’ (GDK 1939), ‘Den U-Boot-Helden zum Gedenken’, ‘Das Ritterkreuz’, ‘Im Atlantik’, ‘Einsamkeit’, ‘Gegen England’, ‘Deutsche Wacht in der Nordsee’, ‘Von Feindfahrt zurück’, ‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ and ‘Schwerer Kreuzer Prinz Eugen im Gefecht in der Dänemarktstrasse’. A work named ‘Segelschiff’ is in the possession of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. In 2012/ 13 the painting ‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ (GDK 1941, room 9) was displayed at the exhibition ‘Geschichten im Konflikt‘, held in the Haus der Kunst, Munich. ‘Im Kampfgebiet des Atlantiks’ was also displayed at the exhibition ‘Artige Kunst, Kunst und Politik im Nationalsozialismus‘ (‘Compliant Art, Art and Politics in the National Socialist era’) held at Museum Situation Kunst, Bochum (November 2016 – April 2017), Kunsthalle Rostock, Rostock (April – June 2017) and at Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg (July – October 2017).
The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, holds (illegally) four large formatted paintings by Bergen: ‘Admiral Hipper’s Battle-Cruiser: Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916’, ‘Der Kommandant’ (‘The Commander’), 1918, ‘Skagerak’ (‘Wreath in the Northsea, in Memory of the Battle of Jutland’), and ‘The Bombing of Almeria by the Admiral Scheer’), 1937. The works were confiscated by the British in 1945.
‘The Bombing of Almeria by the Admiral Scheer’ was commissioned by the Nazi’s in June/July 1937, shortly after Picasso’s Guernica was displayed at the Paris World Exhibition. The Bombing of Almeria was displayed at the GDK 1937 in a hurry, fresh out of the workshop, as the paint had not yet dried. The painting probably reached the GDK after it had already opened, and was not listed in the exhibition catalog. Documents from the Bundesarchiv (R43/3575) show that Hitler bought The Bombing of Almeria for the Reichskanzlei. The painting ‘Skagerak’ hung in the Naval Academy Mürwik in the city of Flensburg, at that time the seat of the ‘Flensburg Government’, the government of Nazi Germany during a period of three weeks following the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30 April 1945.
In April 2021 the Spanish art magazin ‘Tendencias del Mercado del Arte’, publiced: ‘The Bombing of Almeria by Admiral Scheer’ by Claus Bergen, Hitler’s counterpart to Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.
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