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 transfer 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.
|– condition||: II|
|– size||: 84 x 74 cm, unframed 65 x 56 cm|
|– signed||: right, below: ‘Erler 18 ‘(signature is half covered by frame)|
|– type||: tempera on paper|
|– misc||: left on top is written ‘914-‘ (however, the painting is created and signed 1918)|
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BIOGRAPHY: FRITZ ERLER
‘Der grosse Brummer’ or ‘le gros Bourdon‘
Fritz Erler, ‘Der grosse Brummer’, depicted in the magazine ‘Jugend‘, 1915, nr. 5.
Depicted is a giant with a big iron gauntlet in front of the Notre Dame: Germany ready to smash the Notre Dame Catheral in Paris.
‘Der grosse Brummer’ (‘the big Bumblebee’) is the name of the big bell of the Notre Dame, ‘le gros Bourdon’, the largest bell on the continent.
Left: depicted in the magazin Jugend;
Right: depicted in a French newspaper in 1915.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Deutscher Erkundungstrupp im zerstörten Ypern’, 1915 (‘Reconnaissance unit in the destroyed City of Ypern’). Displayed under the name ‘Patrouille’ at the exhibition ‘Kriegsbilder Ausstellung’, Königliche Akademie der Künste zu Berlin, 1916. In the possession of the Deutsches Historiches Museum, Berlin. Size 80 x 68 cm.
Right: Fritz Erler, ´Offiziere´ (‘Officers’), also named ‘Patrouille im Osten’ (‘Army patrol in the East’). Early 1916, just before the introduction of the Steelhelmet.
Fritz Erler, ‘RUPPRECHT, Kronprinz von Bayern, Generalfeldmarschall‘ (‘RUPPRECHT, Crown Prince of Bavaria, General Field Marshal). Signed ‘Im Feld, May 1917‘. Postcard.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘In Reservestellung vor Ypern’ (‘Reserve troops near Ypres’). Created in 1915, size 66,5 x 56 cm. Depicted in ‘1914/1915, Von Fritz Erler und Ferdinand Spiegel’: 30 waterworks by Erler and Spiegel depicting battlefields in and around Arras, Ypres and Lille. This booklet was published in ‘Velhagen & Klasing Monatshefte’, 1915/16. Some of these paintings were also printed in ‘die Kunst für Alle’, 1915. The orignal works were displayed in 1915 in Galerie Caspari in Munich; 12 of these works were bought by the Kgl. Pinakothek; ‘In Reservestellung vor Ypern’ is still in the possession of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen/ Neue Pinakothek München.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Der Deutsche Kronprinz’ (‘The German Crown Prince’), displayed at the exhibition ‘Kriegsbilder Ausstellung’, Königliche Akademie der Künste zu Berlin, 1916.
Left: Fritz Erler: Helft uns Siegen! 1917. Call to buy war bonds, 1917. Perhaps Erler’s best-known work. With this poster the campaign brought in at least 13.1 million marks more than any other campaign. Copies are currently displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, and in the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr, Dresden.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Gedenkblatt für die gefallenen Helden der Bayerische Armee’ (‘Remembrance Certificate for the relatives of the fallen heroes of the Bavarian army’). Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, 1916/17, and in ‘Jugend’, 1916, Heft 29.
Fritz Erler, War Bonds
Left: ‘Aufwärts‘ (‘Onwards‘), Upper Bavarian Aviation Fund. Created in 1916.
Middle: ‘Und Ihr?’ (‘And You?’). Created in the autumn of 1917.
Right: ‘Der 9te Pfeil‘ (‘The 9th Arrow‘). Created in 1918. The text encourages people to subscribe to the ninth war loan.
The Dresdner Kunstausttellung 1935
The Dresdner Kunstaustellung, 29 Juni- September 1935, was an art exhibition organized to showcase art approved by the Nazis. The exhibition held under patronage of Martin Mutschmann, Gauleiter of Saxony from 1925 to 1945, had a ‘Sonderschau Kriegbilder’, a special department with war-depictions. Many war painters known from their depictions of World War I were represented, including: Claus Bergen, Ludwig Dettmann with 88 works, Franz Eichhorst, Otto Engelhardt-Kyffhäuser with 110 works, Erich Erler-Samaden with 22 works, Erich Fraas, Oskar Graf with 32 works, Hans von Hayek with 23 works, Anton Hoffmann and Willy Waldapfel.
Fritz Erler displayed 15 works at the exhibition. Some of them like ‘Der Kompagnieführer’ and ‘Kämpfer vor Verdun’ -depicted in the 1935 exhibition catalogue- were displayed again in 2016 at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, Museum Wiesbaden.
Fritz Erler, 3 of 5 works which are in the possession of the Museum Wiesbaden. They were donated to the city of Wiesbaden in 1954 by the industrialist Ernst Boehringer, who bought the paintings in the mid-twenties direct from Fritz Erler. The works have been displayed at the ‘Kriegsbilderausstellung in der Königlichen Akademie der Künste’, 1916, Berlin, at the ‘Grosse Münchener Kunstausstellung’, 1918, Glaspalast, and some at the Dresdner Kunstaustellung 1935 (Sonderschau Kriegsbilder) and at the ‘Münchner Kunstausstellung Danzig’, 1941.
In 2016 they were displayed at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, Museum Wiesbaden.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Kämpfer vor Verdun’, 1916 (‘Combatans for Verdun’).
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Im Kampf’, 1916 (‘Battle’).
Below: Fritz Erler, ‘Der Kompagnieführer’ (‘The leader of the Compagny’), 1917. Also depicted in ‘Die neue deutsche Malerei’, 1941. Also displayed at the ‘Münchner Kunstausstellung Danzig’, 1941; depicted in the exhibition catalogue.
Fritz Erler, ‘Erobertes Dorf’ (‘Caputured Village’), created 1916. Currently displayed at the Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf (previously in the possession of the Städtische Galerie München). Size 95 x 120 cm.
– in the Glaspalast, at the exhibition ‘Ausstellung 1918 der Münchner Secession’;
– at the ‘Münchener Künstler Ausstellung’ in der Preussischen Akademie der Künste Berlin, 1935;
– at the exhibition ‘Heroische Kunst’, NS-Kulturgemeinde, Lenbach-Haus, Munich, June 1936.
– in the Jahrbuch der Münchner Kunst, 1918;
– in Die Kunst für alle’, 1917/18;
– in the catalog of the ‘Münchener Künstler Ausstellung’, Preussischen Akademie der Künste Berlin, 1935;
– in ‘Kunst und Volk’, June 1936;
– in ‘Münchner Künstler Köpfe’, 1937, under the name ‘Krieger’ (‘Warrior’);
– on postcards of the ‘Künstler Hilfswerk 1937’.
Left: ‘Erobertes Dorf’, depicted on a Künstler Hilfswerk-postcard.
Right: ‘Erobertes Dorf, displayed in the Düsseldorfer Stadtmuseum.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Ansprache vor dem Sturm’ (‘Speech before the Attack’), 1915. At that time in the possession of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, 1920.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Soldat‘ (‘Solder‘), 1917, painting with bullet holes. Size: 90 x 79 cm, sold at a German auctionhaus in 2011.
Fritz Erler, wall-paintings (2 of 5) in the Senator Lounge in Schloss Wolfsbrunn, Hartenstein. Signed 1918.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Minister and Gauleiter Adolf Wagner’, 1936. GDK 1939, room 23. Bought by Hitler for 12.000 RM. In the possession of the US Army Military Center of History.
Right: Adolf Hitler visiting the GDK 1939 (room 23). Left Gerdy Troost and in white uniform the Italian propaganda minister Dino Alfieri. At the background (right respectively left) two paintings by Fritz Erler: ‘Porträt des Staatsministers und Gauleiters Adolf Wagner‘ and ‘Porträt des Reichsministers Frick‘. Hitler bought both works for 12.000 RM each. Nowadays they are in the possession of the US Army Centre of Military History (photo: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek).
Adolf Hitler at the opening of the Great German Art Exhibition, July 16, 1939. At the back two works by Fritz Erler. The pictures are from the movie ‘Art in the Third Reich’, part I (at 1.08).
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Reichswirtschaftminister Walter Funk’, GDK 1940, room 23. Bought by Hitler for 8.000 RM. In the possession of the US Army Military Center of History.
Right: Preliminay viewing of the GDK 1940. Behind Hitler: Director of the Haus der deutschen Kunst Karl Kolb, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, Gauleiter Adolf Wagner and Standartenführer Max Wünsche. At the back the painting ‘Reichswirtschaftminister Walter Funk’ by Fritz Erler (photo: Bayerische StaatsBibliothek).
Left: ‘Portrait of Professor Joseph Wackerle’, by Fritz Erler. GDK 1940, room 23. Bought by Hitler for 8.000 RM. Size 117 x 94 cm.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Professor Joseph Thorak’, GDK 1939 room 4; depicted in the exhibition catalogue. Sold for 12.000 Reichsmark. In the possession of the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Size 135 x 100 cm. Displayed at the exhibition ‘Aufstieg und Fall der Moderne‘, Weimar, 1999.
Fritz Erler, ‘Der Führer’, displayed at the ‘Münchner Kunstausstellung Danzig’, 1941 (Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia, after 1945 part of Poland).
‘Der Führer’ by Erler, appeared as frontispiece of the exhibition catalog.
Triptych ‘The day of 9 November’
The triptych by Fritz Erler depicts a mass rally in front of the Feldherrnhalle (Odeonsplatz, Munich), commemorating the Hitlerputsch on November 9, 1923 (9 November, a holy day in the Nazi calendar).
Created in 1935. In the possession of the US Army Center of Military History.
The mid part measurers 172 x 132 cm, the side parts are each 172 x 94 cm.
The triptych by Erler, stored in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Erweiterungsbau der Reichshauptbank in Berlin/ Haubtkassenhalle
Fritz Erler designed 10 monumental gold-mosaics -representing Economic and Cultural Life- for the Main Hall of the extension of the Reichshauptbank in Berlin (‘Hauptkassenraum der neuen Reichsbank’). Creation period: 1937 – 1939. Height: 5 meter each. All mosaics are destructed.
The mosaics on the short walls of the room have the themes ‘Land’ and ‘Sea’. The mosaics on the long walls have the theme ‘Forest’, ‘Scientist and Inventor’, ‘Music’, ‘Oversea Territories’, ‘Craft and Industry’, ‘Engeneer and Architect’, ‘Wehrmacht’ and ‘Fine Art’.
Left and below: Mosaic designed by Erler in the Main Hall of the extension of the Reichshauptbank. Depicted in ‘Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich’, 1940, and in ‘Kunst dem Volk’, 1940.
Right: the Main Hall of the Reichsbank in Berlin, depected in the architect magazine ‘Baugilde’, 1941, book 8/9, and in ‘Zentralblatt der Bauverwaltung’, 22 January, 1941.
Fritz Erler, ‘Hindenburg’, displayed at the ‘Grosse Münchener Kunstausstellung’, 1935, in the Neue Pinakothek.
In Germanic mythology, Wayland the Smith is a legendary master blacksmith. Wayland’s story is most clearly told in the Old Norse sources Völundarkvida (one of the poems in the 13th-century Icelandic Elder), and with variations, in the mid 13th century Icelandic prose Thidriks saga. He is also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon poems Waldere and ‘Deor’, in Beowulf (all from the 6th to the 9th century), and in a note inserted by Alfred the Great into his 9th century translation of Boëthius.
Wayland was captured by the Swedish king Nídud, lamed to prevent his escape, and forced to work in the king’s smithy. In revenge, he killed Nídud’s two young sons and made drinking bowls from their skulls, which he sent to their father. He also raped their sister, Bödvild, when she brought a gold ring to be mended, and then he escaped by magical flight through the air.
Fritz Erler, ‘Wieland der Schmied’ (‘Wayland the Blacksmith’), 1935. Large fresco in the headquarters of the ‘Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt‘ (‘German Experimental Aerodynamic Station‘), located at the Motorflugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, Berlin.
A design of this fresco (‘Farbiger Entwurf für Wandbild’) was displayed at the exhibition ‘Heroische Kunst’, NS-Kulturgemeinde, Städtischen Galerie, Lenbach-Haus, Munich, June 1936.
Left: ‘Wieland der Schmied’ depicted in ‘Das Bild’, 1937, and in ‘Münchener Künstler Köpfe’, 1937.
Right: depicted on the cover of ‘Kunst und Volk, -Die NS-Kulturgemeinde’, March 1937.
The fresco’s by Fritz Erler in the Wiesbaden Kurhaus, and Kaiser Wilhelm II
The Wiesbaden Kurhaus was designed in 1902 by the architect Professor Friedrich von Thiersch, who also designed the Berlin Reichstag. The magnificently equipped ‘shell saloon‘ (‘Muschelsaal‘) was decorated in 1906 by Fritz Erler with five frescoes: ‘Summer’, ‘Autumn’, ‘Winter’, ‘Spring’ and ‘Annosity and Youth’.
From 1983 to 1987 the Kurhaus was renovated for 65 million DM. Based on the original plans by Friedrich von Thiersch it was possible to recapture the original style of 1907 with all its elements of Williamese architecture.
The Washington Post of 19 May 1907 writes that when Kaiser Wilhelm II entered the shell room, he was ‘more than surprised’ by Erler’s unique frescoes. The emperor, who disliked modern art, at once turned and left the rooms. Architect Von Thiersch, however, commented in the newspaper that ‘Erler had produced a work of a quality not heretofore attained in modern mural painting,- certainly not in a German building’ (the story was written in several other American newspapers).
Left: ‘Herbst’ (‘Autumn’).
Right: ‘Sommer’ (‘Summer’) or ‘Seebad’ (‘Bathing in Sea’).
Left: ‘Frühling’ (‘Spring’).
Right: ‘Winter’ or ‘Karnaval’ (‘Winter’ or ‘Carnival’).
The ‘Allegorie auf Jugend und Alter’ (‘Annosity and Youth’).
‘Works of Contemporary Artist of the Empire’, Chicago, 1909
Fritz Erler, ‘Die Pest‘ (‘The Plague‘), triptych created in 1899. Displayed at the exhibition ‘Works of Contemporary Artist of the Empire’ in the ‘Chicago Art Institute’, 7 April 1909. An ‘exhibition in America representing the best expression of the contemporaneous art movement in Germany’. Earlier that year, the work was displayed at exhibitions held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Boston.
Described in the Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 April 1909: ‘..in the large square gallery are a number of large decorative compositions of which the most striking is ‘The Plague’, a tryptich by Fritz Erler’.
The triptych ‘The Plague’, also displayed in the Glaspalast in 1899, was designed for the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune.
The three panels of the triptych show:
Middle: the Demon of the Plague in the form of a macabre laughing woman followed by a flock of ravens; at the back a desolated city;
Right: procession of Flagallants, religious zealots of the Middle Ages in Europe who sought atonement for their sins by vigorously whipping themselves.
Depicted in ‘Die Kunst für Alle’, 1908/09, and in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914.
Fritz Erler, ‘Johannisnacht’, large triptychon. Displayed at the ‘Künstlerbund-Ausstellung‘, 1905, in Berlin. Also depicted under the name ‘Sonnenwendfeier‘, 1903, in ‘Fritz Erler, -von Fritz v. Ostini‘, 1921.
Murals in Villa Neisser, Wrocav (Breslau)
Fritz Erler, murals in the music room of the Villa Neisser, Wroclav. Neisser and his wife Toni were art lovers and patrons. The Villa Neisser was richly endowed with art treasures and cultural center of the city of Wroclaw. Friends of the couple included the architect Hans Poelzig, the sculptor Theodor von Gosen, the composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, the writer and Nobel Prize laureate Gerhart Hauptmann and the painter Eugen Spiro. In the villa were numerous works of art, included paintings by Giovanni Segantini (lunch time in the Alps), Arnold Böcklin (triptych Venus Genetrix), Oswald Achenbach, Hans Thoma, Frijts Thaulow, Eugen Spiro, and artworks by Constantin Meunier, Franz Stuck, Ignatius Taschner and Theodor von Goshen.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Scherzo’, created in 1898. Depicted in ‘Kunst für alle’, 1908/09, and under the name ‘Scherzando’ in ‘Jugend’, 1900, Heft 32.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Tanz’ (‘Dance’), created in 1898. Depicted in ‘Kunst für alle’, 1908/09, and in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914.
Below: Fritz Erler, ‘Furisio‘, depicted in the Kunstgewerbeblatt, Volume 17/18, Leipzig, 1906.
25th Exihibition of the ‘Wiener Secession’, Vienna, January 1906. Room II: paintings by Fritz Erler.
At the left ‘Bergfrühling’ (‘Mountain-spring’). In the middle-left a work which hung in the ‘Teezimmer of the Villa Neisser, Beslau, 1904, in the middle-right ‘Ein Grauer Tag’ (‘A Gray Day’), created in 1902 and depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914. At the right ‘Scherzo’, also from the Villa Niesser. The works in the middle and at the right are depicted in ‘Fritz Erler, Künstler Monographien’, 1921.
Fritz Erler, Overdoor-Paintings in the state-room of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. Displayed in 1905 at an exhibition organised by the ‘Vereinigung für Angewandte Kunst, München’. Depicted in ‘Dekorative Kunst’, Band XIII, 1905.
Left and right: ‘Bergfrühling’.
‘Bergfrühling’ depicted in a unknown German magazin in 1916.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Circe’, 1909. Depicted in ‘Künstler Monographien, Fritz Erler’, 1921. Also depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, 1920, and depicted in an unknown German magazin in 1916 under the name ‘Winststille’ (‘Windless’). Sold under the name ‘Calma‘ (?) for 31.250 GBP by Sotheby London in December 2016. Size 251,50 x 163 cm.
Right: Fritz Erler, sold by Sotheby London under the name ‘Spanish Woman‘ (?) in November 2013 for USD 50.000. Size 90 x 82 cm.
Fritz Erler, ‘Dame mit Panter‘ (‘Lady with Panther‘). Oil on wood. Size 163 x 160 cm. Sold by a German auction house in 2020. With stamp on the back: ‘Gebrüder Oberndorfer Kunsttischlerei Spezialhaus in Malbretter Ausstellungsrahmen München 2‘.
Fritz Erler, ‘Hamlett’, theater scene-decoration, created for the ‘Künstlertheather’ in Munich in 1909. Depicted is the terrace (Schlossterrasse) of Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark. Design in the possession of ‘Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung der Universität zu Köln’, Schloss Wahn.
Erler also designed the costumes for the theather play Hamlett (and Faust).
Fritz Erler, ‘Faust’, theater scene-decoration, created for the ‘Künstlertheather’ in Munich in 1908. Depicted is the ‘Dom-scene’. Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, 1920.
Desgn in the possession of ‘Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung der Universität zu Köln’, Schloss Wahn.
Fritz Erler, ‘Erde’ (‘Earth’), wall painting in the music-room of Haus Brakl, Munich, 1908. After ‘The Four Elements’ (‘Earth, Fire, Water, Ear’), a series of frescos by Erler in the ‘Gartenpavilion des Haubtrestaurants der Ausstellung München’, 1908. Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914, and in ‘Künstler Monographien, Fritz Erler’, 1921.
Fritz Erler, wall paintings in the ‘Pavilion des Haubtrestaurants der Ausstellung München’, 1908.
On top: ‘Eisen’ (‘Iron’)
Both frescos are depicted in ‘Die Kunst Für Alle’, 1908/09, and in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914, and in ‘Künstler Monographien, Fritz Erler’, 1921.
Fritz Erler, ‘Der Welthandel’ (‘World-trade’), 1912/13. Fresco in the Council Chambre of the Münchener Rückversicherungs Gesellschaft, Munich. Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, 1920.
Fritz Erler, three monumental wall paintings in the Banquet Hall of the new Town Hall of Hannover, 1911/12: ‘der Sachsenreiter’ (‘Saxon Rider’), ‘der Bürgermeister’ (‘the Mayor’) and ‘die arbeitende Stadt’ (‘the working City’). The works are allegories of the Time Past, the Middle Ages and the Present. Depicted in ‘Fritz Erler, Künstler Monographien’, 1921. The paintings in the middle and at the right are also depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914
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.
The ‘Erler Saal’ in Weinhaus Trarbach, Berlin
In 1904 Erler created four tondos (circular paintings) for the ‘Erler Saal’ (‘Erler Room’) of the Weinhaus Trarbach: allegories of the Rhein-wine, Mosel-wine, Burgunder-wine and Champagne. The paintings are i.a. described in ‘Innendekoration, Illustrierte Kunstgewerbliche Zeitschrift für den Gesamten Inneren Ausbau‘, Verlag Alexander Koch Darmstadt, Band XVI, Jahrgang 1905, page 89-100.
The ‘Erler Saal’, initially named ‘Rosensaal’, was because of the paintings only accessible for non-smokers. In December 1914 the interior of Weinhaus Trarbach -including the four Erler paintings- was destroyed by fire. In 1915 Erler created four new paintings for the ‘Erler Saal’, some of these were depicted on postcards.
The building of Weinhaus Trarbach in the Behrenstrasse 47, erected in 1904, was bought by the Commerzbank in 1925; in 1994 this beautiful ‘Golden Zwanziger’ was demolished (…).
Left: Haus Trarbach, Behrenstrasse 47, Berlin.
Right: the ‘Erler Saal’ of Haus Trarbach. From left to right: ‘Mosel’, ‘Rhein’ and ‘Champagne/ Sekt’.
Depicted in ‘Die Kunst für Alle‘, 1904/05 and 1908/09: ‘Mosel’, ‘Rhein‘, ‘Burgunder‘ and ‘Sekt‘ (or ‘Champagner’). All four works were also depicted in ‘Jugend’, 1905, Heft 17 and 21.
Left: the ‘Erler Saal’ after 1915 with the four new paintings. Recoqnizable is at the right a part of ‘Schützengraben’ and at the left the other painting depicted below.
Right: one of the four new works by Erler.
Left ‘Schützengraben’. Right another wall-painting by Erler in Weinhaus Trarbach, around 1915. Depicted on postcards.
Some covers of the magazine ‘Jugend’, designed by Fritz Erler.
Left: 1896, Heft 31.
Right: 1901, Heft 22.
Left: 1901, Heft 34.
Right: 1904, Heft 29.
1914, Heft 48. ‘Vor Paris‘ (‘Near Paris‘). The text of the letter reads: ‘Dear mother, know that I am healthy and well, there is no need to worry…’
Left: 1905, Heft 18. ‘Der Fechtlehrer’ (‘The Fence-teacher’).
Right: ‘Der Fechter’ depicted in ‘Die Kunst für Alle’, 1904/05.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Nordland‘ (‘North-Land‘), 1907. Displayed at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler und die Künstlerkolonie Holzhausen‘, Studio Rose, Schondorf, 2018.
Right: Fritz Erler, ‘Fischermädchen‘ (‘Fisher-girl‘), 1920. Displayed at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler und die Künstlerkolonie Holzhausen‘, Studio Rose, Schondorf, 2018.
Left: Fritz Erler, ‘Selbstportrait’, 1913. Displayed in 2016 at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, Museum Wiesbaden. Depicted in ‘Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte’, January 1914.
Right: Fritz Erler, self-portrait, signed 1908. Printed on the cover of the magazine Jugend, 1914.
Gravestone of Fritz Erler, created by Joseph Wackerle. Located in Holzhausen, near the Ammersee. A portrait of sculptor Joseph Wackerle by Fritz Erler hung in the GDK 1940 (bought by Hitler).
Fritz Erler, ‘most highly endowed of the Scholle Group’, New York Times, 1909
Fritz Erler (1868 – 1940) was a painter, graphic designer and scenic designer who is perhaps best known for several propaganda posters he produced during World War I. He studied from 1888 to 1890 at the ‘Königlichen Kunstschule Breslau‘, as ‘Meiserschüler’ from Albrecht Peter Bräuer. In 1890 he went to Munich. From 1892 until 1895 Erler stayed in Paris; he studied a short period at the Académie Julian and displayed his work ‘Im lande der Lotophagen’ in the Champ de Mars. In 1895 he went back to Munich; from 1918 onwards he lived in Holzhausen am Ammersee. In 1896 he became co-founder of ‘Die Jugend‘; this magazine published his work from 1896 to 1940. In 1899 Erler became co-founding member of the ‘Künstlervereinigung Die Scholle‘.
He painted several portraits around the start of the 20th century; his most notable portraits are of composer Richard Strauss and Gerhart Hauptmann, the German dramatist and novelist who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912. In the same period he created various wall-paintings and frescos -often inspired by German mythology- for example in the ‘Villa Neisser’ in Breslau (from 1896 until 1898), in the ‘Pavilion des Haubtrestaurants der Ausstellung München’, in the ‘Repräsentationssaal der kunstgewerblichen Metallarbeiten’ and in 1904 in the ‘Weinhaus Trarbach’, Berlin. In 1907 Fritz Erler created the five well known frescos in the ‘shell saloon‘ (‘Muschelsaal‘) of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus, a building designed by architect Professor Friedrich von Thiersch (who also designed the Berlin Reichstag). The Washington post of 19 May 1907 writes that when Kaiser Wilhelm II entered the shell room, he was more than surprised by Erler’s unique frescoes. The emperor, who disliked modern art, at once turned and left the rooms. Architect Von Thiersch, however, commented that ‘Erler had produced a work of a quality not heretofore attained in modern mural painting,- certainly not in a German building’ (the story was written in several other American newspapers). The frescos are still existing.
Also in 1907, Erler was appoined ‘königlichen Professor’.
At 7 April 1909 the exhibition ‘Works of Contemporary Artist of the Empire’ took place in the ‘Chicago Art Institute’: an ‘exhibition in America representing the best expression of the contemporaneous art movement in Germany’. Erler displayed his triptych ‘Die Pest‘ (‘The Plague‘), created in 1898. Earlier that year, the work was displayed at exhibitions held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Boston. Described in the Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 April 1909: ‘..in the large square gallery are a number of large decorative compositions of which the most striking is ‘The Plague’, a tryptich by Fritz Erler’. According to Chicago Daily Tribune, ‘The Plague’ (also displayed in the Glaspalast in 1899) was designed for the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden. The New York Times described the paintings by Fritz Erler in an artical of 17 januari 1909 as ‘the most highly endowed of the ‘Scholle’ group.
After 1911, when die art association ‘Die Scholle’ was dissolved, Erler became a member of the ‘Münchener Secession’; numerous works by Erler were displayed in the Glaspalast. In 1911/12 he made three monumental wall paintings in the Banquet Hall of the new Town Hall of Hannover: ‘der Sachsenreiter’ (‘Saxon Rider’), ‘der Bürgermeister’ (‘the Mayor’) and ‘die arbeitende Stadt’ (‘the working City’); the works were allegories of the Time Past, the Middle Ages and the Present.
Along with Arthur Kampf, Erler was one of the official military painters for the Supreme Army Command (‘Oberste Heeresleitung’). From 1914 to 1918 he painted at the Russian front and at the Western front; well known are his depictions of battles near Warneton, Ypres, Lille, Verdun, Arras, Etain and Cambrai. In 1916 Erler took part at the exhibition ‘Kriegsbilder Ausstellung’, Königliche Akademie der Künste zu Berlin, were he dispayed 15 works. In the same year he was awarded the ‘König-Ludwig-Kreuz’ for his war sceneries. The promotional poster for the sixth war bond (sechste Kriegsanleihe) was adorned with his painting ‘Helft uns siegen!’ (1917), which is perhaps Erler’s best-known work. With this poster the campaign brought in at least 13.1 million marks more than any other campaign. The poster shows a soldier, his face darkened from the muck of the trenches, gazing beyond the viewer into No Man’s Land with eyes that shine as if from an inward light. This heroic image depicts the widespread contemporary belief that trench warfare would somehow be a morally cleansing experience. Several of his War Bond posters now hang in the Imperial War Museum in London.
In 1912 Fritz Erler was represented at the X Biennale di Venezia, and in 1924 at the XIV Biennale di Venezia with his work ‘Ritratto di Rigazzo’ (‘Potrait of a Boy’).
He was awarded several Gold- and Silvermedals. In 1922 he was appointed ‘Ehrenmitglied der Akademie der Bildenden Künste’ in Munich; in 1928 he received the ‘Bayerischen Maximiliansorden für Wissenschaft und Kunst‘ and finally in 1935 the ‘Hessische Staatsmedaille für hervorragende Malerei‘.
During the Nazi period, Erler’s paintings featured heavily in National Socialist exhibitions. In 1935 he created the monumental triptych ‘The Day of 9 November’, a depiction of a mass rally in front of the Feldherrnhalle, commemorating the Hitlerputsch on November 9, 1923 (size 172 x 320 cm). In 1937/38 Erler created another monumental work, a series of ten huge glass-mosaics (based on Germanic-Nordic themes) for the ‘Reichshaubtbank’ in Berlin. This work was commissioned by the Nazi-regime, likely by Adolf Hitler himself. His portraits of Adolf Hitler were very remunerative: one of his paintings, in which he pictured Hitler in front of a huge monumental sculpture, was shown in the Great German Art Exhibition in room 1. This place was a grandstand, as it was the first painting people saw when they entered the exhibition. The work was bought for 25.000 Reichsmark by Edoardo Dino Alfieri, the Italian Minister of Culture and Propaganda; likely the painting was purchased by the Duce at the exhibition of German art in Monaco and donated by the Minister of Culture to the headquarters of the Italian-German Association of Culture’ (Notice that with ‘Monaco’ is meant ‘Monaca di Baviera’, an Italian name for the city of Munich. Minister Edoardo Dino Alfieri was until 1939 also chairman of the ‘German-Italian Cultural Society’, the ‘Deutsch-Italienische Gesellschaft’ or ‘Associazione Italo-Germanica di Cultura’).
Erler also painted Reich Minister Walter Funk (GDK 1940, room 23), State Minister Adolf Wagner (GDK 1939, room 23), Reichminister Frick (GDK 1939, room 23) and sculptor Joseph Wackerle (GDK 1940 room 23); all of these paintings were bought by Adolf Hitler and are now in the possession of the U.S. Army Centre of Military History, Washington, D.C. Also the triptych from 1935, ‘The day of 9 November’, is in the possession of the US Army Center of Military History. 17 works by Fritz Erler are in the possession of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. The German Historical Museum holds ‘Portrait of Professor Joseph Wackerle’, ‘Professor Joseph Thorak’ and ‘Deutscher Erkundungstrupp im zerstörten Ypern’. The portrait of ‘Professor Joseph Thorak’ (GDK 1939 room 4) was displayed at the exhibition ‘Aufstieg und Fall der Moderne‘, Weimar, 1999.
The Museum Wiesbaden holds 5 large paintings depicting war scenes from the Ost- and Westfront, created between 1915 and 1917; they were displayed at the exhibition ‘Fritz Erler vor Verdun, Von der Scholle in den Krieg’, 2016, Wiesbaden.