‘Kriegswinter in Polen’ (‘War-winter in Polen’)
Displayed at the GDK 1941, room 33.
The artist died in 1944 in a Russian prisoner camp in Kalinin, near Kursk.
Large painting of 140 x 100 cm.
Bought from the sun of the private buyer at the GDK 1941 (1942). With original purchase agreement of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, as well as the original clarkroom-tickets from the buyer and his wife.
Original purchase agreement GDK 1941 (signed by the father of the seller). Left under the clarkroom tickets from the buyer and his wife.
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||: 153 x 108 cm; unframed 140 x 100 cm|
|– signed||: right, under. Created in the spring of 1941|
|– type||: oil on canvas|
|– misc. I||: bought from the sun of the original buyer at the GDK 1941/ 1942|
|– misc. II||: with original purchase agreement of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst|
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BIOGRAPHY: HANS STERBIK
Hans Sterbik, ‘Soldat in Polen’ (‘Soldier in Poland), 1941. In the possession of the Historisches Museum of the city of Vienna. Displayed at the exhibition ‘Kunst und Diktatur’, 1994, Künstlerhaus Wien, Vienna. Depicted in the official exhibition catalogue.
Left: Hans Sterbik, ‘Blick auf das Matterhorn’ (‘View on the Matterhorn’).
Right: Hans Sterblik, ‘Dolomites, Tre Cime’. Size 94 x 93 cm. Created around 1930. Sold by a German auction house in 2016.
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.
Left: Hans Sterblik, ‘Weite’ (‘The Vastness’). Created 1942.
Right: Hans Sterbik, ‘Alpenglühen’ (‘The Alpenglow’).
Left: Hans Sterbik, ‘Mont Blanc’ (‘Le Mont Blanc, Tour Ronde Glacier du Geant’). Size 81 x 65 cm. Sold by a Austrian auction house in 2017.
Right: Hans Sterbik, ‘Landscape with sheaves of corn’. Created 1941.
Hans Sterbik, ‘Stil-life’, signed 1931. Size: 35 x 30 cm. Sold by a German auction house in 2021.
Hans Sterbik, or Tony Haller
Hans Johann Friedrich Sterbik (1907–1944), born in Vienna, was an Austrian/German illustrator and painter of mountain landscapes. He found his motives especially in Tyrol, the Salzkammergut and the Dolomites. Sterbik also worked under the pseudonym ‘Tony Haller’. As the Nazis were disappointed with the number of art works at the GDKs depicting heroic military and war sceneries, artists were requested to create works especially with such themes. Painters were compelled by similar demands to depict occupied cities in Eastern Europe (Karl Walther) and military constructions (Erich Mercker). Not complying with this rule could mean the artist would not, or no longer, be able to exhibit in the GDK. It also included the risk of no longer being exempted from military service. Like many other artists (e.g. Georg Müller, Paul Mathias Padua), Hans Sterbik adapted himself to this policy and created ‘Kriegswinter in Polen’, a work which was completely different from his own style. This illustrious war-propaganda painting, however, did not help Hans Sterbik survive the war. In 1944, while on leave from the front, his daughter was born; some months later he died at the age of 37 in Kalinin, a Russian prison camp near Kursk, -before he could build out his career or raise his daughter.
Some magnificant works by Hans Sterblik are nowadays reproduced and sold in poster format.