‘Der Athlet’ (‘The Athlete’)
Bronze, height 75 cm.
Cast around 1937.
Allegedly the sculpture was located in the office of Hermann Göring at the Luftwaffe-Kur-Lazarett in Ober-Schreiberhau, Riesengebirge (now the city of Szklarska Poręba, in Polen).
Likely a single unique cast, with the core still inside (X-ray photos in process).
Direct Lost-Wax Casting – the Single Unique Cast
In the direct lost-wax casting process (also named ‘cire perdue’), the sculptor begins by building a roughly modelled clay-core over a metal armature. The clay-core is baked to harden it and drive off moisture, and then a relatively thin layer of wax is applied that receives the detailing of anatomy, texture, facial features and signature. A mold is formed around the wax-model, when the mold is heated the wax melts and creates a space into which molten bronze is poured. Once the bronze is cast, the clay-core and armature can be removed to lessen the weight of the finished sculpture. Occasionally the core and armature rods are -in whole or in part- left inside the bronze. On sculptures meant to be placed outdoors, the clay-core and iron-armature are generally removed in order to avoid damage from absorption of water.
The direct lost wax technique allows the artist to cast directly off of the original model, and is ideal for wax models with complex surface textures as well as large and complex compositions. This casting method produces a Single Unique Cast from a Single Model (as opposed to one that is cast from a mold of an existing model). The original master model is lost in the casting process: producing more copies of the master model is impossible.
When X-ray photos show iron armature or internal frame inside the bronze, it is evident that the direct lost wax casting technique was used and that we have to do with the original cast/model.
For comparision: below some other figures by Thorak, some depicted in ‘Die Kunst dem Volk’, 1939. Notice the similar strong, determined facial expression (eye-sockets, jaw, forehead and mouth), the typical shape of the muscles (the bodies are less taller than Arno Breker’s sculptures), and the straddled-legs positions.
Detail of the design ‘Denkmal der Strasse’ (‘Monument to Work’).
Left: Josef Thorak, postcard*. ‘Danzinger Freiheitsdenkmal’ (‘Danzig Freedom Monument’). GDK 1943, room 2; depicted in the exhibition cataloge. Height 5 metres.
Right: left of the entrance of the German Pavilion, Paris World Exhibition 1937: ‘Kameraden’ (‘Comrades’). The plaster model (2 persons) was displayed at the GDK 1937 room 2.
Left: Thorak in his atelier, working at the reliefs for the Reichsbank in Berlin.
Right: ‘Hunting-relief’ by Thorak.
The Luftwaffe-Kur-Lazarett in Ober-Schreiberhau, Riesengebirge (now the city of Szklarska Poręba, in Polen), allegedly the former location of the sculpture.
|– condition||: II|
|– size||: height 75 cm, width 40 cm, dept 26 cm. Weight 42 kg|
|– signed||: signed at the base. Cast around 1937|
|– type||: bronze. Likely a single unique cast (X-ray photos in process)|
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BIOGRAPHY: JOSEPH THORAK
Left: Josef Thorak, postcard*. ‘Danzinger Freiheitsdenkmal’ (‘Danzig Freedom Monument’). GDK 1943, room 2; depicted in the exhibition cataloge. Height 5 metres.
Right: ‘Danzinger Freiheitsdenkmal’ by Thorak, depicted in the Österreicher Beobachter, August 1944; at the back the map of Europe.
Josef Thorak, postcard, Fragment ‘Bekrönung, Märzfeld, Nürnberg’ (‘Crowning’), plaster model. GDK 1938, room 2.
Josef Thorak, postcard, ‘Pietà’, GDK 1942, room 2; depicted in the exhibition cataloge. Bought by Robert Ley for 100.000 RM.
Josef Thorak, ‘Zwei Menschen’, GDK 1941, room 15; depicted in the exhibition cataloge. Marble, 2,89 meters high.
Middle and right: ‘Zwei Menschen’ by Thorak, the highlight of the exhibition ‘GegenKunst – Entartete Kunst, NS-Kunst, Sammeln nach 1945’, 2015/16, Pinakothek der Moderne, München (in the possession of the Pinakothek der Moderne).
Left: Josef Thorak, postcard, ’Frauenakt’ (‘Female-nude’). GDK 1940, room 15; depicted in the exhibition cataloge. Bought by Hitler for 13.000 RM.
Right: postcard, Josef Thorak, ‘Leda mit dem Schwan’ (‘Leda and the Swan’). GDK 1942, room 24.
Josef Thorak’s design for the ‘Bekrönungsgruppe’ (‘Crowning-group’) destined for the Märzfeld of the Reichsparteitagsgelände in Nürnberg (Nuremberg rally grounds), with the Siegesgöttin Goddess of Triumph in the midst, flanked by two horses (art print). The two casts of these horses were eventually placed in the garden-terrace of the Neue Reichskanzlei in Berlin.
Left: Josef Thorak, art print*, ‘Pferd’. Displayed in 1939 in room 2, the ‘Skulpturensaal’ of the Haus der Deutsche Kunst’, Munich; depicted in the exhibition cataloge.
In August 2015, this sculpture was discovered at the school yard of the Landschulheim Schloss Ising in Ising, Bavaria.
Right: Josef Thorak, ‘Pferd’ depicted on a ‘Haus der deutschen Kunst’-postcard.
The Thorak horses I and II, and III
For several years, Thorak worked on the monumental sculpture ‘Bekrönung des Marzfeldes’. But the two bronze horses from Bekrönung des Märzfeldes were finally placed in the garden-terrace of the Neue Reichskanzlei in Berlin, in front of the Arbeitzimmer (study) of Adolf Hitler. After a series of bomb attacks in Berlin during November 1943, the two life size horses were brought from the Neue Reichskanzlei to Arno Breker’s atelier in the City Wriezen, 20 kilometers outside Berlin. After 1945 the Russians placed the two horses at a sportfield of a military barrack in Eberswalde, East Germany. On this sportfield they also placed two Arno Breker Sculptures (‘Künder’, GDK 1940, and ‘Berufung’) and two bronzes by Fritz Klimsch (‘Olympia’, GDK 1938, and ‘Galathea’, GDK 1939). The sculpture Olympia stood, like the Thorak horses, originally in the garden of the New Reichschancellery. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 all the sculptures in Eberswalde disappeared. According to a Russian Press Officer at that time, the works had been taken away by an unidentified person.
In Mai 2015, the German police found the stolen Thorak horses in a warehouse in the town of Bad Duerkheim. Also the two Breker- and Klimsch statues were found, as well as three granite reliefs by Arno Breker, measuring 10 meters by 5 meter. Possibly Brekers famous ‘Wehrmacht’ and ‘Partei’ were also found back.
In August 2015, a third bronze Thorak horse was discovered at the school yard of the Landschulheim Schloss Ising in Ising, Bavaria. This was the original horse which was displayed at the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausttellung in 1939; the sculpture was an eye-catcher and caused quite a sensation; ‘the shape and form represented a symbol of the primeval-power of the animal’. After the exhibition the horse stayed in the possession of Josef Thorak.
In 1961, Thorak’s widow used the sculpture to pay tuition fees for her son’s education at the Gymnasium Landschulheim Ising, where the horse has stood ever since.
Left: one of the two Reichskanzlei-horses in Eberswalde, at the sportfield of a Russian/ DDR barrack, circa April 1989.
Right: ‘Berufung’ by Arno Breker at the same Russian/ DDR sportfield.
Below one of the two ‘Reichskanzlei-horses’ on display in the Spandau Museum, southeast Berlin, 11 January 2023. Both horses were added to the permanent exhibition dedicated to the political monuments of Berlin, which stood in the city in different eras, and then disappeared from the streets and squares of the capital under the influence of the ‘winds of change’. So among the exhibits of the museum there are statues of Prussian monarchs, symbols of the ‘Third Reich’ frozen in stone and a monumental bust of Lenin that stood in Berlin during the GDR.
The giant Lenin head of 3,5 tonnes, belonged to a granite statue of 19 meters high, unveiled in 1970 at Leninplatz, now Platz der Vereinten Nationen, Friedrichshain, Berlin. The statue was destroyed in the early 1990s after the German reunification. Parts of the statue were buried in a forest in the south-eastern part of Berlin, however, the head was recovered in 2015.
The marble statues and busts of Prussian monarchs used to line the Siegesallee (Victory Avenue) in Berlin’s Tiergarten park. They were erected under Emperor William II at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1938, Hitler moved the statues to the Neue Siegesallee because they got in the way of building projects for his planned new world capital Germania.
After 1945, the statues which had survived World War II, were finally removed by the Allied powers as symbols of German militarism and grandeur. The majority of the statues were buried in the grounds of nearby Schloss Bellevue, from where they were recovered in the 1970s. They too eventually found their way into the Spandau Citadel, where they form the largest part of the collection.
Spandau Museum, 11 January 2023 (photo: David Crossland / www.davidcrossland.net)
The Third Thorak Horse
The third bronze Thorak horse at the school yard of the Landschulheim Schloss Ising in Ising, Bavaria. This was the original horse which was displayed at the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung in 1939. After the exhibition the horse stayed in the possession of Josef Thorak. In 1961, Thorak’s widow used the sculpture to pay tuition fees for her son’s education at the Gymnasium Landschulheim Ising, where the horse has stood ever since. After heavy political debates about the destaination of this sculpture, it was decided that The Third Thorak Horse will stay in school forever.
‘Schwertträger’ (‘Sword Bearer’) and ‘Fahnenträger’ (‘Flag Bearer’)
Thorak’s sculptures ‘Sword Bearer’ and ‘Fahnenträger’ were destinated for the March Field (Märzfeld) of the Nuremburg Party Rally Grounds.
Left: Josef Thorak, ‘Schwertträger’ (‘Sword Bearer’). Adolf Hitler and the widow Gerdy Troost, laughing under the primeval power of the hooves of a Thorak horse (photo: Bayerische StaatsBibliothek). Photo taken at 10 July 1940, the day Hitler visited the Haus der deutschen Kunst, before the opening of the GDK in order to inspect the artwork chosen.
Right: ‘Schwertträger’ depicted in ‘Deutsche Plastik Unserer Zeit’, Kurt Lothar Tank, 1942.
‘The artist has perceived the primeval power of the horse.. … In the shadow of the huge horses the plaster model of the Monument of Work is sinking..’ writes the author, still enchanted by a recent visit to Thorak’s atelier: Lothar Tank, Deutsche Plastik unserer Zeit, München 1942.
Left: ‘Schwertträger’, depicted in ‘Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich’, 1942, and in the ‘American ‘Magazine of Art’, New York, October 1945 (‘Art in the Third Reich’ by Monuments Man Lincoln Kirstein).
Right: Josef Thorak, ‘Der Fahnenträger’ (‘Flag Bearer’), art print.
‘Symbol of the Wehrmacht’
‘Schwertträger’ by Thorak, depicted in ‘Frauenwarte’, Heft 24, 1941. The text below the picture reads: ‘Schwertträger’, symbol der deutschen Wehrmacht’.
Preview of the GDK 1940. Behind Hitler, ‘Schwertträger’ and ‘Flag Bearer’ by Thorak. Date: 10 July 1940.
Right: Josef Thorak, postcard, ‘Francesca di Rimini’. GDK 1943, room 15. Bought by Albert Speer for 200.000 RM, the highest price ever paid at the GDK.
Josef Thorak, ‘Anny Ondra’ (1903 – 1987), Czech film actress. She was married the German boxing great Max Schmeling. Approximately 5 casts are existing.
Left: ‘Anny Ondra’ depicted in the exhibition catalogue ‘Deutsche Bildhauer der Gegenwart’, 1938, Krakow.
Right: a cast of ‘Anny Ondra’ currently located in the garden of the Städtische Galerie, Rosenheim.
Left: ‘Anny Ondra’ by Thorak, bronze. Cast by Heinze & Barth. Displayed at the ‘Kollektiv Ausstellung, Joseph Thorak/ Ferdinand Spiegel, NS-Gemeinde, Berlin, 1935. Depicted in ‘Die Völkische Kunst’, März 1935.
Right: ‘Anny Ondra’ displayed at the ‘Kollektiv Ausstellung, Joseph Thorak/ Ferdinand Spiegel, NS-Gemeinde, Berlin, 1935. Depicted in the exhibition catalog.
The 1935-exhibition ‘Kollektiv-Ausstellung der NS-Kulturgemeinde Berlin’
The 1935-exhibition ‘Kollektiv-Ausstellung der NS-Kulturgemeinde Berlin’ took place in the Berlin gallery of the Commissar for Supervision Alfred Rosenberg (‘Der Beauftragte des Führers für Überwachung’). In this highly publicized show, works were shown by Ferdinand Spiegel (60) and Joseph Thorak. In total, Thorak displayed 41 works here.
Photo: Alfred Rosenberg delivering a speech at the opening of the exhibition ‘Kollektiv-Ausstellung der NS-Kulturgemeinde’, 1935, Berlin. At the background we see some paintings by Ferdinand Spiegel, at the foreground ‘Stehender Mädchenakt’ (bronze) by Joseph Thorak.
The 1935-Kollektiv-Ausstellung was extensively covered in the March 1935 edition of ‘Die Völkische Kunst’, and in ‘Das Bild’, April 1935.
First row, sitting, from left to right: the ambassador of Turkey, the ambassador of Poland, the Reichsleiter der NS-Kulturgemeinde Walter Stang.
Articles and photos about the opening of the 1935-Kollektiv-Ausstellung were i.a. published in the ‘Völkische Beobachter Berlin, 5 March 1935, and in the ‘General-Anzeiger für Bonn und Ungebung’, 8 March 1935 (below, right).
Left: ‘Stehender Mädchenakt’ (‘Standing Nude’), by Thorak. Bronze. Depicted in ‘Die Völkische Kunst’, März 1935 (same sculpture as depicted in the two newspapers).
MIddle: ‘Stehender Mädchenakt’ by Thorak, at the 1935-exhibition ‘Kollektiv-Ausstellung der NS-Kulturgemeinde Berlin’.
‘Death Mask of Von Hindenburg’, published in the ‘St. Louis Post-Dispatch’ (Missouri), 10 August 1934.
The text below the photo reads: ‘Likelyness of the late German President and Field Marshal, made by the sculptor Prof. Thorak, shortly after Von Hindenburg died at his estate near Neudeck, East Prussia’.
Left: photo of the Death Mask in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Right: the Death Mask by Thorak displayed at the permanent exhibition of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, August 2019.
What is left of Thorak’s works?
Very few of the huge, monumental sculptures of Thorak have ever been finished. Most of them were only designs and models. For example, the ‘Bekrönungsgruppe’ (‘Crowning-group’) destined for the Märzfeld of the Reichsparteitagsgelände in Nürnberg (Nuremberg rally grounds), with the Siegesgöttin (Goddess of Triumph) in the midst, flanked by two horses. Also, the huge ‘Denkmal der Arbeit’ (‘Monument to Work’), intended for the Reichsautobahn between Salzburg and München was never finished.
Much of his work was destroyed after the war. The two impressive bronze sculpture groups flanking the entrance of the German Pavilion of the Paris World Exhibition (‘Die Familie’ and ‘Kameraden’) were melted down in 1949 in a foundry in Landsberg in 1949. Originally the 7 metre high sculptures stood for Security, Pride, Self-consciousness, Purity, Discipline; or in other words, the New Germany. It was Thorak himself who brought them to the foundry in 1949.
In Salzburg there are still two sculptures by Thorak: ‘Paracelsus’ (displayed at the GDK 1943) and ‘Kopernikus’; both placed in Mirabellgarten, the garden of Castle Mirabell.
His 1928-sculptures ‘Arbeit’ (‘Labour’) and ‘Heim’ (‘Home’) are located in Charlottenburg, Berlin, just like ’Penthesilea’ (1927/28) and the eagle above the main entrance of the Reichspostzentralambt.
In Poland his sculpture ‘Mutter mit Kind’ (‘Mother with Child’), ceated 1942, still exist. Also a few of his war memorials are still existing, for example at the graveyard in Kastel, in the Wilhelmspark in Stolpmünde and in Torgau. See discriptions and photos below.
In 2015 the three giant horses have been found back.
Left: left of the entrance of the German Pavilion, Paris World Exhibition 1937: ‘Kameraden’ (‘Comrades’). The plaster model (2 persons) was displayed at the GDK 1937 room 2.
Right: right of the entrance of the German Pavilion, Paris World Exhibition 1937: ‘Die Familie’ (‘The Family’).
Both sculptures were 7 metres high. Thorak melted them down in a foundry in Landshut in 1949 (Andreas L. Hofbauer, ‘Über Zeugen und Zucht‘, Gespräch anlässlich eines Vortrages im Kunstpavillon München, 17.06.09. www.cultd.eu/thorak/g.htm). Art prints*.
Left: ‘Kameraden’ (2-persons), displayed at the exhibition ‘Gebt mir vier Jahre Zeit’ (‘Give me Four Years Time’), held in the Berliner Messehallen am Kaiserdamm. Photo taken at the opening on 29 April 1937.
Right: September 1937, Hitler and Mussolini visiting the GDK.
Joseph Thorak, ’Penthesilea’, Thracian woman warrior. Created 1927/28. Larger than life size sculpture of the Queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology. Penthesilea was the daughter of Ares and Otrera and the sister of Hippolyta, Antiope and Melanippe. One of many famous Amazonian Queens, Penthisilea’s story is one of fierce dedication to being a warrior, and a tragic death at the hands of Achilles. Located on the main façade of the Kleist Gymnasium, Levetzow Street, Berlin.
The sculptures ‘Heim’ and ‘Labour’ by Thorak, created in 1928. Located in the Knobelsdorffstrasse in Berlin (on either side of the street).
Left: ‘Arbeit’ by Thorak.
Right: ‘Arbeit’ by Thorak. Photographed in 2019.
Left: ‘Heim’ by Thorak.
Right: ‘Heim’ by Thorak. Photographed in 2019.
‘Heim’ by Thorak, depicted in ‘Die Kunst’, May, 1931.
Joseph Thorak, ‘Eagle above the main entrance of the Reichspostzentralambt in Berlin’. In 2020, the building of the Reichspostzentralambt, Ringbahnstrasse 130 in Berlin, will house the Anti-Terror-Centre of the Berlin Police.
Left: Depicted in ‘Zentralblatt der Bauverwaltung’, 12 June 1935.
Right and below: the eagle in 2019.
Josef Thorak, War Memorial WWI, located at the graveyard of Kastel (de dates 1933 and 1945 were later inscribed). Foto: 2015.
Left: Josef Thorak, 1928, sculpture at the grave of the Franz Ullstein family at Friedhof Heerstraße in Berlin-Westend. Depicted in ‘Der Bildhauer Joseph Thorak’, by Wilhelm Bode, 1929, page 75.
Right: the sculpture in plaster, displayed at the ‘Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung’, 1929. Depicted in the exhibition catalog.
Left: Josef Thorak, ‘War Memorial 1914-1918’ in the Wilhelmspark, Stolpmünde, Poland. Created in 1922. Thorak became famous when he created this war memorial ‘Der sterbende Krieger’ (‘Dying Warrior’), a statue to commemorate the 76 men of the port-town Stolpmünde who died during World War I. Later in 1945, for the coast of Stolpmünde the Gustloff was torpedoed by the Russians; almost 10.000 German refugees lost their lives in this largest shipwreck in history.
Right: This is the original War Memorial by Thorak, before 1931. Notice the original German text: ‘Unsern toten Kriegern’ (‘Our dead Warriors’), which was later replaced by the Polish text: ‘To the unknown heroes of the world war, the citizens of the city of Ustka’. Apparently the stone-plaque with the Polish text has disappeared. Depicted in ‘Deutscher Ehrenhain, für die Helden von 1914/18’, 1931.
‘With his last strength the warrior raises his shield’. The coat of arms of Stolpmünde is depicted on the shield, visible at the back site of the ‘Sterbende Krieger’ sculpture.
State Prize from the Ministry of Culture in Berlin, 1919
Josef Thorak, ‘Thüringisches Husaren Regiment Nr. 12‘ (‘Thüringian Cavalry Regiment‘), Torgau. World War I Memorial created in 1922. In 1919 Thorak won the State Prize from the Ministry of Culture in Berlin for this Monument to the Thüringian Cavalry Regiment.
Left: Josef Thorak, ‘Busto del Führer’, displayed at the Biennale di Venezia, 1938 (photoarchiv Biennale di Venezia).
Right: Josef Thorak, ‘Bust of Hitler’, marble. Found in 2015, buried in the garden of the National Museum in Gdansk. Nowadays displayed in the ‘Muzeum II Wojny Światowej’ (‘Museum of the Second World War’), Gdansk.
Josef Thorak, ‘Pietà’, sculpture on the grave of Mathilde, mother of Joseph Thorak. Located at the graveyard Petersfriedhof, Salzburg.
Josef Thorak, ‘Paracelsus‘, located in the Mirabellgarten, the garden of Castle Mirabell, Salzburg. Displayed at the GDK 1943.
Josef Thorak, ‘Kopernikus‘, located in the Mirabellgarten, the garden of Castle Mirabell, Salzburg.
Josef Thorak, ‘Faustkämpfer’, 1936, modelled after the boxer Max Schmeling. Located near the swimmmingpool of the ‘Reichssportfeld Frauenplatz’, Olympiastadion, Berlin. Schmeling was a German boxer who was heavyweight champion of the world between 1930 and 1932. His two fights with Joe Louis in 1936 and 1938 were worldwide cultural events because of their national associations. During World War II, Schmeling served with the German Air Force as an elite paratrooper. His wife was the Czech-born actress Anny Ondra.
Left: Josef Thorak, ‘Mutter mit Kind’ (‘Mother with Child’). Created 1942. Located in the garden of a nursing-home in the village of Zaskoczyn, near Gdanks, Poland (formerly a military sanatorium of the Luftwaffe). Displayed in the GDK 1942, room 2. Bought by Robert Ley for 100.000 Reichsmark.
Right: photo of the GDK 1942-exhibition.
Josef Thorak, ‘Sterbende Ursula’ (‘Dying Ursula’). Memorial for the 41 civilians in Linz who died as a result of a bomattack in 1944. Created by Thorak in 1950, bought by the city of Linz in 1954. Located in the Otto-Glöckel-School in Linz, Austria.
Josef Thorak, ‘Bust of Kemal Atatürk’. Bronze, signed ‘J. THORAK. Height 57 cm, including base of 12 cm.
From 1935 onwards, after the completion of the Trust Monument in Ankara, Thorak was commissioned to create busts of Atatürk for numerous public buildings in Turkey.
According to Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler owned a bust of Atatürk by Thorak, which he considered to be ‘one of his cherished possessions’; likely the distinctive determined facial expression shaped by Thorak played a role in this. Thorak also executed an Atatürk bust in granite for the Entrance Hall of the Philosophy Department of the University of Ankara (revealed in 1940). Also he portrayed Prime Minister Ismet Inönü and the minister Sükrü Kaya and Celal Bayar.
Josef Thorak, ‘Trust Monument’ (‘Güven Aniti’, or ‘Sicherheits Denkmal’), located in the Güven Park, Ankara. Portrayed on the backsite of the monument is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, flanked by workmen, craftsmen, farmers and artists. Height: 8 meters.
The creation of the monument was started by the Austrian sculptor Anton Hanak (1875–1934). After the death of Hanak it was completed (the backsite) in 1935 by his former pupil Josef Thorak.
Left: Josef Thorak, exhibition in 1950, Mirabellgarten, Salzburg. Displayed were several of his works created between 1937 and 1945; the exhibition attracted 22.000 visitors. Depicted on the poster is the bust of ‘Johann Bernhard Fisher von Erlach’ (1656 – 1723), Austrian architect, sculptor, and architectural historian.
Right: the bust of ‘Fisher von Erlach’ by Thorak displayed at the GDK 1944 room 2.
Josef Thorak, ‘Hitler understood me’
Josef Thorak (1889 – 1952) sun of a Salzburger master potter, was an Austrian-German sculptor. In 1906 he attended evening courses at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, while working as a potter during the day. From 1910 to 1914 he studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, were he was u pupil of Josef Breitner, Prof. Müllner and the sculptor Anton Harnak. In these years he created the bronze relief ´Perseus mit dem Medusenhaupt´ (‘Perseus with the head of Medusa’, 1913, in the possession of the Belvedere Museum, Vienna) and ‘Rosalind Sild’ (1914). In 1914, at an age of 25 years, he was rewarded the Austrian Gold State Medal for artistic achievement. In 1915 he went to Berlin where he studied graphic art under Ludwig Manzel. In 1919 he won the State Prize from the Ministry of Culture in Berlin for his (model-)Monument to the Torgau Cavalry Regiment (‘Thüringisches Husaren Regiment Nr. 12‘). From that moment on he won prizes in numerous competitions.
In 1922, Thorak became famous when he created ‘Der sterbende Krieger’, a World War I Memorial to commemorate the people of the port town Stolpmünde (now Poland) who died during World War I. Later the original German text on the memorial ‘Unsern toten Kriegern’ (‘Oud dead Warriors’) was replaced by a text in Polish. In 1945, for the coast of Stolpmünde, the Gustloff was torpedoed by the Russians; almost 10.000 refugees lost their lives in this largest shipwreck in history.
Josef Thorak became a permanent guest exhibitor at the Berlin Academy in 1928; in the same year a film was made of him (‘Schaffende Hände’) and a year later the book ‘Der Bildhauer J. Thorak’ was published. He exhibited in the Munich Glaspalast for the first time in 1930.
From 1933 on, Thorak joined Arno Breker as one of the two ‘official sculptors’ of the Third Reich. In his immense government-issued studio outside of Munich (in Baldheim), Thorak worked on statues intended to represent the folk-life of Germany under Nazi coordination; these works tended to be heroic in scale, up to 65 feet (20 meters) in height.
In 1935 works by Thorak were displayed in an exhibition in Berlin organized by ‘Amt Rosenberg’ (Amt Rosenberg, headed by Chief Nazi Party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, was an official body for cultural policy and surveillance within the Nazi party, founded in 1934). A year later Thorak completed the sculpture ‘Faustkämpfer’ (modelled after the boxer Max Schmeling) for the Berlin Olympic Stadium of 1936, which earned him an Olympic medal. Thorak was well known for his ‘grandiose monuments’. Albert Speer referred to him as ‘more or less my sculptor, who frequently designed statues and reliefs for my buildings’ and the one ‘who created the group of figures for the German pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair’. His ‘Comradeship’ stood outside the German pavilion, depicting two enormous nude males, clasping hands and standing defiantly side by side, in a pose of defense and racial camaraderie.
In 1937 Thorak was entrusted with the direction of a Meisterklasse for sculpturing at the Munich Academy.
44 works by Thorak were displayed at the GDK’s from 1937 to 1944. They were bought by Adolf Hitler (5 works), Albert Speer, Joseph Goebels, Robert Ley and Martin Bormann. Robert Ley bought ‘Pietà’, GDK 1942, for 100.000 Reichsmarks and Albert Speer bought ‘Francesca da Rimini’, GDK 1943, for 200.000 Reichsmarks, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at the GDK.
Several of Thorak’s works were displayed at the XXI Venice Biennale, 1938, including busts of Hitler, Mussolini, Atatürk and Hindenburg.
Thorak was exempt from military service as he was listed in 1944 on the ‘Gottbegnadetenliste’. His name was also on the Sonderliste with the twelve most important (‘unersetzlichen’) sculptors of that time.
At the end of the war, a large number of Thorak’s works were destroyed. Until 1948 he was prohibited from working. In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of 26 May 1948, we read that Thorak was a acquitted by a de-Nazification court after his Jewish wife appealed in his behalf. It appeared that after their divorce in 1933, Thorak continued to live with here and their three children. She emigrated after riots against Jews, but Thorak kept sending her money. The Munich Tribunal decided that Thorak would have been a successful artist with or without Hitler.
The two impressive bronze sculpture groups flanking the entrance of the German Pavilion of the 1937 Paris World Exhibition (‘Die Familie’ and ‘Kameraden’) were melted down in 1949 in a foundry in Landsberg. Originally the 7 metre high sculptures stood for Security, Pride, Self-consciousness, Purity, Discipline; or in other words, the ‘New Germany’. It was Thorak himself who brought them to the foundry in 1949.
After the war Thorak told Time Magazine: ‘Hitler understood me’, and ‘if what I do is art, he understood art’.
Josef Thorak died, resentful, in 1952 in his country seat Schloss Hartmannsberg, Bavaria.
In 2015, a marble bust of Adolf Hitler sculpted by Josef Thorak was found in the gardens of the National Museum in the city of Gdansk, Poland. The sculpture of 50 cm high (signed ‘Thorak 1942‘) was buried deep in the ground, likely in 1945, short before the Soviet army approached the city. It is conceivable that the bust was the same one which was displayed at the exhibition ‘Deutsche Künstler und die SS‘, 1944, in Salzburg. Also in 2015 his marble sculpture ‘Zwei Menschen’ was displayed in the exhibition ‘GegenKunst – Entartete Kunst, NS-Kunst, Sammeln nach 1945’, Pinakothek der Moderne, München.
A small cast of ‘Schreitendes Pferd’ by Thorak was displayed at the exhibition ‘Nazi Design’, Design Museum Den Bosch, The Netherlands, 8 September 2019 – 1 March 2020. This world-wide highly publicized exhibition attracted over 130.000 visitors in six months. The exhibition was covered on the front page of the New York Times and Bild, and i.a. in the Guardian, Le Monde, Le Figaro, Paris Match, Spiegel, Welt, Tagesspiegel, El Pais and all Dutch newspapers. On television the exposition was covered i.a. by the ARD, ZDF, DW News, Aljazeera, AFP News Agency, SBS World News, and all mayor television chanels in The Netherlands. Because of the enormous popularity of the exhibition, the museum extended opening hours, opened its doors also on Mondays, and finally it extended the exhibition by 6 weeks.
* As also stated in our General Terms and Conditions, German Art Gallery offers the depicted postcards and art prints for sale. Allmost all of the postcards are ‘Haus der Deutschen Kunst’ editions. Prices on request.