Art of the Third Reich

Hitler's obsession with art, both that which he deemed worthy of Germany and that which he deemed degenerate, has become a popular topic. With Hollywood's production of "Monument's Men", public interest in yet another quirk of Nazi Germany has only grown. This gallery seeks to give examples of art Hitler would have placed in his "Fuhrermuseum" (a museum used to show art that captured the glory of the Reich) and those he would have placed in the "Entarte Kunsk" (the degenerate art exhibit). It will explore the styles of art Hitler held as being representative of the idea of "true" art as well as the subjects he felt were worth commemorating in art.

Albin Egger-Lienz was an artist that made his works around the time of WWI. He was greatly influenced by one of Hitler's favorite artists, Franz Defregger, of which Google Art Project has no examples of. Hitler thought real art showed the common German folk in scenes that anyone could relate to. As such, a large number of works collected for the Fuhrermuseum were like this piece - families depicted in any number of daily routines (lunch, in this case). Art depicting German families played such a large role in Hitler's image of ideal art because he believed the common laborer and the family unit were at the heart of what it meant to be German. By idealizing art that celebrated these two subjects, Hitler believed he could make Germany's people take more pride in being who they were which would further strengthen Germany.
Rembrandt is one of the more famous artists in today's world and the same can be said of him during Hitler's time. On top of being famous, many of his pieces found themselves in Hitler's Fuhrermuseum with many other works that Hitler felt were "true" art. In this piece, Rembrandt shows Aristotle standing with his right hand placed on a bust of Homer in a very representational style. Both Homer and Aristotle were prominent figures of ancient Greece, which, along with ancient Rome, were the two civilizations that Hitler felt made art which all other art should aspire to and imitate. Hitler believed the idealized sculptures of the human figure and the highly detailed paintings of these two cultures showed life as it was meant to be seen - unequivocal and powerful. In this piece, Rembrandt shows Aristotle in clothing that instantly lets the viewer know that he is important and wealthy. The viewer can then infer that the subject has ties to Greece (as he is touching a Greek bust) and that he may be showing his respect to whoever the bust represents (based on his posture and the lighting in the painting). All of the above details lead the viewer to correctly infer many key details - the man in the a painting was important (in his time and still today), he was wealthy, he was Greek, and he had a great respect for the man depicted by the bust (Homer). To Hitler, this piece is a work of art because the viewer can get all this information on their own simply by viewing the piece, they do not have to guess at what the artist was trying to show.
This piece captures the city of Dresden from a bank on the Elbe river. Large state buildings can be seen along with many residential buildings, all of which display a Neo-Gothic style of architecture. Hitler was quite talented when it came to architecture and it was for this reason he was refused entrance into an art academy. When he applied, the director of the academy said his skills would be better utilized as an architect than as a painter. He preferred Neo-Gothic architecture as he believed it captured the spirit of the German state. This painting by Canaletto captures Dresden in a very detailed and non-obscure manner, allowing its viewer to see the city for what it is, and not for some obscure detail the artist wanted. For both of these reasons, this piece could have very well been one included in the Fuhrermuseum for its unequivocal presentation of an iconic German city that was built using iconic architecture.
Wassily Kandinsky was an artist who resided in Germany prior to Hitler's rise to power. He was by all means a "modern" artist and is credited with creating the first purely abstract paintings. He remained in Germany until 1933 when the Nazis closed the Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture where he taught. Kandisnky was one of the prominent artists that Hitler had declared degenerate resulting in a banning of buying or selling any of his works. Abstract art, to Hitler, was not art at all; it hid its subject matter from the viewer and its purpose or meaning was not immediately knowable. In Kandinsky's "Der Blaue Reiter", it is almost impossible to tell what the piece is about. I, for example, see a horse-like animal prancing on a splash of colors. Without the title Kandinsky gave to this piece ("The Blue Rider"), I could not make an argument that is any more valid than someone else's argument for what Kandinsky wanted us to see. For both of these reasons, Hitler had abstract art (and all modern art for that matter) declared degenerate and some of that art made it into his "Entartete Kunsk" (degnerate art) exhibit. No artists were allowed to produce modern-style art and existing modern art was not allowed to be bought or sold. To ensure adherence to this decree, Gestapo officers were regularly sent to artist's houses to make sure they were not producing works that did not agree with Hitler's ideals.
Peter Paul Rubens was an artist whose works Hitler specifically sought after to include in his Fuhrermuseum. Like Franz Defregger (and Albin Egger-Lienz who piece titled "Lunch" was included earlier in this gallery), Rubens painted average people going about their daily life. Specifically, this piece depicts farmers carrying out their daily chores. Farmers were considered to be the idyllic image of Germany's working middle class after which Hitler formed his political party (the German Worker's Party). Celebrating the hard work that went into making Germany the power that is was, whether through laboring in a factory or tending to cattle on the field, Hitler knew that making the average person prideful of what they do and then making a political party that catered to them, he could increase his popularity with the majority of Germany and the rest is history. In idealizing works such as Ruben's "The Farm at Laken", he could use art to create a sense of pride in the German people that would then secure his favor with them and therefore his power.
The final example of artworks considered to be degenerate in Hitler's Third Reich is a piece by Oskar Kokoschka. Kokoschka was another expressionist artist who fled Germany once the Nazi's rose to power. His art, like Kandinsky's, was declared degenerate by Hitler which prevented him from producing art for as long as he lived in Germany. This piece depicts a somber looking woman holding a veil with what looks to be a bloody face print on it (the Shroud of Turin, perhaps?). While easier to interpret than Kandinsky's "Der Blaue Reiter" in that one can make out what this piece depicts, it shows its subject in a stylized form. This forces the viewer to guess at the details of the piece - is the woman wearing a robe made of cotton or burlap? Does the veil depict Christ's face or someone else's face? Is the woman indoors or outdoors under a star filled sky? Without Kokoschka specifying the above, the viewer would never know for sure. While these questions seem like moot points that have nothing to do with the art, to Hitler, they proved this type of art was degenerate and worthy of the Entartete Kunsk. They left the viewer with questions, their meaning was not immediately knowable, they did not inspire feelings of pride in the German people, and they did not celebrate the glory of Germany - all things that true art would never do in Hitler's view. The included video (segment from 10:48 to 16:20) documents Kokoschka's evolution into the artist he was and what he sought to show with his art. In addition, it briefly delves into the life experiences of Hitler that led him to see Kokoschka and others like him as degenerate artists.
This piece was held in high esteem by Hitler and it was given the place of honor above the fireplace in his home. While its creator (Arnold Brocklin) never specified why he made the piece or for what reason, it is suspected that it represents Charon, the ferryman of Greek mythology, transporting the deceased to the underworld. Again, this piece demonstrates Hitler's preference for Greek cultural pieces that use realistic or representational styles. While the subject of "The Isle of the Dead" might be mythical, Bocklin shows it in such a way that one could imagine themselves in such a place and, should they somehow find themselves in that place, they could recognize it having already seen it in a painting. Like the other art pieces Hitler would have included in his Fuhrermuseum, this piece looks realistic, conveys a strong message, and has ties to Greek and Roman cultural ideas.
An overview of the art of the Third Reich would not be complete without a look at sculpture. The majority of sculpture work commissioned by Hitler for the state was produced by Arno Breker and, to a lesser extent, Josef Thorak. Google Art Project has no pieces for either of the above two sculptors but never-the-less, similar examples of their styles exist. One such example is a human figure sculpture known as "Youth from the Magdalensberg" by an unknown artist. Just as Hitler believed paintings from classical Greece and Rome were the epitome of paint art, he believed that Greek and Roman sculptures of the idealized man were the pinnacle of sculpting. This piece shows a nude male whom has a well-defined musculature, a fair face, and a contrapposto pose. All of these features give him the impression that he is more than just a man. Perhaps he is an Olympic athlete, or maybe he is a high-ranking politician. Maybe he could even be a God in the flesh. In any case, sculpting figures in such an idealized manner gives the viewer the impression that the subject of the sculpture is better, faster, and stronger than themselves - just how Hitler had intended the world to see the German people in regard to themselves.
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This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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