German Art Exhibitions
During the years before
1933 and those which followed them, I was convinced that once the first
buildings were finished, the screams and attacks of our critics would be
silenced. The decisive opinion would no longer be that of the rootless
literati, but that of the Folk. The more the new art fulfils its task,
the more it speaks to the Folk, which means to be accessible to the
Folk. It doesn't matter what a few crazy intellectuals still think about
it ..... The weight of the affirmation of millions makes the opinion of
a few invalid. Their opinion is culturally as unimportant as the opinion
of some who are politically marginal ..... As the Reich grows, so grows
its art ..... The whole fakery of a fashionable decadent or diseased and
untruthful art has been brushed aside. A proper standard has been
reached ..... We not only believe it, but we know that there are signs
of stars in the German creative sky ..... From now on, from exhibition
to exhibition, we will apply stronger criteria in order to select from
the worthy talent only the exceptionally gifted ones ..... I would like
to express the hope that in future some outstandingly gifted artists
will lend their talent to the events and the philosophy of the time that
gives them the material basis for their work, however manifold the
previous historical visions or experiences were that excited and
fertilised the artist's imagination, the greatness of the present time
stands above all. It can challenge the greatest epochs in German
history. -- Adolf Hitler, 1939
The Great German Art
Exhibition, 1937, House
Of German Art, München. Cover of the exhibition guide
The first four years of the brilliant National Socialist regime prepared the
Folk for a new mass aesthetic. The year 1937 marked a clear break with the past.
With the opening of the first Great
German Art Exhibition
in München in July, and the last public showing of Modernist works at the Degenerate
Art exhibition, the
battle was over. The new German art was firmly established.
As soon as Hitler took power, he commanded his favorite architect, Paul Ludwig
Troost, to build a House Of German Art in München. It was to replace the
Glaspalast, which had burned down in 1931 and with it 3,000 works of art, among
them many paintings by German Romantics like Caspar David Friedrich and Moritz
The day the cornerstone was laid was declared the first Day
Of Art. The museum was
to be a great patriotic gesture, a monument for the whole country. In front of
the entire establishment, with many representatives from the art world, the
church, the Party, and the cities, Hitler stressed, in a marvellous speech from
his heart, his link with the Bavarian King Ludwig I -- who had transformed his
capital into a flowering, art loving city and who had built many museums and
palaces -- and the cultural mission Hitler saw for himself and the city of München.
Three and a half years later, on July 18th, 1937, the House Of German Art was
opened in a ceremony that vastly surpassed the first one in splendour and
euphoria. If there were any doubts about the direction the cultural politics of
the Third Reich should take, they were resolved with the opening of the first Great
German Art Exhibition.
May this House be
devoted only to serious art, art that is in our blood, art that people can
comprehend. Because only the art that the simple man can understand is true art,
said the National Socialist newspaper Hakenkreuzbanner,
June 10th, 1938.
The Great German Art
Exhibition had two
- To give the honest German artist a platform
on which to exhibit, and
- To give the German Folk a chance to see and
purchase this work.
Pictures were submitted in an open competition. All
German artists in the Reich and abroad are invited to participate.
The new museum was to be the model for all future German museums. There
will be no more museums in Germany which do not display German art prominently
and centrally, declared
Hugo Landgraf in his article Die
Museen im neuen Reich, Nationalsozialistische
1934, page 52.
To define that further: The
new museum will separate clearly the national stylistic from the national
sociological. The senseless mixture of art groups which confuses the visitor is
no longer possible. German art is not every work of art made in Germany. German
art is art made in Germany by German artists. Grown in Germany, not artificially
raised, said Eberlein, Was
ist deutsch in der deutschen Kunst,
The press boasted that 25,000 works had been submitted for the first exhibition.
Of these over 600 went on show. The President Of The Reich Culture Chamber, the
painter Adolf Ziegler, supervised the selection of paintings, while the
sculptors Arno Breker and Josef Wackerle were responsible for the sculptures.
Hitler visiting the Great
German Art Exhibition, 1939,
House Of German Art, München, with, from left to right, Reich Leader Of The SS
Heinrich Himmler, Propaganda Minister Joseph Göbbels, Italian Propaganda
Minister Dino Alfieri, an unidentified Political Officer, Professor Gerdy
Troost, and Baron Konstantin von Neurath
There was a tradition in Germany of annual exhibitions in which artists could
display their work in the same way as at the academy or salon exhibitions in
France and England. The Great
German Art Exhibitions
were in this tradition. They consisted simply of works of art for sale. What was
new was the intervention of the State as the main commissioner of art. They were
not an art fair with
special reference to the newest, but the visual expression of the eternal --
external and internal -- values of our Folk. Created by artists of our time, as
clear and truthful as the building, they are exhibited in a temple of art, not
in a factory, as Werner
Rittich, one of the leading art critics, put it (Kunst
und Volk, volume 5,
number 8, August 8th, 1937).
There were no formal criteria except good taste. Hitler himself stepped in and
rejected 80 pictures as unfinished. Mere
sketching has been radically excluded; only pictures which have been worked are
shown. There is no room for questioning about the meaning of a work,
reported a critic. The
most decisive element about the Great German Art Exhibition is
that it is the fighting call against any problematic. There is no room for
experiments here. In this accomplished house only accomplished art shall enter
..... Here we are shown what the new German art truly looks like. The result is
a sharp rebuke of the past.
(Bruno E. Werner, Erster
Gang durch die Kunstausstellung,
Zeitung, July 20th,
Participation in one of the Great
German Art Exhibitions
became important for an artist's reputation. The official arts magazine Die
Kunst im Dritten Reich
-- Art In The Third
Reich and the general
press reviewed almost exclusively artists who had been exhibited in the München
As in politics, so in
the world of German art we are determined to sweep away slogans. Ability is the
qualification necessary for the artist who wishes his work to be exhibited here,
Hitler said. But the National Socialists not only influenced the style of the
works, they also made sure that the artists would choose the right subject. The
Leader wants the German artist to leave his solitude and to speak to the Folk.
This must start with the choice of the subject. It has to be popular and
comprehensible. It has to be heroic in line with the ideals of National
Socialism. It has to declare its faith in the ideal of beauty of the Nordic and
racially pure human being.
(Dr. Hans Kiener, Die
Kunst im Dritten Reich,
July/August, 1937, page 19.)
A Köln critic described the basic thematic structure of the show:
A walk through the
exhibition proved that the principles of clarity, truth, and professionalism
determined the selection ..... The heroic element stands out. The worker, the
farmer, the soldier are the themes ..... Heroic subjects dominate over
sentimental ones ..... The experiences of the Great War, the German landscape,
the German man at work, peasant life ..... The life of the State with its
personalities and developments. These are the new subjects, they demand new
expressions and styles ..... In accordance with the subject, the style of most
of the works is clear, strong, and full of character ..... there is a whiff of
greatness everywhere. Healthy, fresh, and optimistic artists are showing their
work with manifold individuality. A new era of art has begun.
(Dr. Wilhelm Späl, Grosse
Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1937,
July 22nd, 1937.)
Exhibition In Praise Of
Work, House Of Art,
Berlin, 1936. Centre: Fritz Kölle: Ironworker; Helmut Schaarschmidt: Earth Work
-- May this House be
devoted only to serious art, art that is our blood, art that people can
comprehend. Only that is true art that the ordinary man can understand.
-- Hermann Göring
The Great German Art
provided an educational experience:
A better image of Helmut Schaarschmidt: Earth Work
The annual exhibition in
the House Of German Art is more than a display of art. Other exhibitions do that
too. This selection is the harvest of the artistic will. On its banner stand the
words of The Leader. Art is a mighty and fanatical mission.
National Socialism has removed art for all times out of the sphere of
individuality and has put it at the service of the Folk Community. Just as our
philosophy gives each individual the strength to bind himself to race and Folk,
so does art return from solitude into the fold of the Folk Community ..... Art
has received the task of mirroring German life in its manifold richness, of
mirroring the richness of the German soul in pictures which ring the political
change. The artistic struggle is no longer an aesthetic one, but one for the
mobilisation of the German character. Artistic change is the symbol of political
change; it lets the heart sing out when it concentrates on the silent forces of
nature, man, plant, and animal. This is not an idyllic Biedermeier refuge or an
empty pastiche. The young German art which passionately addresses the Folk and
represents their soul also knows the heroic, the manly stance in the picture of
the soldier's readiness to fight, or in the clear rendering of beauty so akin to
Horn, Vorbild und
Verpflichtung: Die grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1939 in München,
1939, page 830.)
The exhibition was a cross section of the best in German art. It had a
programmatic character, introducing the new art and clearly demonstrating the
break with the art of the Weimar Republic. For
the first time in 150 years, culture no longer takes its orders from Paris. The
forceful cultural renaissance comes from Germany and influences other countries.
An art form, which only yesterday was counted as exemplary, has been unmasked.
People are coming to their senses. In art they call for simplicity, honesty, and
directness. We have overcome Impressionism, Expressionism, New Realism, and
whatever other names there are, and we have attained clear images.
(Professor Winfried Wendland, Nationalsozialistische
number 24, page 2.)
At this exhibition, as in the others to follow, the pictures were mostly
displayed by subject, because logic and order is certainly also demanded in the
arts. Flower painting, industrial landscape, the family, country life were all
neatly categorised. The Exhibition was to be a mirror of the world, a
confirmation of the regeneration that had taken place after painting and
sculpture had been freed from all degenerate ingredients. The breakdown was:
- 40 percent showing landscapes,
- 30 percent showing ordinary people,
- 11 percent portraits of historical figures,
- 10 percent showing animals, and
- 7 percent still lifes.
The majority of the entries were traditional. For almost every painting
exhibited one could find a precursor in the history of art. In many aspects the
Exhibition did not differ from earlier southern German art shows, a further
proof that the National Socialists did not invent a style which emerged
overnight in 1933, but that the art of the Third Reich was the result of a
continuous process, of something which existed before. Of the exhibiting
artists, 250 had showed their work in the München Academy exhibitions before
Hitler came to power.
Fritz Erler (1868-1940) was over sixty when the National Socialists came to
power. A respected and successful München painter from the Art Nouveau
movement, he, together with Ferdinand Spiegel (18791950), was so enthusiastic
about the new regime that he made excellent propaganda pictures for the
military. He abandoned the softer and more naturalistic style of his earlier
peasant paintings for steely renderings of men from the SS and SA.
Paul Matthias Padua (1903-1961), another favourite of the National Socialist
elite, was younger, but like many others did not need the support of the
National Socialists. A traditionalist, he worked in the manner of the French
realistic school, and his paintings of Bavarian peasants were very popular.
Paul Matthias Padua: Peasants From Ruhpolding, 1928
In style and expression his earlier work did not differ from that exhibited in
Hitler's Great German
Art Exhibitions. His is
a typical case of a talented artist being absorbed into the political machinery.
He had only to add a few details, like a picture of Hitler or a Folk's Radio, in
order to fit in better. As time passed, Padua was more and more absorbed into
the high culture of National Socialist ideology. His picture The
10th Of May, in which a
German soldier beckons the Folk to follow him, was an outstandingly popular
propaganda picture with which the artist celebrated the beginning of the
invasion of France.
Paul Matthias Padua: The Tenth Of May, 1940 -- The
single episode depicted in this image is of no importance, nor will anybody
mistake the soldiers' heads for portraits. The viewer is influenced by the
mystical content rather than by the episode or portraits.
-- Robert Scholz
Most good German painters eagerly allowed their work be used for the noble
National Socialist ideology. Hermann Urban (1866-1946) was a successful
landscape painter and contributed several heroic landscapes to the official art
exhibitions. Paul Schultze-Naumburg wrote about Urban's work as representing the
artistic battles against the barbaric world. His
landscapes show us that all life is a battle. Those who do not take up the
battle will be trampled underfoot.
(Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Hermann
Urban, The Master Of The Heroic Landscape,
Die Kunst im Dritten
Reich, July, 1941.)
Franz Eichhorst (1885-1948), a painter of German peasants, was also easily won
over. Relying on his experience during the Great War, he made a specialty of the
heroic soldier. His giant frescoes (105 feet long and 13 feet high) for the
Berlin City Hall, Schöneberg, which covered four walls, were a fantastic
celebration of the rise of the National Socialist Movement. There was the entire
National Socialist panorama: the young couple, the mother and child, the
workman, the farmer, and the soldier getting ready for the fight. All this was
tastefully decorated with National Socialist insignia and flags.
Franz Eichhorst: Peasant. Detail of a mural. Signs
of renewal of a Nation from the depth of the blood: it needs disciplined
decisiveness to create frescoes that represent the great events, the destiny of
an era, the uplifting of the soul of a whole Folk. This is the true change, the
irrevocable victory of the idealistic spirit over dark forces.
-- Robert Volz
Franz Eichhorst. Farewell. Detail of a mural
This is Germany's road
during the last twenty five years, a timeless picture of the destiny of a Folk
in its fight for existence and for the future,
wrote Robert Volz in Die
Kunst im Dritten Reich,
The very respectable Conrad Hommel, a favorite portraitist of the pre Hitler era
who had painted Marshal von Hindenburg and Albert Einstein, was also patriotic.
After Hommel had painted Göring,
Conrad Hommel. General Field Marshal Hermann Göring, 1939, Great
German Art Exhibition, 1939
he became the favourite portraitist of the Party, turning out many pictures of
Conrad Hommel. The Leader and Commander In Chief Of The Army, 1940, Great
German Art Exhibition, 1940
-- An example of the
high standard of the art of painting
-- Robert Scholz
Göbbels, and the other elite. His paintings became increasingly magnificent and
Hommel was not the only painter of the old München Secession who adjusted his
style to the new Germany's demand. The venerable München Secession, which grew
out of the Impressionist school, furnished many painters for the Great
German Art Exhibition.
Some, like Eduard Thöny (1866-1950), painted military subjects in his own
unique style. The same can be said about the Secession painter Leo Samberger
(1881-1949). Paul Herrmann (born 1864), Elk Eber (1892-1941), and Hans
Schmitz-Wiedenbrück (19071944) also furnished the new regime with marvellous
paintings depicting National Socialist and war themes.
Elk Eber: Brown Shirts Take Over, February 23, 1933
The best pictures of rustic genre scenes came from painters like Adolf Wissel
Adolf Wissel: Peasant Woman, Great
German Art Exhibition, 1938
Thomas Baumgartner (born 1892),
Thomas Baumgartner: Weaver From Tegernsee, 1936
Constantin Gerhardinger (1888-1970),
Constantin Gerhardinger: Family Portrait
Oskar Martin-Amorbach (born 1897),
Oskar Martin-Amorbach: Hard Work, Great
German Art Exhibition, 1939
Oskar Martin-Amorbach: Evening
and Julius Paul Junghanns (1876-1958).
Julius Paul Junghanns: Self Portrait, 1935
There were the strong horses and cows of Franz Xaver Stahl (born 1901). Most of
these artists were past the middle years of their life; they painted as they had
always done -- traditionally, neatly, without artistic conflict. Their excellent
style and message suited the National Socialists so well!
If one did not know that Albin Egger-Lienz (1868-1926) painted around 1910, one
could easily think that his work was done during the Third Reich. It was no
accident that he became one of the favourite precursors of these new artists.
Albin Egger-Lienz: Life, 1912. Detail
Werner Peiner (born 1897) was a successful painter before Hitler. He became
Professor at the Düsseldorf Academy after degenerates like Paul Klee, Jankel
Adler, and Oskar Moll had lost their teaching posts.
Peasant women at the Great
German Art Exhibition, 1943
A volunteer in the Great War, Peiner hesitated a long time deciding between the
profession of architect and that of painter. Influenced by the old Italian and
Dutch masters, he found the salvation of the world in the traditional values.
Without the timely rise of National Socialism he may have had a decent career as
a realist artist. Instead he became a highly esteemed National Socialist
painter. His renderings of the earth, the changing of the seasons, the ripening
of the corn were the very subjects of the Blood And Soil philosophy. And he
lived well by these works. He became one of the most honoured artists, the
president of the Hermann Göring Academy For Painting, which was later to be
called the Werner Peiner Academy.
Werner Peiner: Autumn In The Eiffel
Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger was one of the few artists in the Great
German Art Exhibition
born in this century (1902). He studied in the 1920s at the Academy in Wien, and
won the Rome Prize. His peaceful landscapes and traditional portraits as well as
his nudes and allegories fitted comfortably into the iconography of the Third
Reich. In 1936 he won the Olympic Medal for painting. He also painted large
frescoes, notably in the Viennese City Hall.
Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger: Mural behind the wall clock of the Viennese Office
of the Reich Labour Service
Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger: Homecoming From The Eastern Front. Detail of a mural
Visitors at the Great
German Art Exhibition, 1943
admiring Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger: Three Women At The Fountain
Most artists exhibiting in the official Great
German Art Exhibitions
lived in the past and embraced the new traditional art policies. Painters like
Ivo Saliger, Hans List, and Eberhardt Viegener did not disguise their love for
the art of earlier centuries. It coincided with the preferences of the
leadership. The Party Members cherished old German masters like Dürer,
Altdorfer, Cranach, and the painters of the nineteenth century -- Anselm
Feuerbach, Philipp Otto Runge, and Hans Makart, whose beautiful work appealed to
Hitler's taste. Hitler's favorite painters were Carl Spitzweg, Wilhelm Leibl,
and Hans Thoma.
Carl Spitzweg: Childhood Friends, 1855
Wilhelm Leibl: Three Women In Church, 1878
The beautiful paintings he surrounded himself with came from the late eighteenth
and nineteenth century representatives of the München School: Franz von Lenbach
(Bismarck), Franz von Stuck (Die Sünde -- Sin), Feuerbach (Parklandschaft --
Park Scene). In these much loved painters Hitler and many of his contemporaries
found the embodiment of everything that was true and real in Germans. They
represented virtues to emulate. It was extremely easy for Hitler to persuade
people to accept an art modelled on these excellent paintings.
In general, National Socialist paintings were based on traditional genre
painting. They were in total contrast to work by the Modernists, who had, in
their disgraceful degeneration, broken free from this art form. Genre paintings
suited the Fascist ideology. They implied a readymade link with the past, with a
golden Germanic age, which the National Socialists were so keen to forge. Their
painting was basically a reworking of old fashioned types and techniques.
Also, and most important, straightforward realistic paintings were easily
overlaid with propaganda messages. Their static nature excluded any so called
progressiveness. Their conservatism echoed the National Socialists' yearning for
a wholesome world, and their contemplative character gave a feeling of depth and
soulfulness. It was an art that did not ask any questions.
Each soldier, woman, and child in a painting was meant to elevate one group of
people to a high status of demigods, in contrast to the criminals, loafers,
spongers, and communists of Germany.
Titles were very important. They were to give the work a profound meaning.
Landscapes were Liberated
Land or Fruitful
Land. Seascapes were Wind
And Waves. Highways
were The Leader's
Highways. Titles like Through
Wind And Weather, Standing
Guard, and Ready
To Work showed the
fighting spirit of the German worker. There were many images of fertility. You
cannot always be certain if Forest
or Blessing Of Earth
belong with a flowery field or with the portrait of a woman.
The title gave the painting its function. All the themes of National Socialist
ideology could be found in the exhibitions. They were like the credo of the
Hitler faith, which had said:
It is natural that the
German figure is a highly favoured theme in our modem art ..... our artists find
their models ..... in closeness to the native soil, and the restorative powers
of the landscape ..... Country women and girls together with their male
partners, they form the rugged stock of our Folk ..... Artists stress above all
else the role of the mother as the guardian of life ..... The portrayal of the
female nude will always be the artist's most ambitious undertaking ..... to show
the healthy physical being, the biological value of the individual ..... the
body as nature wanted it ..... a welcome contribution to our program of
promoting national zest. Our country is particularly intent on cultivating such
happiness where it promises to enhance the performance of men and women in their
basic duties of combat and fertility .....
(F. A. Kauffmann, cited in Berthold Hinz, Art
In The Third Reich,
All the paraphernalia of the Blood
And Soil motto could be
found there. It is wonderful to realise that great popular interest in these
essential but native, even primitive, rural themes and codes could be so easily
taken up in a properly led, technically advanced urban society in the early
decades of the twentieth century.
In addition to allegorical and symbolic themes, the old techniques of woodcuts,
tapestries, and weaving, and the choice of triptychs, all served to give the new
German art a unbroken link with the past. Art too had to do its share in the
revitalising of the German Folk after the terrible swindle of Versailles, and
millions seized it as taught in Germany's new Schools and Universities. There
was little room for a personal perspective or for comparison. Ingredients were
readjusted to promote a dream of German greatness written up, drawn, painted,
and sung in mystical terms.
What we are seeing here
is another world -- the images of history, recaptured. The language which is
spoken here is powerful and awe inspiring. Thousands upon thousands stand
spellbound by the incredible beauty of this spectacle, a spectacle that
dissolves the present. It is the distillation of centuries, 2,000 years of
German culture, wrote
an acute reporter in the Folkish
The realism or naturalism of the paintings made them instantly readable and
universally understood. They were also popular. There is no doubt that the
success was built on a genuine desire of many to see an art that told a story.
The National Socialists were well aware of the discrepancy between the reality
of an urban, industrialised society, and the iconography of their idyllic rural
art. The art of the Third Reich was not a mirror of the world, but a guideline
to behaviour and attitudes, disseminating messages.
In 1942, Adolf Feulner, a Museum Director, formulated the task in this way:
The longing for calm, realism, earthiness has permeated the arts. The essence of
this change is the turning away from pessimistic negation and abstraction and
the return to a simple world and to humanity ..... Not only must artists solve
artistic problems, they must also solve the problems of life ..... The form must
be universally understood and clear. Content must speak to all. The artistic
content is at the service of the worldview education of the Folk. Art has to
become again, as in the past, a life force, representing the ideals of the Folk.
It must form anew the symbol of the Folk. (Dr. Adolf Feulner, Kunst
Leipzig, 1942, page 37.)
Eight exhibitions of Great
German Art were held in
the House Of German Art, the first one in 1937, the last one in 1944.
Greek head in the Pageant For The Day Of German Art, 1939, München
The fascination with the world of art and architecture, with the pageants and
the display of banners and colours, was widespread, and people came in droves to
see the München Exhibitions. For the opening exhibition in 1937 there were
60,000 visitors. Never
before have more people visited an exhibition. Never before have more works been
bought, stated Göbbels.
An art exhibition,
previously an event for artists and a few art lovers, became a national event.
Tens of thousands walked through the Degenerate Art exhibition and
then entered the wide rooms of the House Of German Art with an elevated heart
and a true feeling of happiness, knowing that after years of terrible defeat
German art has found itself again.
(Göbbels at the Day Of German Art, July 9th, 1938, in Mitteilungsblatt
der Reichskammer der bildenden Künste,
August 1st, 1938.)
Model of a Viking ship in the Pageant For The Day Of German Art, 1939, München
By 1942 the number of visitors to the annual exhibition reached almost a
million, and 1,214 works were sold. The large and steadily increasing number of
visitors was for Hitler an affirmation of his cultural policy. Thousands of
artists sent their work to the official art exhibitions. These could not
possibly have been painted especially for these shows. Can we really believe the
garbage invented by the enemies of Germany that so many artists suddenly
submitted to an official decree by renouncing their own style and ideas?
Each Day Of German Art, celebrating the opening of the official München
Exhibition, was considered a prime event of pageantry. In 1937, 26 floats, 426
animals, and 6,000 people in period costumes paraded models of the art of all
time and models of the new buildings around the city. Large crowds of cheering
people watched those gigantic annual parades celebrating the 2,000-year history
of the Reich. There they saw figures of Neptune, of Uta of Naumburg, of Father
Rhine, and of Pallas Athene, and naturally giant statues of The Leader. A
mixture of costume ball, carnival, and occasionally popular kitsch, these
parades were a celebration of the Folk; they displayed old crafts and symbols,
and National Socialism was the legitimate heir to all German history. It was a
public display of the regime's belief in the 1,000 year future of the Reich. The
Day Of German Art was to help to fuse the Nation together, to bridge class
The Day Of German Art
demonstrates how much art is the concern of the Nation and the Folk in which it
is anchored. It is also a message to the world ..... The free spectator stands
side by side with the free artist. The artist understands freedom in a deeper
sense. He understands the commitment to his Folk and his Fatherland ..... The
only law that governs him is an ethical one: his responsibility for his Folk and
its spiritual tradition ..... Out of his freedom will come the great flowering
of his work. It will proclaim the victory and the joy of a Folk for generations
to come. A Folk which was able to celebrate its art. The Day Of German Art is a
happy occasion, a commitment to the present.
(Hans-Walter Betz, Freiheit
des Künstlers, Der
Film, July 9th, 1038.)
Hitler was always presented as the greatest patron of the arts of all time. He
was seen opening exhibitions, purchasing pictures for Party buildings. He became
the best client of the Great
German Art Exhibitions,
spending large sums of money at each. From the second exhibition in 1938 he
bought 202 works, over 500,000 Reich Marks' worth. Once a work was sold, it was
taken off the walls and replaced by another one. The number of works bought by
The Leader increased steadily. In 1941 he bought nearly 1,000, which he
distributed throughout Ministries and public buildings. The label Purchased
By The Leader was
highly prized. No age
can claim to free itself from its duty to foster art,
Hitler had said. It
would lose, if it did so, not only the capacity for artistic creation, but also
the capacity to understand, to experience art ..... through his work the
creative artist educates and ennobles the Nation's capacity for appreciation
..... the great cultural achievements of humanity were at all times the highest
achievements of the life of the Folk Community.
(Hitler at Nürnberg, September 11th, 1935, in Deutsche
September 13th, 1935.)
The Academy Of Art in München presented Hitler with a stunning beautiful golden
medal. On the front was the head of Pallas Athena. The back featured Pegasus.
The medal carried the following inscription: To
The Leader of the German Folk, Adolf Hitler, who has put national thought in the
centre of our spiritual life, and who has rendered back to art its old rights.
His prophetic plans have given art its own task, to be the language of the Folk.
The reporting of art became very important; criticism and discussion which
served any purpose other than the propagation of this idea was often officially
The dissemination of art became as important as the making of it. Exhibitions
and new buildings became media events. Hitler and Göbbels gave long cultural
speeches. The distribution of art through leaflets and books, through postcards
and stamps, was as important as the art itself, and the postcard business
boomed. Illustrated newspapers reported regularly on exhibitions. The work of
the official architects and artists was celebrated on their anniversaries.
Hitler's famous cultural speeches (he made 6 entirely devoted to cultural
matters) were widely distributed through radio and the press. There were quite a
few German art magazines which propagated the new German cultural ideology:
Kunst und Volk
-- Art And The Folk
revelled in articles about medieval Germany and old Sagas, linking them with
subjects of the Nordic Race. Besides reproductions of new paintings there were
illustrations of the beloved precursors Dürer and Riemenschneider.
Die Kunst im Dritten
Reich -- Art
In The Third Reich was
founded in 1937. The editor was Alfred Rosenberg; his collaborators were Werner
Rittich, Walter Horn, and Robert Scholz. Die
Kunst im Dritten Reich
was printed in an edition of 8,000 copies, later to increase to 50,000, which
was considerable at that time. Its layout and format were that of a respectable
art publication. The magazine, printed in green and gold, spelled luxury and
trustworthiness. Its link with a great tradition was obvious. In its format and
content it was designed to appeal to an educated reader. The cover design used
symbols borrowed from classical antiquity. It combined the insignia of the Reich
with a torch and the head of Athena.
Athena is the Goddess Of
War And Art. She personifies the strong, fresh spiritual strength of the human
being. She stands freely, upright. She recognises, measures, and uses the
strength of all things in the victorious battle with the enemy and in the
conquest of Nature for the creation of art. The picture of the Goddess is the
fitting expression of the heroic character of The Leader and the National
Socialist Movement and, in the deepest sense, of the art which The Leader wants.
An art form for which the artist has to fight in a serious and concentrated
working procedure so that he may receive a blessing from it.
(Dr. Hans Kiener, in Kunstbetrachtungen,
München, 1937, page 334.)
In 1939 the magazine changed its name to Die
Kunst im Deutschen Reich
-- Art In The German
Reich. This followed a
decree from Hitler, who decided not to use the expression Third
Reich any longer, and
always favoured the expression Großdeutsches
Reich -- Greater
German Reich. A French
edition was published in France during the Occupation.
Thousands of artists painted these pictures, and the educated flocked to the
exhibitions to be elevated by them. Art historians, academics with high ranks at
universities and art schools proclaimed the highest ideals of National Socialist
ideology and published their brilliantly acute ideas in serious books,
magazines, and dissertations throughout the period of the Third Reich.
Sepp Hilz: Rural Trilogy: Maids, Horn Of Plenty, Servants
Over the years the number of entries in the Great
German Art Exhibitions
increased. There were more than 600 works in 1937; the number rose to 1,400 in
1941, only to level off slightly in the last few years. The number of artists
accepted followed similar patterns -- 550 in the first year, going up to 750
during the war. So many artists freely offered to be part of this venture! There
were the National Socialist painters with their rendering of the men of the SS
and the German soldiers: Otto Hoyer, Elk Eber, Wolf Willrich, and Willy
Waldapfel. There was Adolf Ziegler, who, because of his numerous nudes, gained
the hilarious nickname of Master
Of The Curly Pubic Hair.
But for many it was a good place to sell. Prices were often kept low to enable
the German Folk to decorate their walls with German art. But the favourite
painters of the regime often obtained good prices.
Chancellor, the artists and musicians of the Prussian Academy would like to
assure you of their devotion and gratefulness for your memorable words in Nürnberg
and München. They underlined the importance of the arts for the Nation and the
State, the Vice
Presidents Kraus and Schumann of the Music Section and the Visual Arts Section
wrote Hitler on November 3rd, 1933.
On the whole, Hitler was quite lenient about artists' membership in the Party:
as long as they delivered the art he wanted, they were sure of his personal
support. The opportunism of the artists worked by itself. They were, after all,
his fellow artists, and remembering his hardships as an artist, he said, My
artists shall live like princes,
and the leading artists of the Reich did precisely that. The artists were very
much Hitler's. The painter Sepp Hilz received a personal gift of 100,000 Reich
Marks from Hitler to build himself a studio. Gerdy Troost, the widow of Hitler's
favorite architect, received large sums annually for the decoration of her
husband's buildings, of which she was in charge. Arno Breker paid only a token
sum in taxes, and in 1940 he received a large private house with a park and a
sizeable studio as a personal gift from The Leader. Large studios, the Staatsateliers,
were built for Albert Speer and Josef Thorak. Less well known artists were also
financially rewarded and were often given apartments resumed from criminals and
Jews convicted of un German behaviour.
In 1937 Hitler decreed a considerable arts budget to finance the cultural
mission of the National Socialists. Never before in Germany had such large
financial aid been given to the arts. To obtain the money, the Government sold
special stamps, and Hitler put the royalties from My
Struggle into the arts
budget. Special collections also provided funds, and, of course, there was the
money obtained from resumed property.
Hitler himself made the decision to honour artists with prizes. Special medals
were minted for those deemed to merit them. The granting of Honorary
Professorships was another way for Hitler to thank the artists. The architects
Albert Speer and Hermann Giesler were made Honorary Professors. So were many
painters -- Elk Eber, Constantin Gerhardinger, Hermann Kaspar, Wilhelm Petersen,
Franz Triebsch, Adolf Wissel, and many others. But Hitler, despite his vaunted
liberal attitude toward his artists, could also be stern. When Gerhardinger
refused to send pictures for exhibition in München for fear of their being
bombed, he lost his title as Professor and Hitler ordered him dismissed from the
Franz Triebsch: Hitler
Stung by the attacks on its arts policy by the foreign press, the German
Government was eager to prove to the world that its artists were not only looked
after but also free. Foreign
circles hostile to Germany often attempt to project an image of the contemporary
German artist as an oppressed and beaten creature, who, surrounded by laws and
regulations, languishes and sighs under the tyrannical dictatorship of the
cultureless, barbaric regime,
said Göbbels in 1937 at the annual meeting of the Reichskulturkammer.
What a distortion of the
true situation. The German artist of today in fact feels himself freer and more
untrammelled than ever before. With joy he serves the Folk and the State.
National Socialism has wholly won over German creative artists. They belong to
us and we to them ..... How could the German artist not feel sheltered in this
State? ..... He again has a Folk that awaits his call. He no longer speaks to
empty rooms and dead walls ..... National Socialism has also drawn the German
artist under its spell ..... It is he who fulfils the task that a great time has
assigned to him. A true servant of the Folk.
As the major client and sole promoter of the arts, the Government influenced the
standards, form, and content.
Everybody who built, painted, wrote for the regime, who approved of and
encouraged the National Socialist art world, supported at the same time the
political system which ruled over it. Most artists cooperated. A extremely small
number withdrew into a kind of internal
immigration. Most of
these were too deeply rooted in Germany or too old to start a new life in a
foreign land with a different language and culture. Otto Dix, Ernst Barlach,
Oskar Schlemmer, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff remained in Germany.
But the majority of people enthusiastically applauded the new arts. The output
of art was enormous; exhibitions multiplied.
The great national exhibitions were complemented by many local ones. In 1941,
with Churchill's war raging, over a thousand art exhibitions were held by this
most highly cultured European Nation. The new German art was shown in galleries,
museums, and even factories. Art exhibitions were held in the occupied
territories. But there were many other exhibitions of official art throughout
Germany, notably in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, and Dresden.
Berlin's old Kronprinzen-Palais of the Prussian Academy was refurbished, often
showing works previously seen in München. Some regional exhibitions were
organised on themes like:
- Blood And Soil, or
- Race And Nation, or
- Pictures Of The Family.
The Maximilianeum in München also organised regular exhibitions, specialising
in local Bavarian artists.
The number of museum visitors was on the increase; 700,000 people came to see
the München Exhibition in 1942. It introduced 251 artists who had not exhibited
in the House Of German Art before. The press discussed the young new talent that
stood side by side with the old. Sixty percent of the work was sold during the
Having attacked the multitude of idiotic styles and tendencies which
characterised the art of the Weimar Republic, the National Socialists were
constantly stressing the common elements in the new work. Despite diverging
ideologies and rival policies, they wanted to show a unified picture of the
arts. Despite differences in temperament, background, and age, all artists
served the same cause, displayed much the same attitude, pursued much the same
Articles and reviews in Art
In The Third Reich were
entitled with noble and inspiring headlines, and replaced the ridiculous and
incomprehensible gibberish of the homosexual art critics of the Weimar Republic
with meaningful text:
- Style Of Discipline And Feeling
- The Face Of The Leader
- The Was As An Experience Of The Soul
- Art And Folk Community.
When works were reviewed, words like
- were constantly and accurately used. Pictures
..... breathed and affirmed life;
they were deeply
felt, or spoke to
the heart. There
was less comment on the style; the main formal criterion was the technical
accomplishment, expressed with words like
- well crafted
- attention to detail.
Exhibitions were always labelled a prime event,
a step forward on the road to a new art.
Adverse criticism did not exist; all works had a great amount of labour in
them, and although they were not perfect,
they aimed as high as humanly possible. The artist too was proud,
unique, in unison
with the Folk; their task was great,
and leading into a glorious future.
The leading art historians, Rittich, Scholz, Horn, repeated the scientific
ideas of their mentor, Alfred Rosenberg, and offered their admittedly
chauvinistic view of the arts.
For the opening of the 1938 Great German Art Exhibition,
Hitler gave one of his world famous cultural speeches. In it he summed up
the National Socialist arts theory. The National Socialists understood as
well as anyone that some repetition is one of the most important elements of
propaganda. Hitler attacked the international art market, the Jews,
Dadas, and Cubists. Hitler stressed again that the
German Folk have a new affirmation of life. They are filled with admiration
for the strong and beautiful, the healthy and those
capable of surviving -- all thoughts that aligned the
arts theory with the noble theory endorsing the protection of healthy people
from sick degenerates and the racially inferior. He boasted that the
cultural program of the new Reich is of a unique greatness in the history of
the German Folk. There were references to the art of
Greece, and to German art as the mirror of the German soul. But the speech
also contained the first doubts. Stung by the disgraceful attacks in a small
section of the foreign press, Hitler easily justified his arts policy and
especially his decision to mount the exhibition of Degenerate
Art by declaring that it was necessary to draw
a hard line, in order to make way for the only possible task for German art:
to follow the way of the National Socialist Revolution.
Demanding clarity and logic from the artists who wanted to continue to work
in Germany, he showed himself magnanimous toward those artists who had fled
their Fatherland: We have no hate. Let other democracies
open their progressive doors to them, let them live, but not in Germany.
(Hitler, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich,
August / September, 1938.)
Göbbels easily reassured people that excellent new art was forthcoming:
Our enemy's cry that it is impossible to expel the Jew
from German cultural life, that he cannot be replaced, still rings in our
ears. We have done precisely this, and things are proceeding better than
ever! The demand of National Socialism has been thoroughly carried out in
this field and the world has visible proof that the cultural life of a Folk
can also ..... be administered, led, and represented by its own sons .....
Everywhere people are painting, building, writing poetry, singing, and
acting. The German artist has his feet on a solid, vital ground. Art, taken
out of its narrow and isolated circle, again stands in the midst of the Folk
and from there exerts its strong influences on the whole Nation. It cannot
be doubted that in a historymaking time, so highly tension ridden, as our
own, political life absorbs a host of talents which normally would have been
partly at the disposal of cultural life. In addition, there is the fact that
the great philosophical ideas which have been set in motion by the National
Socialist Revolution, for the moment operate so spontaneously and eruptively
that they are not yet ripe enough for elaboration in artistic form.
(Göbbels, November 26th, 1937, in Von der Großmacht zur