Friday 26 January 2024

The Nazi Attitude to Art


We need to remember first of all that Hitler was a failed artist. He didn’t manage to get into art school after applying twice and he spent a lot of his time before he became the great dictator painting pictures on post cards. He liked Romanticism and detested modern art.  For him painting had to be realistic and heroic.

A main concern for the Nazis was getting rid of Jewish influence in art.  For this reason they admired classical art, Greek and Roman, as this had no Jewish input. They also despised art produced by homosexuals and communist artists.

Much modern art and what we may now label “modernism” was condemned as being “degenerate”.  Expressionism was particularly despised. Also classed as “degenerate” was what we refer to as Cubism, Dada, Fauvism and Surrealism. Works by Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse were destroyed.  

In Munich in 1937 there was an exhibition of “Entartete Kunst” which showed much of the “degenerate” art deliberately displayed in chaotic manner to discredit it. This includes work from Klee and Kandinsky. The Nazis had confiscated 650 modern paintings, graphic works and sculptures from 32 museums.

Meanwhile, around the corner at the respected Haus der Deutschen Kunst there was a more sober exhibition of Nazi approved artists.

In the 1940s, the Nazis compiled a list of favoured artists. These were considered to be ‘divinely gifted’.  42,000 artist were given government approval and had to register with the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts. They were not allowed to be “politically” unreliable and could be expelled if they were deemed to be so, A tribunal was created in 1936.

One favoured sculptor was Arno Breker who produced between 1933 and 1945works that resembled Greek sculptures. He continued to work on this style into the 1950s.  

The Reichskulturkammer was established in 1933. This was to promote the Aryan race through art. This marked the end for the Bauhaus art school and movement, situated in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau. The Bauhaus created what might be called German modernism and which became by Nazi definition degenerate. The Bauhaus also fostered the idea of a community of artists working together. It was in its time the most progressive school of art known.  

Art was used to create propaganda posters:

The work produced by the Nazis was classical and a little dull.         

Much of the Nazi produced art still exists and there has been a call for a work by Adolf Ziegler to be taken down.  Ziegler  persecuted Jews and “degenerate” artists. The work ‘The Four Elements’ is displayed in Munich’s Pintothek museum    

The Nazis also stole great works of art from Jewish owners. Some valuable works of art were hidden and served as a  type of investment. This led to some talented artists producing forgeries in order to keep the original out of Nazi hands. Many British artistic treasures were hidden inside mountains in Wales in case of a German invasion.

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Max Hermann Maier:In uns verwoben, tief and wunderbar –Erinnerungen an Deutschland

This was written and published in 1975 and by then Max Hermann Maier was in his eighties.

The story is perhaps familiar: a man who considers himself to be German volunteers to fight for Germany in the Great War, does his part, is even offered promotion and then a few years later is persecuted. During the war he is even asked to be baptised to secure his promotion.  A Jew was not allowed to become an officer. He chooses to remain Jewish.

The title means “Memories of Germany” and he does speak in a neutral tone about much of what happened until he and his wife emigrated to Brazil.  His university career is particularly interesting; he enjoyed the famous German academic freedom, spending one semester here and another there.

Unfortunately the text is quite heavy going. There are many paragraphs that go over several pages. The stories lack any real emotion. He doesn’t tell us much about the horrors of the First World War and we don’t really feel his fear as the Gestapo close in.

There are some revealing moments, however.  We learn about some of the wonderful walking holidays he enjoyed with his wife and friends.

We also learn that they had many German friends who looked out for them and many of their other Jewish friends.

I was also fascinated to read that his wife studied with Käthe Lehrs and that he knew one of her cousins Ernst Löwenthal.

Sadly this book is now out of print. There are a few copies around, however.

See on Amazon