Modern art was the bane of the third Reich. Adolf Hitler was a frustrated art student who was rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. This was to have a profound effect on his future as a politician and a leader. It also influenced his desire to rid the world of Modernism and create a return to the heyday of German Romantic painting and classicism.
This week a hoard of modern art was found in an apartment in Munich. Many of the paintings were confiscated by the father of Cornelius Gurlitt an art dealer employed by the Third Reich to appraise and sell confiscated Modern art, appropriated from Jewish collectors and galleries, dealing in contemporary art of the period.
The Nazis staged two high profile exhibitions in Munich designed to ridicule Modernism. Some of the works discovered last week were exhibited in these notorious exhibitions. The Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibitions were hung with the ‘deliberate intention’ of prompting a negative reaction from the public. They were salon-hung without care taken in composing the pictures on the wall or properly lighting the works of art. Some were hung awry with graffiti denouncing the validity of the work accompanying the display.
Hitler stated in a speech the summer prior to the exhibition that; “works of art which cannot be understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence will never again find their way to the German people”. The exhibitions highlighted non-representational and Abstract Art along with Expressionism which was mostly figurative in content.
Over 1 million people attended the exhibitions in Munich. Many ridiculed or spat on the works on display. The exhibition was used in propaganda and toured around Germany, where it was seen by another million visitors.
The Nazis claimed that Entartete Kunst was created by Jews and Bolsheviks, although only six of the 112 artists featured in the exhibition were actually Jewish. One room of abstract paintings including works by Klee and Kandinsky was labelled “the insanity room”
The catalogue explained that “In the paintings and drawings of this chamber of horrors there is no telling what was in the sick brains of those who wielded the brush or the pencil”. The public were encouraged to see this as a “symptomatic, evil plot against the German people”.