Art in the third reich
Art in the third reich
In this exhibition, officially unacceptable German art was shown to the public for the last time. The exhibit drew 2,009,899 visitors, more than three times the number that attended the “German” exhibition, and was probably the most popular art event of all time. From this point on, the art favored by the National Socialists held undisputed sway in the cultural life of Germany and, after 1939, dominated the artistic scene in the occupied countries of Europe as well.
Before turning to “degenerate art” in the next chapter, we will first examine the “new” National Socialist art. The eight exhibitions that were held in the House of German Art in Munich between 1937 and 1944 offered what National Socialism considered a valid cross-section of the best artistic efforts from all of Germany. We therefore feel justified in singling out these exhibitions from the vast number of other annual and seasonal exhibitions held in Berlin, Diisseldorf, Karlsruhe, and Dresden—to name only the more important art centers—and in defining the new painting in terms of these representative exhibitions.
The spectacular ceremony surrounding these exhibits clearly emphasized their representative nature. Local publicity at the opening of expositions was provided in a number of ways. Pageants designed around the theme of a “Day of German Art” took place. Participants wore historical costumes and fancy dress, and models of German artworks were displayed. Hitler gave “cultural speeches,” and the entire National Socialist leadership attended. Newspaper and magazine reports, pictures, postcards, radio, and newsreels publicized the events and art objects among the masses of “compatriots” who could not be present. According to official records, the resulting attendance was as follows (numbers rounded off) : In 1937 there were 600,000 visitors; in 1938, 460,000; and in 1939, c. 400,000. In the early war years, attendance rose even higher. In 1940 it was about 600,000; in 1941, 700,000; and in 1942 it was more than 840,ООО.
Since the exhibition of 1937 was the first of these exhibitions and therefore set the tone for the rest, we will take a closer look at it here. This turn toward a “new and genuine German art,” i.e., a turning away from “degenerate art,” called for a rewriting of history; and the entire National Socialist ideology did in fact, as we shall see, revolve around anchoring the present in the past, dehistoricized as the National Socialist conception of the past may have been.
At the same time, the National Socialist concept of history, based as it was on the aesthetic category of “greatness,” precluded any possibility of progress or change.
Seen in this context, the pageant called Two Thousand Years of German Culture was intended as an “incarnation of German history,” as an aesthetic manifestation of what was permanent in that history, not as a historical illumination of an ever-changing present or of the present world. “What we are seeing here,” the Volkischer Beobachter wrote on July 19, 1937, “is another world—the images, figures, and symbols of history recaptured. The language they speak is powerful and awe-inspiring. And indeed thousands upon thousands stand spellbound by this splendor, by the incredible beauty of this spectacle, a spectacle that dissolves the present day and moment, a scene that is the distillation of centuries: ‘Two Thousand Years of German Culture.’” This is an understanding of history “that dissolves the present day and moment,” that excludes experience of the present, and that manifests itself in the form of pictures, e., in aesthetic categories.
Early Germanic history introduces our lofty theme. In the wake of a golden Viking ship the centuries roll by. Germanic warriors, Germanic women, Germanic priests and seers pass before us. . . . Even these mere imitations of mighty symbols drawn from the mythical world of our ancestors have the power to overwhelm our modern sensibility. The sun, the symbol of day, the moon, the goddess of the night, are convincing and impressive in their brilliant colors. Figures from our forefathers’ sagas are suddenly among us. . . . The stirring tones of trumpeters and drummers on horseback rouse us from our ecstatic meditation. The first great scene in this pageant has passed by.
German cultural identity, transcending both class and the course of history, is proclaimed time and again.
The next great era of German history is the Romantic period (sic). Charlemagne, king of the Franks; his enemy Widukind; Henry II, founder of cities; Frederick Barbarossa; Henry the Lion, the great colonizer, all belong to this epoch. Representations of their deeds affect us more powerfully than the symbolized figures themselves. Bamberg and Naumburg, cities founded by Henry II, and Henry the Lion’s German colonization, symbolically evoked before us, become tangible, become reality. Then comes the Gothic period with its knights, ladies, and works of art . . . Here, too, small details—carvings on capitals, choir stalls, and altar- pieces—these hand-wrought symhols hring: я whole world to life in our imagination. . . . Mercenaries, accompanied by pipers and drummers, head the parade of the German Renaissance. In the shadow of their sword, Diirer, Holbein, and Kranach (sic) created their works of art for the German people. Are they not brothers, the artists and soldiers? Tableaux from the High Baroque .. . the classic, and the romantic periods are followed by the modern age, our age.
The historical part of the pageant included 3,212 costumed participants. The modern section included 3,191 marchers, 456 animals—horses, dogs, falcons—and 26 trucks.
The report continues: “Is it really necessary to portray the modern age to us who are the builders, workers, and toilers of this last era of German history? Yes! We are too close to our own time. We lack perspective on it. Today, on this day, we were granted that perspective! Today we sat as spectators in the theater of our own time and saw greatness . .
But how did painting conceive of itself in the context of these organizational conditions borrowed from the past? Is it not possible that the producers of this painting remained the same but that their art incorporated formal and thematic innovations that would justify the label of “art in the Third Reich”?
A contemporary source, the critic (or “art editor”)
Bruno E. Werner, wrote in his critique (or “art report”) in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of July 20,1937. And on interiors that lovingly depict many small and charming facets of country life. Although subjects taken from the National Socialist movement are relatively few in number, there is nonetheless a significant group of paintings with symbolic and allegorical themes. The Fiihrer is portrayed as a mounted knight clad in silver armor and carrying a fluttering flag. National awakening is allegorized in a reclining male nude, above which hover inspirational spirits in the form of female nudes. The female nude is strongly represented in this exhibit, which emanates delight in the healthy human body.
This report, clearly written from a somewhat detached point of view, accurately reflects the traditional orientation and thematic organization of the exhibit. Photographs of the exhibit show that the works were arranged primarily according to subject matter: landscapes; paintings of farmers, artisans, and animals; still lifes; portraits; nudes; group portraits; allegories, and so on. This method of grouping pictures according to content and not, as is customary in the twentieth century, according to schools, stylistic affinities, artists’ collectives, and other such categories, is Indeed reminiscent of a weekly outdoor market where flsh, flowers, meat, pottery, and other items are offered for sale at different stands. This also illustrates the similarity of such exhibits to art markets. Potential buyers do not go into the gallery looking for “a Picasso,” “a Kandinsky,” or “an Expressionist,” but for a picture of a landscape, a cow, a bouquet of flowers, or other specific subject.
The organizational principle in these exhibits, based as it is on content, follows that of academies and art schools, where the curriculum was organized according to subject matter. In the course of the nineteenth century, classes in landscape, portraiture, and so on were developed in addition to the established classes in historical painting. Art academies had specialists in still life, horses, flowers, war paintings, etc. In the twentieth century, long before the National
Socialist assumption of power, these “classical” categories
were supplemented by paintings of industrial subjects, industrial landscapes, modern merchant and war ships, and, finally, by pictures of athletes and athletic activities.
The proportions in which different themes were represented at the exhibition of 1937 have been estimated as follows: landscapes 40 percent; “Womanhood and Manhood”
15.5 percent; animals 10 percent; classes of work, to the extent that they could be determined: farmers 7 percent; artisans .5 percent. National Socialist Germany was represented only by portraits of functionaries (1.5 percent) and by some views of new public buildings (1.7 percent).18 But this estimate is open to question because it is not based on an actual inspection of the paintings and because the titles listed in the exhibition catalog often shed little light on the subject depicted. The paintings entitled The Tides, By the Water, and Lonely Heights, for example, are not landscapes, as we might expect, but young female nudes. Also, the estimate is not differentiated enough. The theme “Womanhood and Manhood” is not a genre in itself but can appear in any painting containing human figures. At any rate, we can safely assume that landscapes, nudes, and pictures of farmers dominated the exhibit, followed by portraits, still lifes, and paintings of animals and industrial subjects.
The 1937 exhibit, being the first in the series, bore less of a National Socialist stamp than the later ones in which increasing emphasis was given to National Socialist iconographies, war paintings, allegory, and armaments. But the later exhibits were also thematically oriented and adhered to the principle of organization by content. This model was of no use as an organizational principle for modern art in which formalistic tendencies came to replace content. In the Munich exhibits, however, the specialist in a particular genre was restored to honor. Despite their shortcomings, the statistics mentioned above indicate that in terms of theme the Munich exhibition of 1937 contained nothing revolutionary. We cannot discern in it any particular program or unmistakable character that could justify the slogan “art in the Third Reich,” the title given to the art journal founded in 1937 to promote the new art.* As we have already suggested above, definite trends were established only by the selections of the jurors and by purchases made by National Socialist leaders.
The dominance of content and subject matter in the art of this period is also evident in the numerous thematic art shows that were arranged and sent on tour throughout Germany. The following exhibition titles can serve as examples: “Wife and Mother” (Posen, 1941); “German Farmer—German Land” (Gera, 1938); “Man and Landscape” (Bautzen, 1938) ; “Nordic Land” (Berlin, 1940) ; “The Forest” (Berlin, 1937); “Pictures of the Homeland” (Oberhausen, 1938) ; “Beautiful City” (Elbing, 1940); “The Sea” (Berlin, 1942) ; “Seafaring and Art” (Berlin, 1935); “Adolf Hitler’s Highways Seen through Art” (Berlin, 1936) ; “In Praise of Work” (Berlin, 1936) ; “Nation of Workers” (Gelsenkirchen, 1941); “The Horse in Art” (Konigsberg, 1940) ; “Animals in Art” (Berlin) ; “The Polish Campaign in Pictures” (Berlin, 1940) ; “War” (Weimar, 1931).
There were also thematic representations of various National Socialist ideologies. Some of the programmatic exhibition titles were “Knight, Death, and Devil,” named after Albrecht Diirer’s famous engraving of 1513; “Blood and Soil,” one of the best-known slogans promoting Aryan racism and agrarian autarchy; and “Strength Harnessed in Form.” These exhibitions were organized by the NS- Kidturgemeinde (NS Cultural Committee) in 1935 and 1936. There were also historical exhibitions. One, held in the Deutsches Museum in Munich in 1940, was called “German Greatness.” Another, “Race and Nation,” was a thematic exhibit of Wolfgang Willrich’s works depicting the “Reestablishment of the Racial Ideal.”
In some cases, the combination of sponsors interested in a given theme is worth noting. The exhibit “Seafaring and Art” was jointly sponsored by the NS Cultural Committee and the “Reich Association for German Dominance of the Seas.” The NS Cultural Committee and the “Reich Association for Large Families” held a competition for the exhibit “Pictures of the Family.” In their announcement, they stated that prizes would be given for “artistically exemplary representations of genetically healthy families with many children.” The sponsors went on to say that this was “one of the most demanding themes … to which contemporary painting had to address itself.”19 The different genres of painting often searched out and found congenial locations where they could enjoy independent, if isolated, success.
Not only was contemporary art displayed in exhibitions of this kind, but—in keeping with the traditional orientation of German fascism—attempts were also made to legitimize the individual themes of these exhibits by reviving appropriate traditions that had to be reconstructed now that “degenerate” modern art had been eliminated. We can see from many details of the National Socialist art scene how the historical continuum of art was reestablished and reconstructed in specific cases. The catalog of the 1937 exhibition in Munich proclaimed, for example: “The picking up and continuation of a valuable tradition was made possible only by the fact that a strong group of genuine artists joined forces here in Munich.”
Plans for the so-called Fuhrer’s Project Linz make eminently clear on what tradition these mediators between the National Socialist present and the art of the past drew.
This project, probably Hitler’s most outlandish in the field of art, is relevant to our study only because of the tradition it enlists for justifying “art in the Third Reich.” After the German conquest of Europe, Berlin, the capital of the Reich, was to be renamed “Germania” and become the political capital of Europe. The Austrian city of Linz on the Danube was destined to become the art center of Europe. A massive cultural center, the so-called Hitler Center, was planned. This center would contain a supermuseum to house the most famous “Germanic” art works of the past and present. Although the plans for the building never progressed beyond the drawing board, the holdings of this future museum were energetically collected.
Aided by the war, the “Fiihrer’s Personal Emissary,” the Dresden museum director Hans Posse, amassed a huge collection of Western art He had large amounts of money at his disposal but also did not hesitate to use extortion, military confiscation, and downright theft, particularly in the case of works owned by Jews. The last inventory of this collection is entitled “Catalog of Paintings for the Gallery in Linz, vols. I-XX,” and lists over a thousand paintings. Among them are masterpieces by Boucher (7), Pieter Breughol the Elder (2), Canaletto (4), Cranach (5), A. van Dyck (7), Fragonard (4), Jan van Goyen (9), Goya (3), Frans Hals (7), Leonardo da Vinci (1), Lotto (3), Adriaen van Ostade (10), Rafael (2), Rembrandt (10), Rubens (19), Ruisdael (18), Jan Steen (9), Teniers (14), Ter Borch (9), Tintoretto (13), Titian (2), Vermeer (2), Watteau (3), Wouwerman (7).
Thrown in among these great names of European art are many minor German and Austrian painters of the nineteenth century. These artists represented a tradition Hitler urged contemporary German painters to take up and continue. Some of these artists are Friedrich von Amerling, 1803-1887, 8; Heinrich Biirkel, 1802-1869, 8; Josef Dan- hauser, 1805-1845, 6; Franz Defregger, 1835-1921, 7; Eduard Griitzner, 1846-1925, 7; Franz Lenbach, 1836-1904,
13; Hans Makart, 1840-1884, 9; August Pettenkofen, 1822- 1889, 6; Carl Spitzweg, 1808-1885, 11; Ferdinand Wald- muller, 1793-1865,27.
These bourgeois artists, some of whom are quite obscure, were, in the opinion of Hitler and his artistic advisers, the models that contemporary artiste should turn to in reestablishing the continuity of great Western painting, a continuity that had been broken by “degenerate art.” The gap in time between these nineteenth-century masters and the National Socialist present, populated as it was only by the now-forbidden moderns, had to be filled in by forgotten artists of that era, artists who were now newly “discovered” and posthumously declared the vanguard of art as seen by the National Socialists.
The Development of German Painting since 1900, a title that seems to promise a comprehensive study, does just what we would expect of an historical “corrective” of this kind. It sees the present as being built on the work of masters whom we can hardly identify today because they are not even mentioned in any serious studies.
German fascist spokesmen in the field of art rewrote art history with a double purpose in mind: They wanted, on the one hand, to eliminate modern art and, on the other, to legitimize their own “new start,” but without having to initiate that start in any real sense.
The symbiosis between the revived genre painting of the nineteenth century and the unmistakable claims made by the National Socialist present is expressed with comic effect in a painting of a modest peasant portrayed in typical department-store art style. The peasant is shown reading a Volkischer Beobachter with the headline “A Historic No— Hitler Rejects the Suggestion That the NSDAP Work Together with a Non-National Socialist Government in Exchange for a Few Ministerial Appointments.” Both peasant and painter thus pay their expected tribute to the spirit of the times.
Having surveyed the peripheral conditions of “art in the Third Reich’-’ and the way in which it was presented, we now have to take a closer look at “degenerate art.” We have to arrive at a definition of it, determine the range of work it includes, describe the procedures used to eliminate it, and clarify why the government attacked and destroyed it with such unprecedented fury. These questions necessarily touch on the entire complex of “negative art policy” in National Socialism, and on the significance of this policy in stabilizing the regime in the first few years after the assumption of power.
If the historical part of the pageant had the effect, in terms of mass psychology, of suggesting a meta-historical unity and identity in German existence, the final section made unmistakably clear, in visual terms, who the actual guarantors of present German “unity” were.
At the end of this pageant celebrating 2,000 years of German culture, soldiers appeared again, soldiers in gray, soldiers in brown, soldiers in black. . . . The Wehrmacht (armed forces) and the SA (Sturmabtei- lung—Storm Troop) marched down lanes of cheering spectators. NSKK (Nationalsozmlistisches Kraftfahr- korps—National Socialist Motorized Units), Arbeits- dienst (Work Corps) and SS (Schutzstaffel—Elite Guard) reaped the final waves of applause.
Hitler laid the cornerstone of the building on October 15, 1933, and that ceremony, too, had been accompanied by a lavish celebration in honor of this “Day of German Art.” A model of the new building was exhibited in the parade held at that time. The Weimar Republic had opened a design contest for this building before 1933, but the National Socialists canceled it and rejected the earlier functional models that had been submitted.
The Glass Palace of 1854 had been a pioneering German achievement in modern glass and steel architecture. It was one of the first buildings to break the dominance of nineteenth-century representative architecture. Now, after three generations—and, of course, after Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933—this innovation in modern architecture was to be totally negated. The aim was not to construct a functional building but to create a symbol.
Indeed, as the catalog says, it was a “symbolic act that the Fuhrer joyfully dedicated the first monumental structure of his government to German art,” and this symbolic act has to be interpreted in the light of the entire National Socialist aesthetic. The symbolic aspect of the exhibition building was maintained both in its new name, House of German Art, and in its “rich decor.”
This is reminiscent of a comparable event in earlier German cultural history. Immediately after Napoleon’s occupying armies had been driven out of Germany in 1814—15, the Prussian king, in connection with the political restoration and the refeudalization of the political order, commissioned the building of the first German museum, the so- called Old Berlin Museum. This building, designed by the Classicist architect Friedrich Schinkel, featured an imposing facade that provided the inspiration for the Munich museum over a hundred years later. In Munich, the portico is about 575 feet long.
The Munich museum, designed by Paul Ludwig Troost with Hitler’s active collaboration, was built of massive cut stone and had a marble interior. The materials chosen had a special significance. “Professor Troost insisted from the Art in the Third Reich beginning that the House of German Art be not merely a showplace for paintings but a representative structure, a temple of German art. At first, only the Fiihrer had shown understanding for this concept. Now everyone recognizes that it was correct.”10 The anachronistic design and the expense of the lavish decor, which Troost, who had made his reputation as a designer of interiors for luxury liners, favored but which was totally unjustifiable in view of Germany’s economic situation, give the building a definitely monumental character. Functional considerations were secondary, but despite this the building had all the latest modern equipment. “The cellar houses a combined heating- and humidity-control system powered by gas. At a lower underground level there is a modern air-raid shelter. It would be fair to say that the most advanced technology available has been utilized, but the building does not bear the mark of technology.”
The masking of modern features behind a consciously anachronistic and, as it were, “thousand-year” facade is an immanent tendency in National Socialist architecture. In the particular case of the Munich museum, the building was to express “in its proportions and in the quality of its materials the dignity and greatness” of German art. That is to say, the building itself was to support and complement the artistic self-expression it housed.
The art that was to be displayed in such a noble setting represented, as the art historian Hans Kiener put it in the foreword to the first catalog, “more . . . than [just] one side … of man’s intellectual activity. It will once again speak to us all as the glorious expression of the most noble and heroic will of our whole nation.”
But what exactly was this “temple” to contain? The building was a kind of symbol for the sovereign right of the people to enjoy and, in an ideal sense, to own art, which was no longer to be reserved for royalty alone.
The original plan in Munich, too, had been to extend the theme of the pageant to an exhibition also entitled A Thousand Years of German Art, which would pay tribute to the history of German culture and its popular character.
But that is not what happened. With this demand he not only satisfied the interests of many contemporary artists but also seized the opportunity to shape policy affecting art. There was still a lack of clarity, however, on just what “contemporary” art was, on what it was to look like, and, therefore, on guidelines for government policy on art. Since there was no conceptual basis to work from and no plan as to how National Socialist culture, whatever that might be, should be presented, the government resorted to an open competition.
Adolf Ziegler, painter of nudes and president of the Kulturkammer (Chamber of Culture), signed the announcement for the competition. “All German artists in the Reich and abroad” were invited to participate. The only requirement for entering the competition was German nationality or “race.” The deadline for submissions was extended once, probably because the entries did not meet the grandiose but undefined expectations of the judges. According to the catalog, papers for 25,000 works were submitted. In fact 15,000 works were sent in, and of these about 900 were exhibited.
We have no information on the criteria of selection for what was now officially to be “art in the Third Reich.” There probably were no clear guidelines whatsoever. Most likely, the decisions of the judges reflected their own ambitions and personal preferences. Eyewitnesses report that Hitler himself stepped in at a preview and accepted a number of works by painters who had not been previously selected. Among them was Ferdinand Staeger, who later expressed his gratitude and devotion in propaganda painting. Hitler furiously rejected eighty other pictures with the remark: “I won’t tolerate unfinished paintings!” With this statement Wagner articulated a kind of two-point program that would be adhered to for the next seven years. We will see later exactly what constituted such art. Second, the House of German Art was to be a museum for changing exhibitions of contemporary art, which would, of course, no longer include “degenerate art.”
This museum was not intended, as we might think fitting for a temple, to display timeless masterpieces and to bring them together in a permanent, mutually enhancing community, but became instead merely a gallery for exhibits that changed every year. In spite of this practice, publicity still continued to speak of “timeless” art.
The two points of Wagner’s program were, of course, incompatible. The concept of an annual exhibition, by its very nature, makes it impossible to accept only unproblematic and “finished” work. Timeliness, which is the basic element in any seasonal or changing exposition, is at odds with claims to permanence and timelessness. This conflict did in fact give rise to innumerable misunderstandings. The principles of vitality, flexibility, and novelty inherent in the concept of annually changing exhibitions led artists to submit, many works that were deemed “unfinished” and “problematic.”
Somewhat later in this same speech, Hitler touched on the high achievement of the arts in the nineteenth century, an achievement that the “Dadaist sensationalists, Cubist plasterers, and Futurist canvas smearers” had attacked and endangered. It was essential, Hitler said, to pick up this valuable tradition again. Hitler was simply acknowledging here a process that had in fact been going on for some time: Traditionalist art rooted in the nineteenth century was making use of the National Socialist assumption of power— not only in terms of form and content but also in terms of cultural policy—to assure its own position of dominance in the art world.
The annual changing of exhibitions in the House of German Art carried on the tradition of the old Munich Glass Palace and reflected standard practice in German provincial art centers. The annual spring, summer, fall and winter exhibits put on by local and national art associations gave artists an opportunity to show their recent work. The eight Great German Art Exhibitions, too, were nothing more than displays of work for sale. The notes in the catalogs make this perfectly obvious: “The prices of works offered for sale and the terms of purchase can be obtained from the exhibition offices.” Works not for sale—and there were few of these indeed—were marked by an asterisk in the catalog; they included major commissioned works, statuary, and portraiture. The size of the exhibition also far exceeded that of any other twentieth-century exhibits.
Modern international art was usually presented—and still is today—in a small, intimate, and carefully chosen setting. It was customary to hold one-man shows or to exhibit the works of related groups of artists together in one show. In the context of such shows, whatever was unusual and individualistic was given full visibility. These exhibits were not conceived of as marketplaces but as cultural events of special interest to people who already had a self-image of their social group and were seeking a cultural identity within a specific artistic movement. The branch of modern art that had been branded “degenerate’’ had no ties to local art associations. These associations were guided, in both form and content, by local pictorial traditions oriented to the tastes of certain established classes of art patrons. In contrast to the new regionalists, the “degenerate” artists saw themselves and their work in terms of the international standards of modern art. Because of this, National Socialism accused them of Bolshevist internationalism.
The external organization of the Munich exhibition is reminiscent of nineteenth-century methods of art distribution. Works were offered for sale in Munich even though the term “art outlet,” had been rejected. The Munich exhibits followed nineteenth-century tradition both in size and in principles of classification. The numbers of works exhibited over eight years were as follows: 884 in 1937; 1,158 in 1938; 1,322 in 1939; 1,397 in 1940; 1,347 in 1941; 1,213 in 1942; 1,141 in 1943; and 1,072 in 1944. The corresponding numbers of exhibiting artists, given here in round figures, reflect a similar pattern: 550, 650, 760, 750, 750, 690, 660, and 540. With the exception of the exhibition of 1937, in which the number of artists was relatively high in comparison with the number of works displayed, the ratio is about two works to each artist. We should also note that from 1938 on “a number of additional wrorks of high quality were accepted for the exhibition” once sales had cleared space for them in the halls. In 1938, for example, “exchanges” of this kind gave 244 more works the prestige and sales potential of “Great German Art.” In 1940, 317 w’orks wrere added to the exhibition in this same wray.
Sales opportunities were excellent. This may have corrupted quite a few artists and prompted them to go along with official policy. On the average, 800 to 1,000 works were sold each year, bringing the artists 1.5 to 2 million Reichsmark (RM), depending on whether the sum is figured as gross or net income. An individual wrork therefore sold for an average of 1,500 to 2,500 RM. In view of the fact that, as we shall see later, a large proportion of the w’orks sold were purchased for display in public buildings—these were primarily sculptures and large paintings that wrere high priced and of little interest to the private collector—the prices cited above are modest and in line with wfhat one would expect to find at art sales. Private dealers followed the trend set by public art sales, encouraging the production of large pictures. This fact adds to our difficulties in making an analysis of prices for “art in the Third Reich.”
Unlike the Munich catalogs, those for the Great Berlin Art Exhibitions list individual prices. Oil paintings could be bought for about 250 RM and up, drawings for about 120 RM and up, and prints for 10 RM and up. From this we
can assume that the average price of an oil painting in Germany was under 1,000 RM. Some oil paintings commanded much higher prices Among them яге Johannes Beutner’s The Graces for 15,000 RM; Karl Edward Olszewski’s. Swans Fleeing Before the Storm, for 13,000; Georg Lebrecht’s Bombs over England for 10,000; Reinhard Amtsbiihler’s Path in the Black Forest for 8,000; and Anton Miiller-Wischin’s Mountain. Idyll for 6,000. These relatively highly paid painters were, as a rule, established masters, or they demanded and received inflated prices for their special themes and formats. Painters who fall in this second category are Beutner and, even more so, Lebrecht, whose less sensational titles never brought him more than ‘2,000 RM. The prices at the Berlin exhibitions, in which the “great” names of National Socialist art rarely appeared, were probably lower than those at the official Munich exhibitions. But the Berlin exhibitions may well be more typical of the art of this epoch, for it represented a triumph of the provinces, a triumph, as it were, of local painters who at no time commanded spectacular prices. And after the liquidation of the modern school, Berlin’s artistic life certainly became provincial.
The campaign against “degenerate art” had constantly called attention to the high prices often asked for modern art. Now prices had come back down to a reasonable level. “Pleasing artwork worthy of decorating the walls of our homes” was once again within reach of the German family. But the great mass of “compatriots” whose interests the National Socialists claimed to represent still went empty- handed as far as the enjoyment or possession of art was concerned. The art scene had remained typically middle- class.
The social classes unaccustomed to visiting museums or art shows in their leisure time were offered occasional exhibits that were held in empty factories and that were sponsored by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Workers’ Front), an organization both employees and employers were obliged to join.15 By making a genuine effort to introduce culture to the working class, or to form a new culture with the aid of that class, the ruling party could have lent credence to its propaganda and provided some justification for its name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But any activities of this kind, inspired in part by the early Soviet Proletcult and aimed at bringing workers and culture or production and art together, were limited to a few scattered events organized by the NS-Gemeinschaft “Kraft durch Freude” Amt “Feierabend” (NS-Group ‘‘Strength through Joy,” Division “Leisure Time”). These events were not publicly advertised and therefore cannot be considered part of the regime’s official cultural program.
Even the name of the sponsoring organization, Leisure Time, modeled on the Italian fascist organization Dopo Lavoro (After Work), shows that no attempt was made to break the cycle of work and leisure. Culture functioned merely as compensation for alienating work. It was not seen as a synthesis of work and leisure in both individual and social life. The activities of Division Leisure Time were designed to elevate the workers’ taste to middle-class standards. The graphic art shown in the factories and offered at “extremely low” prices was meant to replace the cheap prints and kitsch that decorated workers’ living quarters. But there was no attempt to create a workers’ culture that would incorporate the worker’s experience, cultivate his self-awareness, and give him an identity.
Although prices for art had undeniably been lowered, i.e. although the price levels that had always been customary at art association shows became the universal rule once modern art and its dealers had been eliminated, public expenditures for art were more extravagant than ever before. What had been criticized as irresponsible extravagance on the part of government art buyers in the Weimar Republic was now—under the aegis of National Socialism— praised as a special virtue, despite the fact that art was never made accessible to the people as a whole.
This point is illustrated, for example, by a list of “the paintings, prints, and sculptures displayed in the annex to the Reich Chancellery and bought by the Fiihrer from the House of German Art.”,e For this new building designed by Albert Speer and completed in 1939—a building closed to the public and rarely used by the National Socialist government—144 works (132 oil paintings, 8 prints, and 4 sculptures) costing 367,530 RM were bought from the Munich House of German Art alone. The most expensive of the paintings were Constantin Gerhardinger’s After Work for
RM; Elk Eber’s famous This Was the SA for 12,000 RM; the fashionable National Socialist painter Sepp Hilz’s After Work for 10,000 RM; and Hermann Gradl’s German landscapes (15,000 RM each) for a dining room in the Chancellery. The average price in this group of paintings was about 2,500 RM. The fact that these 144 works were all bought from the Munich exhibition of 1938 clearly shows that the government was the major buyer in the House of German Art and set the standards for both form and content. While it was an honor to have work accepted by the jury for the Munich exhibition, it was obviously much more prestigious for an artist to be able to display the label “purchased by the Fiihrer” on his work. Therefore any artist who entered the exhibition hoped to improve his chances of official acceptance by complying, in the choice of theme and execution of subject, with openly expressed or implicit trends.
The public purchase of art along with the opportunism of many artists increasingly determined the structure of art. There was no need for the rigid guidelines or special regulations that later commentators have assumed must have been in force. A detailed analysis of the structures of National Socialist painting will be offered later. At this point, wc need discuss only as much of this material as is necessary for a basic understanding of the organization of the Munich exhibitions and mention only those historical conditions that formed the premises of “art in the Third Reich.”
None of the already mentioned features of the Great German Art Exhibitions—the number of works shown, their regional quality, the emphasis on sales, and the prices asked —are novel in the history of art exhibitions. The only new element here was the state’s use of all available means to ennoble these features. They had been the rule in Germany until the rise of modern art, and even after that they continued to characterize exhibits in provincial art centers, expecially in Munich. In this respect, the German Art Exhibitions of Munich held in the Glass Palace before the fire of 1931 are, as their catalogs show, comparable to the Great German Art Exhibitions beginning in 1937. Even the conditions of purchase were stated in similar terms. The director of the earlier exhibits, the architect Eugen Honig, popularly known as “Art-IIonig,” became the first president of the Reichskammer der Bildenden Kiinste (Reich Chamber of Visual Arts), an agency that Goebbels created for the surveillance of art and artists.
There is a widely held view that the Third Reich created an art unmistakably its own; but, as we have seen above, the conditions governing National Socialist exhibitions and the methods of running them show considerable continuity with the past. There is also a great deal of continuity in the people involved. The earlier Munich art expositions were organized by the MUnchner Kiinstler-Genossenschaft (Munich Artists’ Association), the Verein Bildender Kiinstler Miinchens (Munich Guild of Visual Artists), and the Secessions, none of which had ever been very receptive to modern art, though an occasional Expressionist was exhibited.
Among the nearly 950 painters and sculptors displayed in the exhibit of J930, only a dozen or so could be classified as modern. These were Ernst Barlach, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Alfred Kubin, Hans Meid, Emil Nolde, Emil Orlik, Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and—depending on how we define modern art—Kathe Kollwitz. These figures make up less than 2 percent of the artists represented, and their works account for just over 5 percent of the work displayed. After 1933, this small group, as well as the Jewish artists and a few more whose work I am not familiar with, was eliminated on account of degeneracy.
But if we count the names that appeared in the exhibitions both before and after 1933. we arrive at rather sizable numbers. From the artists listed in the catalog for 1930 alone about 250—more than 25 percent—also appear in the catalogs of the Great German Art Exhibitions of 1937, 1938, and 1939. In the interval of seven to ten years a number of
older artists either died or stopped producing while younger artists moved up to replace them.
In interpreting these figures we also have to take into account that the Munich exhibits before 1933 drew essentially on Munich artists, but that from 1937 on “all German artists in the Reich and abroad” were invited to submit their works and that many of those works were accepted. These figures, which could be duplicated for other art centers, show clearly that National Socialist cultural policy did not stimulate creativity but instead merely built on existing traditions and continued the trends established long before the German fascist assumption of power. We can no more speak of a revolution in art than we can speak of one on the social level.
The contradiction, mentioned in the introduction, between social continuity and an alleged cultural revolution has proved to be illusory. It is true that a noticeable change took place on the cultural scene; what appeared there, however, was not something new but something old, indeed, something antiquated.
To summarize our observations up to this point: The Munich exhibitions from 1937 on were not in themselves unusual. They seem unusual only to observers accustomed to modern methods of exhibiting art. There had always been traditional exhibits of this kind, particularly in Munich, and similar exhibits still take place today. Rut a press that was more attuned to avant-garde interests paid little or no attention to them. The only thing that changed radically in 1937 was that these exhibitions were staged for all of Germany, that they claimed to represent the entire range of present-day art, and that a “temple” for this art had been provided in the House of German Art. The way in which these exhibitions were staged created an impression of something new’ and unprecedented that was supposed to, and actually did, suggest the often invoked “spiritual renewal” in the Third Reich. Many of the factors wre have discussed were no doubt determined by special local conditions in Munich, but in all essential points the kind of visual art and the way in which it wras presented were the same everywhere in National Socialist Germany.