The Greater 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 von Schwind.
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 newspaperHakenkreuzbanner, June 10th, 1938.
The Great German Art Exhibition had two aims:
- 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 Monatshefte, July, 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, page 17.
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 Goebbels, 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, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, July 20th, 1937.)
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 show.
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, Kölnische Volkszeitung, 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 Exhibitions also 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 antiquity. (Walter Horn, Vorbild und Verpflichtung: Die grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1939 in München, Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, September, 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 Kulturpolitik, Deutsche Kultur-Wacht, 1933, 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, November, 1938.
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 Hitler,
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
Goebbels, and the other elite. His paintings became increasingly magnificent and inspiring.
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 (1894-1973),
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 Splendor, Spring, 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, page 77.)
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 Observer.
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 und Geschichte, 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 Goebbels. 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. (Goebbels 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 differences.
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, 1938.)
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 Allgemeine Zeitung, 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 diminished.
The dissemination of art became as important as the making of it. Exhibitions and new buildings became media events. Hitler and Goebbels 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.
Venerable Reich 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 Academy.
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 Goebbels 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 Exhibition.
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 aim.
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.)
Goebbels 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. (Goebbels, November 26th, 1937, in Von der Großmacht zur Weltmacht.)