The Visualisation Of National Socialist Ideology
While we are certain that we have expressed the spirit and life source of our Folk correctly in politics, we also believe that we will be capable of recognising its cultural equivalent and realise it. -- Hitler, Party Day 1935, Nürnberg
National Socialism is the only regime which carefully excluded all but the approved art forms right from its start, but the iconography of National Socialist art, although limited, was of the highest quality ever produced worldwide. The subjects which National Socialists favour and vigorously promoted shows that art was not only the direct expression of their political ideas, but also at the base of their political system in all its aspects.
Julius Pail Junghanns: Rest Under The Willows
In all the official German Art Exhibitions, landscape painting dominated. It was seen as the genre in which the German soul could best be expressed.
Albert Henrich: Country Still Life, 1940
Again and again the idea of the Folk was linked with the landscape. The country was a place of belonging. The nineteenth century, too, had dreamed of a medieval and rural Utopia in which Man and Nature could be fused together.
Karl Alexander Flügel: Harvest. Great German Art Exhibition, 1938
The National Socialists picked up these ideas and made them one of the central themes of their philosophy of art. But what for the Romantic painter was an idealised dream became reality for the new painters. Their landscape represented the Germans' Lebensraum, their living space.
Oskar Martin-Amorbach: The Sower, 1937
The new landscape painting followed closely the tradition of the Romantic painters, especially Caspar David Friedrich and Philipp Otto Runge, both artists Hitler cited in his speech at the opening of the House Of German Art. Their feeling of longing and the specific mood they expressed appealed to many beyond the leadership. But landscape for the new artist was not only a place of contemplation, it was also a space for living, for action. The landscapes of Werner Peiner share with the Romantics' landscapes a longing for expansive distances, but Friedrich's landscape was an imaginary one; the landscapes of the new painters were meant to be real. Landscape, in National Socialist thinking, was always the German landscape. The painters of today are nearer to Nature than the Romantics. They do not look for a religious mood but for elementary existence. Each landscape is a piece of the German Homeland which the artists illuminate with their soul ..... Above all art today stands the law of the Folk. (Wilhelm Westeker, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, March, 1938, page 86.)
Caspar David Friedrich: Two Men Observing The Moon
Werner Peiner: German Soil
The style of new German landscape painting was also seen as a direct reaction to the Impressionists: Artists create again under the spell of the silent forces which reign above and in us. The German landscape painter rejects the virtuosic rendering of the impressions of light and air. He searches for the unity between man and landscape; he interprets the eternal laws of organic growth. (Walter Horn, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, April, 1939, page 123.)
For the National Socialists questions of style or form did not exist. All artistic problems were metaphysical ones. Richard Wagner's dictum that art is the presentation of religion in a lively form was fully subscribed to by the ideologists of the regime. The desire of the Germans to create always grew from the two roots: a strong sensuous feeling for Nature, and a deep metaphysical longing. The capacity of the Germans to make the divine visible in Nature, and to illuminate the sensuous with spiritual values, fulfils Wagner's demands for art to become religion, wrote Robert Scholz. (Scholz, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, August, 1938.)
The act of creation was seen as a mysterious pseudoreligious event. Painting is not a matter of artistic decision, of composition or formal choices. The hour of creation is one of the great secrets of creation; it has to be faithfully prepared and humbly awaited. (Horn, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, April, 1939, page 122.)
Michael Kiefer: Meadow Near Chiemsee: Eagles -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1943
Nature was not only seen as an antidote to the city, but was also enjoyed as the arena in which the strong dominated the weak, in which the elements ruled, and where animals shared a lifegiving force. As in the heroic landscape, a genre the National Socialists developed from Dutch landscape paintings and the Romantic school, Nature was seen as a fighting ground.
Fritz Bernuth: The Fight
Animal paintings took on a kind of monumental, even heroic, stance. The eagle, the lion, and the bull were the favourite symbols of victory and courage. The proud eagle and the Storm Trooper's gaze are two sides of the same coin. Michael Kiefer's soaring eagles were the painter's version of another of the National Socialists' favourite emblems: the symbol of ruling. In the paintings by Carl Baum and Julius Paul Junghanns, even horses and cows became symbols of strength, the animal equivalent of the naked hero.
Junghanns, Germany's most prestigious animal painter, had taught since 1904 at the Düsseldorf Academy. Under the National Socialists his animal paintings took on a new meaning. Hitler personally selected his work for the first Great German Art Exhibition. Junghanns's work had little to do with the traditional animal paintings of the Dutch school, where animals were merely shown as friends of the humans. Julius Paul Junghanns has done more than merely paint people and animals, he has shown them as monuments. Monuments of a speechless, heroic attitude and strength, the most dignified witnesses of our time. (Horn, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, April, 1939, page 122.)
Julius Paul Junghanns: Hard Work. Great German Art Exhibition, 1939
Hand in hand with the longing for deep communication with Nature came the call for a simple life, with the peasant as the incarnation of the true German. Travelling through the German countryside today, one still finds among our peasants customs which have survived for a thousand years ..... Everywhere one will find primordial peasant customs that reach far back into the past. Everywhere there is evidence that the German peasantry ..... knew how to preserve its unique character and its customs against every attempt to wipe them out, including the attempts of the Church. It preferred to go under rather than bend its head to the alien law imposed upon it by the Lords ..... Despite this thousand year effort to alienate the German peasant from his nature, the common sense and the deep blood feeling of the German peasant knew how to preserve his German breed. (Richard-Walther Darré, Minister Of Works.)
There was a tradition of earthy peasant paintings, especially in Austria. The Tyrolean painters Franz Defreger (1835-1921) and the younger Albin Egger-Lienz were seen as great precursors of the National Socialist peasant painters.
There was a tradition of earthy peasant paintings, especially in Austria. The Tyrolean painters Franz Defreger (1835-1921) and the younger Albin Egger-Lienz were seen as great precursors of the National Socialist peasant painters.
Albin Egger-Lienz: Husband And Wife. Study for Life Cycles, 1910
The paintings of Michael Kiefer, Franz Xaver Wolf, Georg Ehmig, Franz Eichhorst, Hans Ebner, Oskar Martin-Amorbach, and Friedrich Kraus all celebrated simple country life on their canvases -- especially harvesting. They represented the National Socialist ideal of Blood And Soil. They pictured peaceful country life, uncomplicated decent people, clean and earthy.
Oskar Martin-Amorbach: Harvest. Great German Art Exhibition, 1938
The paintings advertised the eternal values of peasant life as a source of strength, as opposed to the destructive life of the city in which there is no continuity, and in which everything is constantly uprooted. The German man emerged from the German peasantry. Princes, Church, and cities were able to place their stamp on a special kind of German man, but nevertheless, the German peasant down the centuries has been the raw material and ..... the foundation.(Richard-Walther Darré, Minister Of Works, 1934.)
Georg Ehmig: Returning From The Alpine Meadows
Also left out was any sign of the increased mechanisation of agriculture: the farmer was mostly depicted in a primitive earthbound state, sowing, ploughing, mowing the grass with a scythe. The eternal and timeless repetition of a farmer's work was shown as a quasireligious ritual. Cows and horses and the rainbow; all nature is harmony. Work in the country was always seen as diligent and strong. In the painting by Heinrich Berran, Bergheuer -- Haymaker, the farmer brings the hay down like Atlas carrying the Earth on his shoulders.
Heinrich Berran: Haymaker
In Lothar Sperl's Rodung -- Clearing The Land, the workers are shown as fighters dominating the soil.
Lothar Sperl: Clearing The Land -- The mountain landscape forces the artist to be real; not to show the farmer in artificial holiday poses, but rather as someone fighting hard for survival, a man who understands his life threatened by Nature and the elements as given by God; it is the artist who sees the traces of destiny in the farmer's face. -- Walter Horn
In Willy Jäckel, the arresting image of the labouring ploughman is heightened by a menacing sky.
Willy Jäckel: Ploughing In The Evening -- A symphony of colours in a light flooded sky. The Farmer walking through the roaring elements, a symbol of care for growth and growing. -- Walter Horn
Exhibitions with rural themes multiplied. This kind of painting was very popular, especially in southern Germany where the representation of village life had always been part of the local iconography. Thus a local genre was well used for good propaganda purposes. In the autumn of 1935 an exhibition called Blood And Soil opened in München. A newspaper critic wrote: The exhibition ..... aimed to collect healthy and good and earthbound art and to fight for a new strength in art against decadence ..... As a preface to the exhibition stand the words of Professor Schultze-Naumburg: Art has to grow from the blood and the soil if it wants to live. (Review of exhibition, in Das Bild, 1935, page 370.)
The eugenic concept of family in its deepest essence is synonymous with the christian concept of a religious moral family which rests upon the twin pillars of premarital chastity and conjugal fidelity ..... Monogamy also stands at the beginning of our culture ..... It was good morals for a woman to have several children. A childless married woman was regarded as inferior, as was a woman who had many miscarriages, or who brought deformed, sick, or sickly children into the world. (Paul Hermann, an expert in racial purity, in Deutsche Rassenhygiene, page 17.)
Closely linked with the idea of peasant life was the idea of the family. The family was more than just individual children and parents. The German Folk as a whole was seen as an interlacing of all German families of the same race. Here too art became a prime spokesman of National Socialist philosophy. The family became an important subject of the visual arts. The family of the farmer in particular was seen as the nucleus of the Nation. The National Socialists hoped that the farm family's renewed popularity would lead to an Earthly paradise, an order based on Nature. Those to whom Germandom is an essential entity see in the family the health, the salvation, and the future of the State. Around the family table are the sheltering and protecting qualities of the soul: the Homeland, the landscape, the language of the Folk Community ..... in the soul lives the child, the songs, the fairy tales, the proverbs, the native costumes, and furniture and tools. (Eberlein, Was ist deutsch in der deutschen Kunst, page 18.)
Rudolf Warnecke: Carpenters
The ideal father and mother were the pillars of a family of several children, happy and in harmony, fertile and bound to Nature, as in Adolf Wissel's Farm Family From Kahlenberg, a finely executed painting very much in the south German tradition with its love of details and love of healthy life:
Adolf Wissel: Farm Family From Kahlenberg, 1939 -- A young art that contains its passion in simple realism represents the new political thinking of our epoch -- Walter Horn
Adolf Wissel: Farm Family From Kahlenberg, 1939. Detail
Constantin Gerhardinger, Thomas Baumgartner, and Wilhelm Petersen also painted outstanding family pictures.
Constantin Gerhardinger: Family Portrait
Films, books, and paintings all praised the virtue of the family. In it lie the ultimate energies of primordial folk art ..... in it lies also the salutary and profound feeling for the family arts: folk music, work music, dance music, family music have here their last abode. Here they can work their potent healthgiving magic ..... How laughable, puppetlike, the art groups of the big cities appear. Their changing art fashions are best compared with exotic animals inside the cages of the zoos of the big cities. (Eberlein, Was ist deutsch in der deutschen Kunst, page 56.)
Fritz Erler: Fritzl
The religious role elevates the family to the status of an altarpiece. They listen to The Leader on the radio in Paul Matthias Padua's The Leader Speaks:
Paul Matthias Padua: The Leader Speaks -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1940
or look at the official art magazine in Udo Wendel's The Art Magazine:
Udo Wendel: The Art Magazine, 1940 -- The new realistic tendency, the most exact rendering of each detail -- Robert Scholz
actually a self portrait of the artist with his parents. No presentation of social conflict or hardship was allowed to disturb the image. One requirement was to express a racial ideal.
Gisbert Palmié: Rewards Of Work
Gisbert Palmié: Rewards Of Work. Detail: Fruit Harvest
The National Socialists themselves claimed that their paintings had nothing to do with realism, however realistic their style. The word realistic figured only rarely in the vocabulary of art critics in the Third Reich. A realistic rendering of the present would give a limited picture. The new German artist was creating for eternity. God forbid that we should succumb to a new materialism in art and imagine that if we want to arrive at the truth, all we need is to mirror reality, wrote Baldur von Schirach. The artist who thinks he should paint for his own time has misunderstood The Leader. Everything this Nation undertakes is done under the sign of eternity. (Baldur von Schirach, in B. Kroll,Deutsche Maler der Gegenwart, Berlin, 1937, page 140.)
Franz Xaver Wolf: Parting, 1940
The restful composition, symmetrical design, and frozen gestures of many paintings evoked feelings of unchanging universal truth. Here too the ideologist stopped at nothing; for example, the Bach family was enlisted to serve as a shining example of the purity of race and Germanic virtue:
Leopold Schmutzler: Farm Girls Returning From The Fields
Thus biological investigation has uncovered a series of families in which, as a result of the entry of individuals or even only one person of lowgrade quality, the whole subsequent generation was ruined ..... On the other hand, we are acquainted with a sufficient number of families in which the preservation of a family tradition ..... has engendered a great number of highgrade persons. Here I shall mention the clan of Johann Sebastian Bach of Thüringen, which has been thoroughly investigated biologically, and which rightly can serve as a textbook example of the preservation and higher development of a good biological heritage. (Hermann, Deutsche Rassenhygiene, page 17.)
All the people depicted in this art were racially pure. They did not necessarily mirror society, but certainly served as ideal role models for it. They had become the incarnation of the magnificent National Socialist Idea. The arts program was less an intellectual one than one transmitted through the senses, through the eye. That is why everything had to be beautiful, perfect, harmonious.
The German Woman
The woman has her own battlefield. With every child she brings into the world, she fights her battle for the Nation. The man stands up for the Folk, exactly as the woman stands up for the family, proclaimed Adolf Hitler in a speech to the National Socialist Women's Congress in 1935. (Hitler, cited in Folkish Observer, September 15th, 1935.)
Jürgen Wegener: Thanksgiving -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1943
The National Socialists left nothing to chance. If art advertised the role of the family, the Party also used art to define the social role of woman and the image she should have. In his very early novel Michael, Goebbels had written: The mission of woman is to be beautiful and to bring children into the world ..... The female bird pretties herself for her mate and hatches the eggs for him. In exchange the mate takes care of gathering the food, stands guard, and wards off the enemy. (Michael: Ein Deutsches Schicksal, München, 1929, page 41.)
Franz Eichhorst: Mother And Child
The ideal women were tall, blue eyed, blonde representatives of the Aryan Race. The ideal beauty corresponded to the type of human being that was politically sound. For Hitler beauty always involved health: We only want the celebration of the healthy body in art. The woman was preordained by Nature to be the bearer of children, the sacred mother. The man was preordained to fight. In Hitler's view only this interpretation of the role of man and woman could produce fine art. We want women in whose life and work the characteristically feminine is preserved, said Hitler's deputy Rudolf Heß. Women we can love. We grant the rest of the world the ideal type of woman that it desires, but the rest of the world should kindly grant us the woman who is most suitable for us. She is a woman who, above all, is able to be a mother ..... She becomes a mother not merely because the State wants it, or because her husband wants it, but because she is proud to bring healthy children into the world, and to bring them up for the Nation. In this way she too plays her part in the preservation of the life of her Folk. (Reich Minister Rudolf Heß, at a meeting of the Women's Association, cited in Folkish Observer, May 27th, 1936.) Madonnalike renderings of mother and child became a favourite genre.
Alfred Kitzig. Tyrolean Peasant Woman With Child -- In the reflective seriousness of a motherly woman lives the pensive spirit of an artist whose brushstroke is laden with thought -- Edmund Pesch
About a tenth of the paintings shown were nudes. The increasing number of nudes in painting, and especially in sculpture, was a reflection of the new body feeling. Nudes were part of the Nature culture. The demand for naturalness, vitality, and sensualism found its visual counterpart in the presentation of the naked body. Here too it was antiquity, the Renaissance, and the old Masters that provided the models: the nudes of Titian, Tintoretto, Michelangelo, Rubens, and Rembrandt. The nudes of the Impressionists, especially Edouard Manet's Olympia, were rejected as a mere experience of the eye, the body painted for its own sake, the carrier of colours. But not the expression of a moral, sociological, and religious attitude, which determined the nudes of the Third Reich. The presentation of the devil woman, the prostitute, as modern artists often depicted her, was not only unthinkable but was considered an insult to German womanhood. If man was shown as the dominator of Nature, woman was represented as Nature herself. She was the beauty of Nature, or the playfulness of Nature, and of course was as fertile as Nature. She was shown over and over again in a state of ripeness:
Friedrich Wilhelm Kalb: Searching, Finding, Losing -- (Daphne, Eros and Psyche, Eurydike and Orpheus)
Ivo Saliger: Diana's Rest, 1940 -- A time of affirmation of the body, a celebration of Hellenic attitudes and virtues -- Robert Scholz
This was the body to be desired and adored. Titles such as Abandon and Morning spelled out the role woman was expected to play. Two themes dominate: the woman in a pose of expectation, and the woman as mother.
Fritz Mackensen: The Baby
In National Socialist art, Woman was described with soft lines and gentle contours, the image of devotion and cooperation. Woman was an object; her role was subservient, to be looked at, to be fertilised. Her own sexuality was minimised. She was usually seen facing front, without pubic hair. In the past, nudes often cowered, hiding their breasts. The new woman, as in Ivo Saliger's Diana's Rest, stood upright, proudly displaying her naked body to the viewer, who, in certain pictures, was also the male judge of its attractions, as in Adolf Ziegler's Judgment Of Paris.
Adolf Ziegler: Judgement Of Paris -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1939
The President Of The Reich Chamber For The Visual Arts, Adolf Ziegler painted one of the main works for the 1937 Exhibition Of German art. It became famous almost overnight through frequent reproduction. Hitler acquired it, to hang in his living room in München above the fireplace. Ziegler wrote: Our work represents our philosophy. What is the philosophy spelled out by this picture? Bodies are celebrated, the photorealistic representation of perfect bodies. The sleek, perfect surface almost detaches the body from reality. The four women representing the four elements, offering themselves to the onlooker, are like four priestesses; they sit on a bench as though on an altar. But they are also ready for sacrifice. Willingness to be sacrificed for the Nation was widely stressed. The combination of priestess and sacrificial object was iconographically new.
Adolf Ziegler: The Four Elements -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1937
Living room, Leader Building, München. Designers: Leonhard Gall and Gerdy Troost. Over the fireplace: Adolf Ziegler: The Four Elements
This beautiful painting was much liked, judging by the enormous numbers of postcards and reproductions of it sold. The National Socialists' celebrations of the human figure without conflict or suffering were immensely popular. The nudes by the favourite painters of the National Socialist regime, like Ziegler, Saliger, and Friedrich Kalb, were sometimes deliberately passive and impersonal.
From year to year nudes gained in popularity both in painting and sculpture. Many painters of nudes came from the respected München Secession, a group much influenced by the French Impressionists, like Oskar Martin-Amorbach in his Peasant Grace:
Oskar Martin-Amorbach: Peasant Grace -- A stronger linear style so tender in its feeling -- Robert Scholz
or Sepp Hilz, known as The Master Of The Rustic Venus:
Sepp Hilz: Peasant Venus. Great German Art Exhibition, 1940
The painting Leda And The Swan by Padua created quite a scandal:
Paul Matthias Padua: Leda And The Swan
It was nevertheless bought by Hitler himself. The offerings of nudes multiplied. There were the sensual and lingering nudes of Karl Truppe. Gerhardinger, Oskar Graf, Ernst Liebermann, Johanna Kluska, Johann Schult, Richard Klein, and many others furnished the exhibition with healthy Aryan flesh.
Johann Schult: After The Bath. Great German Art Exhibition, 1940 -- Painting the right and good way! With the ripe experience of the eye and the knowledge of the laws which govern the body -- Robert Scholz
Women were often represented as allegories of honour, purity, and faith, and as the Goddess Victoria crowning the hero. These paintings say, I am like you, you can be like me: an invitation to identify, an accessible ideal, not a distant Goddess. That is why artists brought the ancient myths up to date: a Venus with a permanent wave. The National Socialist aesthetic required that their figures look smooth and fashionable, as if they had just emerged from the hairdresser or had been sunbathing, the image of motherhood, the ultimate synthesis of Nature and spirit, the embodiment of a racial idea, just like the farmers, the family, and the men.
Karl Truppe: Youth
Female portraits, especially of leading actresses and the wives of Party Leaders, were extremely popular. Most of them showed the sitter in a demure, ladylike pose. Hand in hand with the demand for naturalness came the demand for simple unaffectedness. The healthy rather than puritanical attitude prevailing in Germany brought forth requirements such as:
- Painted and powdered women will be forbidden entry to all National Socialist Foremen gatherings. Women who smoke in public -- in hotels, in cafes, on the street, and so forth -- will be expelled from the National Socialist Foremen. (Frankfurter Zeitung, August 11th, 1933.)
- Germany does not need women who can dance beautifully at five o'clock teas, but women who have given proof of their health through accomplishments in the field of sports. The javelin and the springboard are more useful than lipstick in promoting health, reported the Frankfurter Zeitung on June 1st, 1937.
- Fundamentally ..... we should reject the custom of the five o'clock tea which came to us from England, where it is already a degenerate social form ..... First it was the modern way of life, shaped by the Jewish spirit ..... a social gathering in which one cultivates not conversation but gossip. In particular, it is thought that through this abominable American custom (namely, eating and drinking standing up) an especially agreeable and spontaneous conversation can develop, whereas actually only chatter is achieved ..... These are not community conscious, sociable German men, but stray international Gypsies on a parquet floor. (Der SA-Mann, September 18th, 1937.)
Herbert Kampf: My Daughter Eve
There were pictures of the idealised traditional housewife turning her attention to old handicrafts. It must seem amazing that women and girls should return to work at spinning wheels and weaving looms. But this is wholly natural ..... This work must be taken up again by the women and girls of the Third Reich, correctly declared the Folkish Observer on February 2nd, 1936.
The German Man
If anything, the new age of Germany will create the image of the German Man. There has never been a richer time for the presentation and interpretation of the German character. The Great War showed us how little mere strength, diligence, and conscience mean nowadays. Everything depends on the persuasive power of the images provided so that a whole Folk can identify itself with them. (Fritz Zadow, Kulturbewußtsein und nationale Wirklichkeit, inKant-Studien, edited by Hans Heyse, 1936, volume 41, page 14.)
Rudolf Hausknecht: Lookout On A U-Boat
Representation of the heroic man was usually reserved for sculpture. But with the beginning of Churchill's War, the man as hero became a powerful iconographic element in painting, too. The war absorbed much of the energy of the country, but it never extinguished the National Socialists' preoccupation with the arts. The Director Of The National Museum in Berlin boasted that, while the British Museum and the Louvre fearfully had begun to evacuate their treasures, the German museums have not been silenced like those of the enemy, waiting for the sad end of this war. The German museums do their duty by serving the Folk and waiting for victory. (Professor Dr. Otto Kümmel, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, March, 1940, page 76.)
Gisbert Palmié: Sniper Aiming A Rifle, 1944
The Great German Art Exhibitions were also widely used as a morale booster. Hitler attended the openings at the beginning. Later he left this task to Goebbels and Heß. Opening the fourth exhibition, in the first year of the war, Goebbels stressed the role of art as the best way of uplifting people in times of sorrow and deprivation. In fact, 751 artists displayed 1,397 works. Many rooms were now devoted to war art. The war became the new inspiration for the artist, but not the horror of it: the heroic sacrifice was always stressed. The war was a new source for artistic creation, and many artists elevated the soldier to a symbol. The restrained pain in the face of the wounded soldiers and the expression of the finished battle were designed to move the Folk deeply.
Walter Schmock: Soldiers
The opening of the Great German Art Exhibition, during a war forced upon us, is the strongest demonstration of our cultural need and our cultural strength, wrote Robert Scholz in 1940 in his capacity as Director For The Visual Arts in Rosenberg's Office For The Supervision Of The Intellectual Training Of The National Socialist German Worker's Party. The fact that Germany continues its cultural mission, undeterred and protected by its glorious weapons, is part of the miraculous inner renewal of the Folk. A philosophy has brought out creative forces. The part the visual arts play in this process of cultural renaissance is the miracle of all miracles ..... War, which a Greek philosopher called the father of all things, is a great challenger. German visual arts have met the challenge. This exhibition is proof of the strong impulses that our Leader's ingenious willpower and his ingenious creative strength have brought to the arts. His example spurs every creative force to the highest. (Scholz, in Die Kunst im Deutsches Reich, September, 1940, page 236.)
The war was seen as a battle for the salvation of German culture. In this war, the German Folk fights not only for its material existence, but also for the continuation and security of its culture, declared Hitler on the occasion of the 1942 Exhibition Of German Art. German artists, too, have been called upon to serve the Homeland and the Front.
Documentary films, shown in movie houses all over the country, broadcast the artistic message to a large number of people. Filled with creative joy, our artists have this year, too, despite hardship, produced great works of art, reported one commentary. Among the great works of art the viewer saw were four sculptures:
- Thorak's Last Flight, a sentimental rendering of a woman holding a dead soldier;
- The stunning relief of Breker's The Guardian, a soldier drawing a sword;
- Fritz Klimsch's nude The Wave;
- Anton Grauel's Pensive Nude.
There were many outstanding paintings:
- Julius Paul Junghanns's naturalistic renderings of strong horses and cows;
- Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger's allegory Die Nacht begleitet den Morgen -- The Night Accompanies The Morning;
- Joseph Piper's Drei nackte Jünglinge am Meer -- Three Nude Youths At The Sea;
- two giant panels for Werner Peiner's gigantic tapestries Die Schlacht König Heinrichs I -- The Battle Of King Heinrich I and Die Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald -- The Battle Of Teutoburg Forest.
Also on show was other war art: a giant triptych, Infanterie -- Infantry by Rudolf G. Werner; the fierce rendering of Die Flammenwerfer -- The Flame Throwers by Rudolf Liepus; the Hitler portrait by Gerhard Zill, and Hans Schmitz-Wiedenbrück's Kämpfendes Volk -- Fighting Folk.
Art was presented as a sign of optimism. Its role was to help to overcome the increasingly difficult problems of life. Hitler had occupied France and was heavily engaged in Russia. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers had died in battle. The civilian population was spending night after night in airraid shelters, and art was constantly used to bolster the hope of a victorious Germany. All forces, the physical as well as the spiritual, fight for the final victory. Art is today, more than ever, a political factor of a high order, wrote Walter Horn, reviewing an exhibition of the Prussian Academy in 1940. The victorious war has not diminished the creative strength of the Germans. On the contrary. Everything serves to strengthen our will to fight and our determination to defend our soul. (Horn, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, December, 1940, page 374.)
In 1942, when the House Of German Art inaugurated the vast annual exhibition, the journalist and art functionary Robert Scholz stated:
Millions flock to see our art, they come from all parts of Germany. The fact that the Great German Art Exhibition opens its doors for the third time during the war is strong proof of the certainty of the spiritual foundation upon which the battle of our destiny stands. What unites the individual exhibits is the emanation of optimism and a strong artistic idealism. This belief in a future is, in times like these, the strongest proof of the strength of the German soul. Just compare these works with those of the Great War ..... What marked the work of those artists was a deep pessimism. The darkness of their colours, the heaviness of their style announced the collapse of their spirit ..... The inner strength and the general tenor of the present day are of a different mould ..... The optimism ..... is visible in the many works that depict the lasting values and subjects in art, such as man, animal, and landscape. (Scholz, Zukunftsbewußte deutsche Kunst, Folkish Observer, July 4th, 1942.)
Britain and France not only declared the First World War; they engineered, caused, and declared the Second World War also -- by giving idiotic guarantees to the criminal military dictatorship in Poland which merely made Poland arrogant and aggressive and unfriendly towards Germany, guarantees which Britain and France had not the least intention or ability to enforce. Adolf Hitler's politics were driven by his noble intention to tear up the intellectually disgusting and legally unjustifiable Treaty Of Versailles which had been forced upon Germany, at the end of the Great War which had also been forced upon Germany, in order to weaken the great European competitor of Britain and France. The greatest statesmen of Britain admitted as much. Therefore, although Hitler's politics were aggressive, they were thoroughly justified. Every single action by the German Government before the war and during the war was fully justifiable. Every casualty of the war -- 50,000,000 dead, including those who underwent euthanasia -- is solely on the conscience of the British and French inhuman politicians. Hitler was willing to go to war with the British and French, however, since there were terrible wrongs to right. He once said: Only he who struggles with Fate has Providence on his side. Hitler firmly believed that mankind could realise itself only through struggle, and so to him the purpose of art was also a preparation for war. The suffering of war was absent. Reviewing the frescoes of Franz Eichhorst:
Franz Eichhorst: Street Fighting
Robert Volz wrote: The beauty and singularity of these frescoes is the almost total absence of blood and screams, the unbearably realistic has been avoided ..... the idea of readiness to fight and to be sacrificed, the loneliness of heroism overshadows the horrors of reality. What remains is the idea of the destiny of a Folk. (Robert Volz, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, November, 1938.)
The role of the artist was either to portray the struggle for the survival of a peaceful German world or else to represent this world, which had to be defended at all cost.
Painters like Elk Eber, Fritz Erler, and Franz Eichhorst glorified soldiers, Aryan fighters fierce and victorious. Show the school pupils the pictures of soldiers painted by Erler or Spiegel, compare them with the vulgar and horrid works by Dix or Grosz. Every pupil will recognise immediately what degenerate art is ..... The strength of the real artist is in his blood, which leads him to heroism. (Heinrich Garbe, Rassische Kunsterziehung, Nationalsozialistisches Bildungswesen, 1938, page 664.
Eber became one of the particular favourites of the regime. He joined the Party early and received many honours. His paintings were widely distributed through postcards and reproductions. Eber was forty one years old when Hitler came to power. He quickly became one of the most fanatical painters of the National Socialist Movement. His pictures were always prominently exhibited and widely reproduced in the press. His paintings of soldiers and SA Men, with their fierce profiles, displaying their weapons, were favourite subjects for postcards. The Dispatch Courier was especially popular:
Elk Eber: Dispatch Courtier, 1939
They embodied the best of National Socialist art with their call to fight and to sacrifice. Elk Eber was one of the strongest artistic personalities of our time, declared a colleague in Eber's obituary in the Folkish Observer in 1941.He drew the war as he saw and lived through it, the heroism of the German soldier during battle. Also his own deprivation and suffering and sometimes even the proud bearing of the soldiers when the battle was hopeless ..... The Last Hand Grenade was one of the most remarkable pictures in the Great German Art Exhibition, because it expressed the attitude of the Party and the whole Folk ..... Professor Elk Eber had basically only one theme: the soldierly, heroic masculinity of our time. (Rittich, Zum Tode von Prof. Elk Eber, Folkish Observer, August 15th, 1941.)
Hans Schmitz-Wiedenbrück's painting Workers, Soldiers, Farmer borrowed the traditional format of the triptych to carry a Fascist message:
Hans Schmitz-Wiedenbrück: Workers, Soldiers, Farmer
It represented the three pillars of the State, elevated to icons, symbolising their contributions. The Defence Forces dominated the picture, not only by their central position but also by the fact that they were painted as if seen from below, an artistic device for creating awe and emphasis.
Paul Matthias Padua's The 10th Of May, 1940 celebrates the Germans' opening of the western offensive:
Paul Matthias Padua: The Tenth Of May, 1940
The leader of the fifteen men crossing the Rhine River was seen as someone who was beckoning the whole Nation to follow him with an almost religious gesture.
An increasing number of war paintings filled the walls of the House Of German Art. In them the readiness to fight and to die for the Nation was seen as the highest virtue. The soldier was shown mostly as the glorious victor. The horror of war or even death was only rarely portrayed. The National Socialists believed it was not the role of art to augment the anguish of war. It was the task of art to lead people away from reality into an emotional dream world:The willingness for sacrifice which fills the whole German Folk is visible in all the works ..... They are the artistic visualisation of a communal experience, the representation of the spiritual attitude of their time. The National Socialists kept the realistic language of painting, but they restricted its range. The artist was encouraged to adopt a polished photographic style.
Paintings of the great battles in German history glorified the country's military tradition and justified the continuing struggle. Werner Peiner had become one of the most prolific battle painters of the National Socialist regime. In 1937-44 he created the panels for his series of large tapestries, four devoted to the subject of the falcon hunt, ten to the virtues of women, five to the five continents, and the rest to the major German battles throughout history. By 1945 only five tapestries were finished. They were huge works, along Gothic and Renaissance models, commissioned by Göring and Hitler for the new Reich Chancellery which Speer had designed. They were to be the building's most significant and impressive decorations, launching a monumental modern art form. These historical subjects gave the German Reich a historical context:
Werner Peiner: Frederick The Great At Kunersdorf. Detail
Werner Peiner: Frederick The Great At Kunersdorf. Panel for a cycle of tapestries -- Since Germany has revived long desired monumental art, we are witnessing a recovery of tapestry weaving and its elevation to monumental painting. -- Johannes Sommer
The description of these tapestries in 1940 lauded Hitler as the greatest of patrons, who was bringing about the renewed flowering of the art of tapestry. This series by virtue of its scale would outshine those produced in the Middle Ages. It was the triumphant theme that spoke of the heroic spirit of the Reich, and confirmed the rebirth of a vigorous Germany after the shame of the Versailles Treaty and the defeat of the Great War.
Ferdinand Spiegel's Tank, a giant mural which combined the modern Army with the old Prussian Cavalry, also celebrated the continuity of battle:
Ferdinand Spiegel: Tank. Mural
The colonisation of the past never stopped. The great German battle scenes and the representations of warriors from previous periods all helped to rally morale and solid support for the present war. The celebration of the precursors of the new Germany was used to tell the story of those who had prepared the ground for National Socialism.
Many artists were selected to become official war artists under the leadership of Luitpold Adam, who had been a war artist in the Great War. At the start, Adam's Staffel der Bildenden Künste -- Division Of Visual Arts included forty five official war artists; eventually there were eighty. The quantity of war art turned out was enormous. All work belonged to the Government. It was used for special exhibitions, which toured the country:
- The Invasion Of Poland In Pictures,
- The War,
- Northern Land,
- German Greatness,
- Painters At The Front,
- A Folk At Work
were all meant to show the cultural and heroic effort of Germany undiminished despite adversity and hardship. Artists were encouraged to create directly from their experience of war. The magazines went to great lengths to prove that the idea that distance was necessary for the artist to gain sufficient perspective to render a great event was false. The direct and subjective experience of war gave their art its artistic stamp. The fact that the artist was at the same time a soldier and no longer a mere observer gave him a special relationship to the events. Art is the mirror of the soul, wrote Walter Horn in 1942. It reflects the character and shows if it can master the task of history or if it is defeated by it. Only a soldierlike character, filled with intense feelings, is able to transmit the experience of war in artistic form. (Horn, in Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich, November, 1942, page 282.)
Olaf Jordan: Alexej Pawlowitsch Bondar, Volunteer In Germany's Cossack Division, 1944
The works of the war artists were more than personal documents; they were the highest artistic expression of an experience which involved the whole Nation. They are documents of the German soul. Their content and style are signs of the creative strength, the philosophical attitude and the soldierly spirit ..... The ethical and brave ideals of the SS, the highest Folkish values, honour and faithfulness, find here their artistic representation. In this way the visitor not only experiences an art exhibition, but conceives a picture of the character of the SS. (Karl-Horst Behrendt, Deutsche Künstler und die SS, Folkish Observer, June 18th, 1944.)
Wolfgang Willrich: Neuberger, Karl, 28388, Eastern Front Squad Leader From Sauerlach, Near München, 44 Years Old, Married, 4 Children, Construction Worker, Maternal Ancestors Farmers In Bavaria -- Legend On Picture
There were many drawings and watercolours which simply rendered the life of the soldiers or the landscape. There were pictures which showed some compassion for the prisoners and the destroyed villages of Russia. The picture one gets from these works is of a gentle war, of blonde nurses, comradeship, and friendly faces. It is not a picture of blood and tears, of gangrene and death.
Olaf Jordan: Two Russian Prisoners Of The Germans, 1943
Labour, which was one of the key words in the National Socialists' vocabulary, was usually represented by the farmer. There was a notable absence of machine art. All work was done by brawny arms, tough muscles. Many paintings were simply an advertisement for the strong worker, often indistinguishable from posters. Sometimes work was seen as a battle, the worker as the hero, with his tools symbolising conquest. The problems of modern industrial society did not exist. The portrayal of work as a chore, as seen in paintings by modern artists like Käthe Kollwitz, is almost totally absent. National Socialist artists depicted a world ennobled by hammers and muscles, not a world of exploitation and exhaustion; a world of the idealised worker, not one of sweat and toil. It seems odd that such a highly technological society did not portray technology more in its art. Some painters celebrated achievements like the automobile highways (Oskar Graf), or the great building sites at Nürnberg (Paul Herrmann). Where modern industry is represented, it is the factory rather than the worker that is shown, or the workers are rendered so small that they became just props. The miracle of technology and industry alone was to be celebrated.
The representation of the individual man in the factory was considered a sign of past liberal times that, according to the philosophy of the National Socialists, saw a kind of salvation in technology. In 1942 an article entitledKunst und Technik -- Art And Technique appeared in Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich, which castigated the socialist realist art of the Soviet Union with its mechanical dehumanisation, blind adoration of the machine, and its crude materialism. Both liberalism and communism put technology above man. The National Socialists stressed the fact that behind the machines stood the will not of a single man but of the Folk. The measure of all things is no longer man or machine but Folk and Community. (Horn, in Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich, February, 1942.)
Arthur Kampf: In The Steelworks -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1939
This communal will of the German Folk was expressed in pictures of flaming furnaces, smoking chimneys, and howling wharves, the battlefields of the workers, where the individual counted for little.
Many paintings represented the Folk Community, the Nation; the demonstration of the unity of all people in which the individual is part of the whole. In Hans Schmitz-Wiedenbrück's Nation At War, the mother is enthroned like a Madonna, in her hands the child and the letter from the Front. Destiny links the Front with the Homeland. As the guardian of the Nation she sits in the middle. She is surrounded by the other components of the Nation, as on a stage: the farmer on her left, the worker on her right, and above her head the soldier riding under a rainbow into battle. We find the Nation again in Georg Poppe's Portrait Of The Leader. This time the mother looks up to The Leader who is surrounded by scientists, farmers, and workers. Behind him is the military.
Party Portraits. Portraits Of Hitler
The handsome Party Pictures, depicting top National Socialist personalities and events, were an important part of art production, but they were by no means the overriding subject. Elk Eber's fierce SA Men, with their armbands designed by Hitler himself, were typical. Party Members of the SS were also represented, set in seemingly harmless landscapes or in the midst of peasant lives.
Portraits of Hitler dominated. The Leader is the highest gift to the Nation. He is the German fulfilment. An artist who wants to render The Leader must be more than an artist. The entire German Folk and German eternity will stand silently in front of this work, filled with emotions to gain strength from it today and for all times. Holy is the art and the call to serve the Folk. Only the best may dare to render The Leader. (The Black Corps, June 19th, 1935, page 12.)
Walter Einbeck: Hitler
Hitler was often painted full length in order to convey his divine role:
Fritz Erler: Portrait Of The Leader -- The House Of German Art is in the background at the left
A seated portrait would look too relaxed and familiar, unless it was formal and enthroned. Unapproachable, he was never shown at home, in personal surroundings, and at ease. In group portraits he always stood out, dominating, as in Emil Scheibe's Hitler At The Front:
Emil Scheibe: Hitler At The Front, 1943
But primarily he was portrayed alone. There was Hitler The Leader or Hitler The Head Of The army, often authoritative, sometimes pensive, gazing into the distance:
Franz Triebsch: The Leader, 1941
Fritz Erler pictured him in front of a monumental sculpture making him look like a giant. He appeared on stamps (mostly designed by Richard Klein). Sometimes he was seen as a friend of the family, sometimes as the icy Leader.
Conrad Hommel was Hitler's portrait painter and the Third Reich's court painter in general:
Conrad Hommel. General Field Marshal Hermann Göring, 1939, Great German Art Exhibition, 1939
He painted Hitler in the pose of the Feldherr -- Commander In Chief, the map of the world at his feet, the bunker in the background:
Conrad Hommel. The Leader and Commander In Chief Of The Army, 1940, Great German Art Exhibition, 1940
Hommel's portraits made wonderful postcards, which were snapped up by the millions.
In Hermann Otto Hoyer's Am Anfang war das Wort -- In The Beginning Was The Word, a title with strong religious connotations:
Hermann Otto Hoyer: In The Beginning Was The Word
Hitler stands on a dais in a dark room. Behind him is an SA Man with the flag. Hitler is the glorification of the National Socialist idea heightened into religion almost by the title alone. The light over him falls on the listener. Hitler is the bringer of light, the illuminator.
Antisemitic And Overtly Doctrinaire Paintings
The fine arts were certainly an instrument for the dissemination of National Socialist propaganda, but in effectiveness in swaying the masses, they were overshadowed by the mass meetings and the mass media, which had a much larger audience. While cartoonists and filmmakers were often antisemitic, we find few traces of antisemitic propaganda in the fine arts. Adolf Reich's Um Haus und Hof -- All Their Worldly Goods is a picture of the manifestation of greed:
Adolf Reich: All Their Worldly Goods, 1940
A Jewish speculator appropriates the homestead of an honest peasant couple who has run into financial difficulties.
Sometimes the political message was more subtle. Franz Weiss's The Seven Deadly Sins is a painting very much in the tradition of the paintings of the Renaissance:
Franz Weiss: The Seven Deadly Sins
Franz Weiss: The Seven Deadly Sins. Detail: Gluttony, depicting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (standing) and Winston Churchill
It seems to have no political message whatsoever until one discovers in the bottom corner the portraits of Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill as gluttons. After all, art was to concentrate on the good, and the good had to be beautiful, and consequently there was no place for the Jew in it. He would have debased German art just by being there.