The years of search and probing that marked the first years in power have been brushed aside. Strong, proud characters have taken over. The storm of spiritual revolution has won the day. Grandeur of form, which is an appropriate icon for our era, bestows on sculpture a new audacious language. The giant sculptures have become a symbol of the creative politics of the State together with our monuments of architecture, they proclaim the events of our time for generations to come. Painting still fights for an equal place next to sculpture and architecture. It represents the experiences of the soul and thus creates the equilibrium between individual and community, the harmony between daily happenings and festive ones, between clear political willpower and romantic longing. The giant sculptures created for the buildings of Party and State -- like those by Thorak and Breker -- on the other hand, grew out of a different feeling. Their ground is the manly character of National Socialism, the forces of order, courage, and heroic struggle. -- Walter Horn, Vorbild und Verpflichtung, Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, September, 1939, page 832.
At the first Great German Art Exhibition, 200 sculptures were shown. As time wore on, the numbers grew; 440 works by 237 sculptors were shown in 1940. This increasing number of sculptures was caused by the fact that sculpture seemed better able to express the National Socialist obsession with race and biology. It offered a body language people could identify with and on which they could model themselves. Sculpture was seen as an enduring faith carved in stone. Another important factor was that art was increasingly viewed as a complement to architecture. Frequently sculpture and low reliefs were used on and in conjunction with buildings, enhancing the idea of architecture as art.
How much importance the National Socialists assigned to sculpture is further emphasised by their desire to let foreign countries know about German achievement in this art form. Angered by foreign reports that German art had come to an end, artists felt prompted to show the art they had the most confidence in. Much of the art displayed on the occasion of the Olympic Games was aimed at foreign visitors. For the 1937 World's Fair in Paris the Germans devised a large sculptural program, which included not only sculptures by the leading artists on the exterior of the German Pavilion but also two exhibition halls holding their work. Breker, the leading German sculptor, was asked in 1938 to organise an exhibition of German sculpture in Warsaw; it included 130 works by 37 sculptors.
Destined to be exhibited in public spaces, sculpture is more susceptible to political influence than painting, which is meant primarily for the intimacy of the home. Nineteenth century sculpture also celebrated nationalistic, traditional State approved values such as honour, heroism, and loyalty.
The National Socialists were quick to recognise that the traditional role of sculpture gave it power as political message carrier. But the role of sculpture as the most visible expression of National Socialist ideology called for a new kind of sculpture. The representation of humanistic values based on the consensus of society was no longer enough. Sculpture now had to be the carrier of specific National Socialist values. Added to the inherited codes of warriors orsoldiers were the war, the Party, comradeship.
Many themes expressed in painting also found their way into sculpture. Motherhood, the fertile female body, the peasant. But it was most of all the virile beauty of the male body that dominated sculptural output. Modelled on antiquity, the sculptures displayed steely masculinity. Hitler stated that the present is evolving a new type of human being ..... a new type which we watched as it appeared in its shining, proud, physical strength and beauty, in front of the whole world at last year's Olympic Games. This type is the symbol for our new age. (Hitler at München, July 18th, 1937, cited in Folkish Observer, July 19th, 1937.)
Hitler believed that only the Germans were called upon to render sculpture in its former beauty.
The common roots with Greece, the eternal link with the past, impressed not only the politicians; art historians too did not tire of proclaiming the message of the eternal German art: Our time is once more able to be Greek, wrote a government spokesman, Wilfrid Bade, in a preface to the book Deutsche Plastik unserer Zeit -- German Sculpture In Our Time. At this moment, when Germany is overcoming foreign influences of a thousand years and is returning to pure forms, works are created which are in their maturest and noblest examples the equivalents of Greek art.
Robert Stieler: Boxers
But the new German sculptures were meant to be not mere copies of antiquity, but something equal to it: a Nordic equivalent of the Greek model. The National Socialists left no doubt that these were German bodies.
The image of the new man -- an idealised male nude -- became the absolute image of the Fascist human being. The subject is primarily the naked body and the portrait. There is no baroque drapery, no theatricality which marks monuments with literary themes. These bodies repose in themselves, they do not lose themselves in insignificant unsculptural details. Their artistic level can well stand up against anything done in the rest of Europe. (Werner, Erster Gang durch die Kunstausstellung, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, July 20th, 1937.)
The male nude was tall and broad shouldered, with narrow hips. He represented the ideal of the Aryan race, embodying the virtues of the regime: comradeship, discipline, obedience, steeliness, and courage. It was not just an ideal of beauty that the National Socialists postulated but an ideal of being. These powerful messengers dictated men's moral code. By embracing the beautiful and the harmonious, art lifts man above himself. Reality is transformed into an ideal world; the experience of the individual becomes the experience of the whole Folk. If you have seen these works of art, you are bound to feel a nobler person.
To be naked also meant to be in control and to be classless, too. While at the beginning bodies were still clad, with the passage of time all was revealed. The new man knows no shame because his soul is noble. We have nothing to hide, we are the master race, strong and healthy, these men were saying.
They were godlike creatures above reality: timeless, eternal, absolute, and universal. The ideal of Beauty of antiquity, will be eternal as long as people of the same pure character and race exist ..... The race that marks the whole life of a Folk will also look at the arts with special eyes ..... Each politically heroic epoch will immediately build a bridge to another equally heroic past. Greeks and Romans will suddenly become near to the Germans, because their roots lie in the race. (Hitler, Party Day speech, Nürnberg, cited in Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, September 2nd, 1933.)
For the National Socialists, the naked man repeated the classical ideal of the heroic athlete in his naturalness. The Olympic spirit became identical with the German character, the order of antiquity the best bastion against the chaos of modern art. Exhibitions of Greek sculptures under the title Sports Of The Hellenics or Olympia And The German Spirit, and the big international Olympic Art Exhibition held in 1936 in Berlin, all promoted this idea, which Leni Riefenstahl captured in her film Olympia -- Feast Of Nations by skilfully dissolving between naked sportsmen and antique statues. In Breslau, The Decathlon by Georg Kolbe (1877-1947) stood next to a figure of a Greek youth.
George Kolbe: Commemorative Memorial, Stralsund, 1935
Everywhere there were discus and javelin throwers, rowers, and runners. The link between sports and art was further promoted by introducing special courses for artists at the official Gymnastic Academy. Organised by the Reich Chamber For The Visual Arts, these courses were designed to familiarise artists with the bodies of the athletes who would be sketched by artists during their exercise. In sports sculpture the presentation of the individual sportsman or sportswoman was often lifted into the realm of universality. They represented the spontaneity and joyfulness of physical activity. The many runners, discus throwers, rowers, and jumpers transmit feelings of physical freedom. Each muscle, each tendon, expresses strength and force. In their disciplined, steellike bodies they were representatives of a disciplined, steely Nation. The next step, the presentation of the warrior, was only a small one. It was always the same basic principle: the celebration of conquest and victory. The discus thrower became the symbol of the dynamic force of the whole Nation. If an earlier presentation of sport still showed the athlete clad and with shoes, the universality of the figures demanded now that these garments be shed. The only attribute was the spear or the discus, and even those were often disregarded. The statues of athletes which Kolbe, Karl Albiker (1878-1961), Arno Breker (1900-1991), and Josef Thorak (1889-1952) created for the Olympic stadium were entitled: The Athlete; The Decathlon; Young Wrestler. Artists who create wrestlers do not want to show an example of how to wrestle, but to express human strength and fighting nature. (Olympische Rundschau, April, 1939.)
Of course the nudity was chaste, and did not suggest voluptuous sexuality. The new generation, steeled in exercise and sport, knows more about the human body than the previous one. A healthy young boy does not think about the steamy studio atmosphere of the previous century with its genre artist and model when he looks at the work of Kolbe or Breker or Thorak's interlaced couple. He knows that a profound knowledge of the body is necessary to create such sculptures, wrote the art historian Kurt Lothar Tank.
Specific personal values were elevated to universal ones. Nudity lifted these figures into a classless and timeless realm. Their attributes too were timeless, the sword rather than a pistol or gun, which could be historically dated.
The public display of sculpture and the enormous publicity its creators received explains why, even today, the names of the leading sculptors of the Third Reich are more familiar to us than those of the leading painters.
Sculptors in many periods have found their inspiration in Greece. At the turn of the century many German sculptors had looked to antiquity The classical ideal as preached by the sculptor Adolf Hildebrand in his book The Problem Of Form In The Visual Arts, which was published in 1893, had a wide ranging influence on German sculptors.
Adolf von Hildebrand: Youth, 1884
Many of them, Adolf Wamper (born 1901),
Adolf Wamper: Genius Of Victory
Adolf Wamper: Genius Of Victory, Detail
Willy Meller (born 1887),
Willy Meller: Commemorative Memorial, Dülken
Kurt Schmid-Ehmen (1901-1968),
Kurt Schmid-Ehmen, designer: Eagle for the Luitpold Arena, Party Rally Grounds, Nürnberg, 1934
and Anton Grauel,
Anton Grauel: Rising, 1939
who all worked under the influence of Hildebrand, were easily adopted by the National Socialist art scene. The enormous demand for public sculpture prompted The Leader to commission many monuments from these artists. Only those who were considered too modern, like Gerhard Marcks, were rejected.
At the beginning of this century there were very few modern sculptors. Since abstraction developed much later in sculpture than in painting, relatively few sculptures of the earlier period had to be declared to be degenerate. The National Socialists also banned the work of Rudolf Belling (1886-1972), Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919), and a few others. Their elongated forms or rough surfaces were considered un German. In this context the work of Rodin was out, while Maillol's sculptures won much praise.
Auguste Rodin: The Age Of Bronze, 1876
François Rude: The Marseillaise. Arch Of Triumph, Paris, 1836
Many of the leading sculptors the National Socialists accepted were prominent artists before Hitler came to power. Fritz Klimsch (1870-1960),
Fritz Klimsch in his studio -- Germans like all works by Klimsch, but a new breath inspires the work, a new air and atmosphere emanates from these strong and proud limbs, expressing a vast, deeply stirring longing -- Uli Klimsch
George Kolbe: Ring Of Statues, Rothschild Park, Frankfurt-am-Main
Richard Scheibe (1879-1964),
Richard Scheibe: Standing Female
Richard Scheibe: Thinker
Richard Scheibe: Nymph, 1938
and Josef Thorak were popular in the twenties. Although at the beginning of the regime Kolbe was attacked because he had done poorly considered monuments to the Jewish poet Heinrich Heine and the Jewish statesman Walther Rathenau, Scheibe shared the same fate because of his idiotic monument to the Socialist Friedrich Ebert for the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. But both sculptors were soon allowed into the fold.
The works of Kolbe, Klimsch, and Scheibe were seen as the best examples of the realist school; they worked in the tradition of Maillol, which was widespread in Germany. The National Socialists embraced their work because, as a leading art historian well put it: We know that we owe to these three masters the salvation of a strong German form in the midst of decadence.
Like the painters, most of the honoured sculptors belonged to the older generation. Klimsch was already sixty three years old when Hitler came to power, Kolbe fifty six, and Richard Scheibe fifty four. After 1933 their work showed a heroic and monumental tendency, but on the whole it remained lyrical and expressive. Sometimes the impressionistic modelling of the surface did not blend easily with the smoothness of the architecture that was the ultimate setting of these sculptures. Nevertheless, the sculptors continued to work, and the National Socialist State became one of their great sponsors.
Kolbe's role during this period is ambivalent. His work fitted very neatly into the National Socialists' conceptions, but he did little monumental work, preferring to remained on the human scale. Unlike Breker and Thorak, Kolbe could never become an official artist of the Third Reich; his work was too private. However, Klimsch's work was easily absorbed into the official program. He was a favorite of Hitler. Klimsch's nudes stood in almost every town, and in 1942 a large exhibition of his work was sent to the Venice Biennale.
Another case of absorption was that of the southern German Josef Wackerle (1880-1959). He became one of the most popular sculptors of the regime. His work decorated the National Socialist Leadership's compound in Obersalzberg, and many facades of official buildings in München.
Josef Wackerle: Neptune Fountain, München, 1937
Josef Wackerle: Horse Tamer, 1936, Olympic Stadium, Berlin
Originally Wackerle was not a monumentalist. From 1906 to 1909 he directed the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory. Although he worked in the tradition of the München school with its baroque elements, he too fitted easily into the new cultural programs. His first monumental sculptures -- two horsemen -- were created for the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1935. An interesting sculpture for the regime can be seen in his Neptune Fountain in München. The horse and the triton are carved in the Baroque tradition, but the figure of Neptune is brought up to date: a young heroic man, the idol of the new era.
In sculpture, as in the other arts, the year 1936 meant a consolidation of the National Socialist aesthetic. Any impressionistic rendering or lively surface was shunned in order to harden the style. With increasing monumentalism the traditional materials of wood and stone gave way to the smoother and more precious bronze. The visual arts have returned to simplicity and to naturalness, and therefore have returned to truth and beauty, wrote Albert Speer in a preface to the book Deutsche Plastik unserer Zeit.
The appetite for sculpture as the perfect propaganda tool was voracious. More and more sculptors eagerly dedicated themselves and their talents to the noble National Socialist cause. Bernhard Bleeker (1881-1968) had created many monuments in München, ranging from a figure group, Sleeping Soldiers, to fountains, from oversize lions to naked youths. During the National Socialist period he also created many portraits of Party Leaders.
Karl Albiker, whose sculpture was influenced by Maillol, worked in Dresden. Beginning with small sculptures, he more and more opted for the monumental scale as he came under the sway of the National Socialists. For the Berlin Olympic Stadium he created the Discus Throwers and the Relay Runners.
Karl Albiker: Relay Runners, 1935, Olympic Stadium, Berlin
A student of Scheibe, Anton Grauel also moved from small works to monumental sculpture, portraying mothers and children and soldiers.
Ferdinand Liebermann, after studying in Paris and Rome, made portraits of Hitler and Rosenberg.
Arnold Waldschmidt (1873-1958) was a military Officer who came late to sculpture. The National Socialists were quick to commission him to make monuments to the German soldier.
Arnold Waldschmidt: Soldiers. Relief. Detail
Some sculptors, like Otto Winkler, Ernst Kunst, and most of all, Fritz Kölle, specialised in bronze figures celebrating the heroic worker.
Otto Winkler: Ironworker
Ernst Kunst: Knife Sharpener
Fritz Kölle: Miners; Miners, Detail
Sculptures of workers were relatively rare, however. Sometimes half clad, undressed as opposed to the nudity of the godlike hero, they usually carried the insignia of their trade. The absence of industrial workers was the logical result of the National Socialists' idea that the worker should be seen as an artisan, linked with medieval craftsmanship, thus saving him from the image of the urban proletariat.
The demands for monumental sculpture increased; the new stadiums and public squares required more and more giant works. Besides Breker:
Arno Breker and Albert Speer during a sitting in Breker's studio
Arno Breker: Comradeship, 1938, Model -- Embodiment of virtues and qualities that express the value of the Germans. Epos of timely and timely Germanic German character -- Werner Rittich
Arno Breker: Warrior's Departure
Arno Breker: Warrior, above a door in the round room of the Chancellery, Berlin
Arno Breker in his studio with a delegation of French artists, November 26th, 1941
Arno Breker working on Prometheus
Josef Thorak working on a model of Goddess Of Victory
Willy Meller: Commemorative Memorial, Dülken
Adolf Wamper: Genius Of Victory
Adolf Wamper: Genius Of Victory, Detail
and Kurt Schmid-Ehmen:
Kurt Schmid-Ehmen, designer: Eagle for the Luitpold Arena, Party Rally Grounds, Nürnberg, 1934
were called on to create monumental works. Wamper created many of the monumental figures in front of Party buildings: Icarus, in front of the Aviation House in Berlin; The Genius Of Technology, Hercules With Hydra, and the giant figures like Agriculture And Industry or The Genius Of Victory for exhibition halls in Berlin. Willy Meller created the large eagles, the carrier of the flame for the Ordensburg Vogelsang -- School For Leadership Training In Vogelsang, and the Goddess Of Victory for the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Schmid-Ehmen, a pupil of Bleeker, was commissioned to sculpt the war memorial for the Feldherrnhalle -- Memorial Hall after a project by Troost. The work, nearly 4 metres high, was officially unveiled in 1933. Schmid-Ehmen's official career was assured. He never stopped making eagles: for the Party buildings in München, the new Chancellery in Berlin, the House Of German Art in München, the Party Congress Grounds in Nürnberg, and for the crest of Speer's German Pavilion at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris:
The German Pavilion, International Exposition, Paris. Architect: Albert Speer
For the Zeppelin Field in Nürnberg he made the figures Faith, Fight, Sacrifice, and Victory, spelling out the four aspects of the National Socialist mission.
Female sculptures were also created in abundance, although they were mostly on a less monumental scale than their masculine counterparts. If the statues of men broadcast vitality and strength, those of women were always full of erotic promises. As in painting, the women were always blossoming, flowering, and young, and appeared in a lying, sleeping, or walking position. The iconography was often the same: the representation of woman made by and for man, determined by her biological function. She was the fulfilment of man's desire.
Antiquity and mythology furnished the themes. There were Venus, Olympia, Diana, Flora, Daphne, Leda, Europa -- Goddesses of fertility or the female erotic -- as well as the lovely Galatea, just as the men were often Gods of titanic strength and ecstasy -- Zeus, Prometheus, Apollo, Mercury, and Dionysus, a Fascist Olympus forming a link between the Third Reich and the Gods. All this greatly ennobled the art of the Third Reich and endowed it with a continuity by giving it an eternal validity. It also sometimes conveyed a picture of man that had nothing to do with reality: the presentation of a naked body was sometimes not enough; it had to be lifted into universal truth, into the symbol. While painting at least attempted to give a feeling of reality by depicting everyday happenings, sculpture freed its human beings from any Earthbound link. Of course, the frequent use of allegorical figures also allowed artists to paint nudes in fairly erotic situations. In using a well established pictorial tradition, they did not offend the much touted decency of the German woman.
Gustinus Ambrosi: Diana -- Not the happy huntress of the Gods, but the young female moving with radiant happiness victoriously aware of her perfect body. An inner quality seems to have been achieved which measures up to the classics -- Werner Riemerschmidt
Small sculptures in porcelain, plaster, or bronze also were popular. They were considered part of the tasteful middle class apartment.
Portraits too found many buyers. Besides the numerous Hitler busts, there were those of the leading personalities of the great Movement. The idealised head was also shown in young girls and women and in determined, fighting men.
Animal sculpture flourished, from the quaint domestic representations of the deer and the cat to the fighting eagle and the untamed horse. The taming of Nature was symbolised by numerous statues of men dominating wild horses. Many National Socialist sculptors took up this old motif of the horse tamer of antiquity -- Wackerle for the Olympic Stadium and Thorak for his giant 20 metre high statues for the Olympic Stadium.
The most famous of all National Socialist sculptors were Arno Breker and Josef Thorak. They became the Official State Artists, the exponents and inventors of the official National Socialist style. Both were offered many public honours, and the number of commissions they received for public buildings was phenomenal. Their prestige and their rank put them far above any other sculptors of this period, outdoing Wackerle in their size and popularity.
Josef Thorak had learned pottery in Wien. After decorating the King's Castle, he began to make a name for himself as a sculptor. Before 1933 he lived in Berlin and unwittingly had some Jewish patrons. The distinguished art historian Wilhelm von Bode, Director Of The Berlin Museums, wrote a famous monograph about him, and the Municipal Collection Of Berlin purchased a work of his in 1928, The Pious. It was Alfred Rosenberg who made Thorak one of the attractions of National Socialist art theory by giving him an exhibition in 1935 in Berlin, in which monuments Thorak had created for Turkey were shown. The critics remarked on the change that had come over Thorak's work. His personal and impressionistic style had given way to sculptures in which the powerful and strong is expressed, and the widening of his subject matter had led to a monumentalism. (Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, April, 1941.)
In 1938 the State gave Thorak a huge studio in Baldham, near München, designed by Albert Speer. In it he worked on 20 metre high models for his giant sculptures, destined for the Nürnberg Stadium:
Entrance to the Zeppelin Field, Nürnberg. Architect: Albert Speer
A widely shown documentary film depicts the master at work, using a live horse, which easily fitted into his studio. We see Thorak, the master of the largest studio in the world, dwarfed by his plaster models, like the Horse Jumping -- creations that reached 20 metres in height. Colossus after colossus awaits its final version in stone, pronounced the film commentary, abetted by heavy music. Most of the giant sculptures were first modelled in clay and then enlarged in plaster. In most cases the war prevented casting of the final version, which was supposed to have been in bronze.
In 1941, in the House Of German Art, Thorak exhibited a work called Couple, depicting a man and a woman:
Josef Thorak: Couple -- Heightened and sensitive creativity. The highest and best spiritualisation expressed
in a moving and shy gesture and pose -- Werner Rittich
The title indicated the universality of its message: it was the ideal Fascist couple, not lascivious, but tender, ready for action. Love should not be allowed to distract the man from his task of fighting for the Nation. The art historian Kurt Lothar Tank had this to say in Deutsche Plastik unserer Zeit: If Rodin's figures overflow with sensuality, Thorak's figures expressed something else ..... here is no sensual desire. The figures are, so to speak, chaste, yet there is happiness, the fulfilment of our life. It pervades the whole sculpture. Thorak's The Judgment Of Paris, made for a fountain, expressed all the demands for an ideal beauty and a readiness to conceive offspring.
Thorak also designed the huge Monument To Work to be erected on the Reich Automobile Highway:
Josef Thorak: Monument To Work, Reich Automobile Highways
The universality and symbolic nature of the project was underlined by Tank: The essence of the Germans is work. Here we see five people pushing a huge stone, but they are not five individual people, five insignificant slaves. They are five human beings, united through work. They are doing this work for the whole Folk. Once again art shows that only by becoming a mass can individuals best gain significance.
Hitler had a very high regard for Arno Breker. Breker, who was born in Wuppertal, had learned his craft in the studio of his father, a stonemason and sculptor. He then studied at the Düsseldorf Academy under the Sculptor Hubert Netzer and the Architect Wilhelm Kreis. Breker also went to Rome, where, together with Ernst Steinmann, the Director Of The Bibliotheca Hertziana, he worked on the restoration of Michelangelo's Rondanini Pietà, which the artist himself had partially destroyed. In Rome, Breker met Joseph Goebbels for the first time. From 1927 to 1933 he lived in Paris. At that time the influence of Maillol and Rodin became evident in his work, which included sensitive drawings and some fine sculptures. But as time went by individual traits and anatomical details were abandoned, and Breker opted for a smoother surface.
A flowery and very telling commentary to the change in Breker's style from the more impressionistic rendering of his early work was given in a widely distributed documentary film. Making much use of music, the camera tracks through Breker's studio, passing his early portraits, lingering on the casts for the statues for the Reich Chancellery, and ending with a close up of his portrait of Hitler. The early heads are marked by an uncompromising penetration into every detail of the face. Every thought is revealed, every individual trait has been captured with unfailing determination. Only a change in the philosophy of the artist could alter his passionate search for the subjective. A change that would lead to a form which showed what is generally valid rather than what is individual. Force has replaced sensitivity, hardness the fluidity shimmering in the light. And while the camera brings up the stern profiles of his warriors and heroes, the commentary continues: Everything that moves and deeply concerns our entire Folk is expressed in these heads. This head ..... does not tell the story of an individual; it says: I am the concentrated strength of Man! I am anger against cowardice! I hate the enemy of my Folk. YOU SHOULD BE LIKE ME! And finally ending on the Hitler bust, with the music reaching a crescendo, the voice reaches its final pathos: The images have changed, the face of the moment has become THE MONUMENT. Times are hard and the sword decides the vital questions of the Folk. The work of the artist has become a political confession. Here is everything that marked the art theory of the National Socialists, the reason of being of their art, its political aim and context, and the constant invitation to the onlooker to identify with the images paraded before him.
Arno Breker: Comradeship, 1938, Model
Breker's monumental reliefs Comradeship and The Avenger were exhibited in two consecutive years, 1940 and 1941, in the House Of German Art. Numerous reproductions were distributed also in the occupied foreign countries, a sign of the importance of these works for the National Socialist propaganda machine. They were part of a sculptural program which would eventually provide twenty four giant reliefs. Breker's monumental reliefs were not only telling examples of the new sculptural style: The devastating effect of these works lies in their all embracing symbolic import, wrote Dr. Werner Rittich in the magazine Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich., January, 1942. By this he meant that these works expressed the heroic will to fight and the readiness to be sacrificed, two qualities which became more and more necessary in a time of losing battles.
The two stone reliefs that visitors to the Great Exhibition Of German Art saw were only a small version of the planned final version. Small in National Socialist terms meant 5 metres. The final reliefs, in green granite, were intended to be twice that size. Together with the twenty two other monumental reliefs, they were destined to decorate a giant building to be erected along the East-West axis in Berlin. The axis was eventually to display eighty reliefs. Measuring 15 metres high, Breker's works would force the onlooker to look up at them: a gigantic row of pictures all celebrating the heroic virtues of the German Race. It was hoped that the exaggerated execution of the relief would attract the eye from far away.
The plans for the giant building were kept secret, but the public was informed about the gigantic task for the sculptor. Plaster models 1 metre high were made in Breker's studio for the other reliefs -- in a scale of 1:10. They included The Flag Bearer; Awakening Of The Homeland, with the figure of a woman, describing her role in accepting the sacrifice of men; The Caller, taking up once more the theme of the torchbearer; Warrior's Departure, a figure with a sword; Vengeance, The Sacrifice, a picture of a fallen soldier; Domination, and finally Destruction -- a reasonable accurate survey of the philosophy of the Third Reich, deeply embedded in a deadly war that prevented these works from ever being made.
Under the National Socialists' influence Breker developed an increasingly monumental style, and with it a brutal hardness and a feeling for the triumph of strength, although his portraits, like that of Max Liebermann (1934) and Aristide Maillol (1943) still echoed the subtlety of his earlier phase.
His real break came in 1936 when, in an art competition that demonstrated links between achievement in sports and the arts, he won two silver medals for his sculptures The Decathlon and Victory for the Olympic Games. For Hitler's birthday in 1937 he was nominated Official State Sculptor, which entailed not only a professorship, but also the gift of a giant studio. Breker employed forty three people, among them twelve sculptors. Hitler also paid large sums for the restoration of a castle in which Breker lived, and for a second studio which employed over a thousand people. Accommodation for them and a church and school were also planned.
Breker's honours were numerous and included a Mussolini Prize and a large exhibition in occupied Paris in 1942. His bust of Wagner stood in the Berghof. It now holds pride of place outside the Wagners' residence at Bayreuth.
Arno Breker: Richard Wagner, 1941
In 1938 he was commissioned by Hitler to sculpt two bronze figures for the inner courtyard of the Reich Chancellery. Hitler considered Breker's The Army and The Party among the most beautiful works ever made in Germany:
Arno Breker: The Army and The Party in the inner courtyard of the Reich Chancellery
I have chosen the two pillars upon which each State is built, the man of the spirit represented by the torch, and the defender of the Reich by the man with the sword, wrote Breker. The figure of the former holds a torch which greets the onlooker and invites him to lend his support. The figure lights the way: it is Prometheus. The Army figure holds the sword, emblem of victory. They inspired confidence in the two powerful foundations of National Socialist society.
The two sculptures encapsulated the basic aesthetic Hitler demanded from this art form. They also expressed a longing for eternity. They inspired admiration and legitimisation for the system. Everything about them is idealised: their hair, lips, bodies. It is the faultless picture of man modelled on antiquity. Everything is noble, even the material.
The title of Breker's Readiness of 1939 implies that this is man ready for battle,
Arno Breker: Readiness -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1939
an impression emphasised by the half drawn sword. The muscles of the legs and arms are emphasised. The hand is forceful, designed to grasp. The interplay between stillness and movement in the pose creates a deliberate tension that is the result of the contrast between reflection and aggression. As in many art works of this period, the function of this piece was to divert people's attention from reality and lead them into a dream world in which work and love, battle and achievement were formed into a new popular myth.
The National Socialists knew that the extreme details of rendering and its enforced realism would seduce the onlooker to identify himself with the figures and what they stood for. We can easily see the living image of a person; individuality is clearly visible. The gesture is natural. It emanates from feelings we can understand. The frozen pose became the ideal instrument of political indoctrination, the elimination of personal freedom. Everything about them is full of infinite possibility and of yearning; they are human and warm. Each gesture is dictated by an inner necessity.
Breker was asked to design many sculptures for the new Berlin, most notably a huge square with a fountain in the middle of which two jets of water were to rise 30 metres into the air beside a giant statue of Apollo 7 metres tall.
Breker's figures were often musclemen of iron with grim expressions; his model was the athlete Gustav Stührk). The sinewy bodies, trained in the gym, bursting with energy, represented the new ideal. All Breker's sculptures seemed to be destined for the sports field or the swimming pool. His statues expressed tension and wrath, humanity and antiquity. Breker's statues were images of masculinity and power. Their aim was to seduce the young German into becoming a fighter and to identify with a carefully planned ideal of omnipotent manhood. For this, intellectual probing or doubting was not required. These figures therefore should not be taken out of their political context.
In April, 1942, during the occupation of France, the German Government staged an Arno Breker exhibition in the Orangerie in Paris. For this occasion Jean Cocteau wrote an enthusiastic introduction in the exhibition catalogue, apotheosising Breker because the great hand of Michelangelo's David has guided you. In the Fatherland where we are compatriots you speak to me about France. (Bertrand Dorléac, Histoire de l'Art, Paris, 1944, page 83.)
The French sculptor Charles Despiau, whom Breker knew from his earlier years in France, also wrote a sympathetic book about the German sculptor. Breker's exhibition included quite a few of his earlier works, to show, as the German press pointed out, the change that had come over this artist due to the new philosophy. There were many of his latest sculptures: Comradeship, Prometheus, Dionysus, Readiness, Daring, and others.
Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich put out a special edition, in July, 1942, with colour reproductions of Breker's work, describing the tremendous success of the exhibition which allowed the Parisian art world to study the art will of the new Germany. The exhibition was highly publicised by the special Propaganda Department installed in Paris to monitor the art world in France.
Abel Bonnard of the Académie Française opened the show. A year earlier, at the instigation of Hitler, a delegation of French artists had, in the limelight of the press and the newsreels, visited Breker and Thorak in their studios. In the delegation were Despiau, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, Henri Bouchard, André Derain, Kees van Dongen, Othon Friesz, and Maurice Vlaminck. The National Socialists well utilised the publicity from this visit for international legitimation. On his return, Bouchard, the French sculptor and Director Of The Ecole des Beaux-Arts, wrote:
The German State wants the well being of the artist. He shall no longer suffer from the critics ..... The care of the State also extends to his personal life. Well known artists and sculptors like Arno Breker in Berlin and Thorak in München have been given large studios in order to fulfil state commissions for monuments which represent a gigantic and heroic humanity ..... In this way a great country honours its artists and their work, its intellectual culture and the dignity of human existence. It has recognised the value of art as a historical necessity. (Bouchard, in Illustration, February 7th, 1942.)
The trip created much ill feeling after the liberation of Paris, and the participants had to defend themselves against the accusation of collaboration. Nevertheless, after the war Breker sculpted the heads of Jean Cocteau, Ezra Pound, and Maurice Vlaminck, as well as Céline, Henri de Montherlant, Serge Lifar, Jean Marais, Salvador Dali, Konrad Adenauer, Ludwig Ehrhard, the art collector Peter Ludwig and his wife, and many of the members of the Wagner family. Breker was consistent in his choice of sitters, who were largely drawn from the rightwing establishment and the collaborators.
Breker bought many of his remaining sculptures in a private auction in 1961. For the rest of his life, another thirty years, they stood in his garden near Düsseldorf.
Under National Socialism the stone relief flowered. Like the large wall frescoes, the mosaics, and the many new fountains, it showed the renewal of old traditions and forms. Fusing sculpture to architecture and giving it a function was seen as a visible battlecry against the degenerate art for art's sake tradition. The scenic storytelling possibilities of the reliefs were widely exploited. All the monumental sculptors of the Olympic Stadium were commissioned to make stone reliefs. There was hardly a new building, from banks and insurance companies to ministries and hospitals, that did not feature stone reliefs.
One of the largest was Soldiers by Arnold Waldschmidt:
Arnold Waldschmidt: Soldiers. Relief. Detail
for the Pillar Hall of the Reich Aviation Ministry in Berlin. The large pillars formed niches, which Waldschmidt filled with a row of marching soldiers. There was a Storm Troop, guards with a band, The Leader on a horse taking up the central position, and a troop of flag carriers. It was begun in 1937 and finished in 1941. In its contents, composition, and rhythm this work is the presentation of the soldierlike, disciplined Prussian spirit, said Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich in January, 1941.
Scores of artists were commissioned to create monumental works for the sports arenas in Berlin and Nürnberg and for the new public squares in front of new official buildings. Kolbe, Scheibe, and especially Klimsch presented handsome Aryan types, and their works are far superior to the figurative sculptures in other countries.
Josef Wackerle's Horse Tamer in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin is a very good example of the monumental sculpture of the 1930s.
In 1934 a special decree was issued requiring the use of sculpture on all public buildings. Sculpture was to be taken out of the elitist confines of the museum and placed in public squares and sports fields. Sculpture was either fused with the building, in the form of reliefs placed in a predetermined space on top of the building, or displayed in front of a smooth wall. Many statues were conceived with an architectural framework in mind. They are frontal, with no attempt made to reveal them from any other angle than head on.
For the long facade of the House Of German Art, with its twenty two pillars, the architect Paul Ludwig Troost had planned to fill the twenty one intervals with statues. For the Great Hall planned to go in front of the Reich Parliament in Berlin, Speer had also planned an extensive sculptural program which would fill a pillared chamber. Hitler's own sketches show that most buildings were to be adorned with statues and reliefs. The wide display of sculptures in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin gives an idea of the kind of program planned. The entire area is peppered with gigantic sculptures, making it something like a sculpture garden. Sport, mass assembly, and art were thus fused to bring the message home.
The competition for the decoration of the sports fields was an open one. There were of course Breker's work for the House Of German Sport and Thorak's Fighters and a Hitler bust, this last by special request of The Leader. The rest of the many works ranged from Wackerle to Kolbe.
The Olympic Stadium is one of the few remaining complexes where one can still get an idea of some of the big sculptural projects. Among those standing today are: Karl Albiker's Relay Runner and Discus Thrower, Willy Meller's Goddess Of Victory, Adolf Wamper's reliefs, and Breker's Victor and decathlon figure. But on the whole, not many of the sculptures survived. The Custom House in München has only a few smaller figures, mostly portraits of Hitler and other Party Leaders. Many of the monumental works were never cast, and the gigantic plaster models that populated the studios of Breker and Thorak were destroyed by British and American terror bombing and by the Russian barbarians. Only the two documentary films of Breker's and Thorak's studios bear witness to the inspiring undertaking. The monumental sculptures by Willy Meller in Vogelsang are still there, but much damaged. Still intact is Wackerle'sNeptune Fountain in München. Some of the representations of eagles can still be seen in parks or on houses.
For Nürnberg, too, a huge sculptural program was planned. Thorak had been commissioned to produce several large groups for the Luitpold Arena and the Marzfeld (a military review field). Some of the statues, many still only the original plaster casts, which were shown in the official exhibition at the House Of German Art, were destined for Nürnberg. Schmid-Ehmen's lifesize gilded statues Female Nudes were meant to adorn the Hall Of Honour together with two Breker statues, Victory and Battle. The two Female Nudes were later renamed Faith and Honour. The sculptural program continued, but time and money were missing. For the time being the eagle and Swastika had to suffice.
Josef Thorak's studio with plaster models of the monumental sculptures for the Mars Field in Nürnberg
The importance of sculpture to architecture can be seen in the German Pavilion that Albert Speer built in Paris for the 1937 World's Fair. Thorak's two large groups in front of the pavilion, The Family and Comradeship, form a triangle with Schmid-Ehmen's eagle on top of the building (see illustration pages 246-47).
Josef Thorak: The Family -- Sculpture in front of the German Pavilion
They not only complement the architecture but they also broadcast a political message, the prime virtues of the regime: the eagle is the symbol of power. A third statue by Kolbe, Spirit Of Proclamation, gives the building a religious flavour (in German the same word is used for proclamation and annunciation). As in so many of the regime's buildings, sculpture and architectural decorations like pillars and braziers gave the building a pseudoreligious aura, which in this case camouflaged a trade fair, selling superior German technical innovation.
Right up to the end of the war sculptors continued to turn out figure after figure depicting noble subjects. The young man rides in noble dignity on his amphibious horse. The sower sows the corn. The warrior, his arm lifted in sorrow, mourns the passing of his dead comrade. The orator convinces with the power of his word. It is the task of the artist to proclaim manly strength and manly attitude and to reveal the beauty and soul of the woman. The works that bear witness to the creativity of German artists are documents of our being, for which we fight. (Deutsche Wochenschau -- German Weekly Review, number 518.)
The best sculptures were no longer mere works of art; they had been elevated to symbols. The symbol is the highest and the most difficult and therefore the proudest task of art. Here, it is no longer enough for the artist to portray the deep feeling of a slice of life, to let his fantasy loose, to create a dreamlike world. Here he has to find the most economical, meaningful expression of the thoughts and feelings of his Folk. Not just the representation of any figure taken from reality, but the creation of a figure that is the ideal image of the Folk. (Wilhelm Westeker, in Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, October, 1938.)
There was certainly no room for any critical so called intellectual discussion in an art which had been made into a pseudoreligious credo.
The Javelin Thrower -- Still from Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia -- Feast Of The Nations, 1936