Arts in Nazi Germany

Nazi leaders cared a great deal about and spent a lot of time involved in culture, specifically the visual arts. They enjoyed collecting art such as paintings and sculptures, and did so on both personal and state levels. Nazi leaders acquired hundreds of thousands of art pieces throughout their reign. This acquisition was only possible through collaboration with figures from the art world, not only including artists, but also museum directors, art dealers, art critics and art historians.

In 1933, the number of German citizens who were artists or entertainers exceeded those who were doctors and lawyers. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Cabinet formed the Reich Chamber of Culture to regulate the different cultural areas such as music, theater, visual arts, film and literature. This organization was led by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister, and included myriad professionals including architects, landscapers, interior designers, art dealers, painters and sculptors.

Initially, Jews were allowed to join the Chamber, but in 1935, when the Nazi government stepped up its policies of racial persecution, Jews were forced out of the art profession. In order to make art more "Germanic," many artists of the time were blacklisted, censored or otherwise destroyed. In fact, artists were among the first groups to suffer from Nazi oppression.

The Chamber of Culture imposed a professional ban on Jews; some non-Aryan artists, including Felix Nussbaum and Charlotte Salomon, were even murdered in concentration camps. Works of art by artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Braque were considered degenerate and were therefore condemned. Furthermore, paintings by Nolde were removed from museums, Beckmann's paintings were confiscated from public collections, sculptures were taken out of churches and other places, and other works were no longer allowed in galleries. Art exhibitions were censored, with the works to be displayed requiring advance approval from the Chamber of Culture.

One artist who was allowed to work in his field during the Nazi regime was Arno Breker, the son of a stonecutter and a sculptor. He studied art abroad, which gave him exposure among the more prominent artists of the time. After winning the Rome Prize in 1932, he was granted a fellowship in Rome for six months, during which time he met Joseph Goebbels. After returning to Germany, he joined the Nazi regime and changed his style of sculpting. Ultimately, Breker was said to be Hitler's favorite sculptor and was commissioned to create the statues that adorned the entrance to the Reich Chancellery.

Another artist involved with the Nazi regime was the sculptor Georg Kolbe. Kolbe was not initially in favor with the regime, but his works were displayed at venues such as the Olympic stadium in Berlin and the German pavilion in Paris, and he went on to become one of the greatest sculptors of the 1900s.

Many artists who had been successful before the regime produced sterile and strange art during the Third Reich. For example, Adolf Ziegler gave up his modern style of art for a more representative and realistic style after meeting Hitler in the 1920s. He was ridiculed by his peers but went on to be a powerful bureaucrat of the Third Reich. After the war, Ziegler was not able to re-establish his career as a result of his association with the Third Reich.

Josef Thorak was born in Austria and became a prominent sculptor at an early age. He specialized in large sculptures and his prominence caught the attention of Nazi leaders including Hitler. While working with the Third Reich, he attained much income, stature and fame. After the war, he resumed his art career and was commissioned to make statues for monks in Linz, among other activities.

After the war, many artists including Erich Heckel and Karl Hofer, whose careers had suffered by being blacklisted by the Nazis, signed a petition called "Against Hitler's Favorites: A Protest of German Artists".

Arts in Nazi Germany: Selected full-text books and articles

Art as Politics in the Third Reich By Jonathan Petropoulos University of North Carolina Press, 1996
The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany By Jonathan Petropoulos Oxford University Press, 2000
Hitler and the Artists By Henry Grosshans Holmes & Meier, 1983
Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits By Michael H. Kater Oxford University Press, 2000
Germany, 1866-1945 By Gordon A. Craig Clarendon Press, 1978
Librarian’s tip: "Cultural Purges, Official Art, and the Film" begins on p. 645
Essays on Culture and Society in Modern Germany By David L. Gross; Charles E. McClelland; David B. King; Gordon A. Craig; Gary D. Stark; Vernon L. Lidtke; Leonard Krieger; Bede K. Lackner Texas A&M University Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: "Songs and Nazis: Political Music and Social Change in Twentieth-Century Germany" begins on p. 167
The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism, 1933-1945 By Hilmar Hoffmann; John A. Broadwin; V. R. Berghahn Berghahn Books, 1997
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