Arno Breker

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Professor Arno Breker

Arno Breker (b. 19 July 1900 in Elberfeld near Wuppertal, Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire; d. 13 February 1991 in Düsseldorf, Germany) was a German sculptor, best known for his public works in National Socialist Germany and his great contributions to art in the Third Reich.


Die Partei, Breker's statue representing the spirit of the NSDAP.
Adolf Hitler in Paris, 1940, with Albert Speer (left) and Arno Breker (right).

Breker was born in Elberfeld, in the west of Germany, the son of a stone mason. He began to study architecture, along with stone-carving and anatomy, and at age 20 was accepted to the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts where he concentrated on sculpture. He first visited Paris in 1924, shortly before finishing his studies. There he met with Jean Cocteau, Jean Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and Alfred Flechtheim. In 1927 he moved to Paris, which he thereafter considered to be his home. He was quickly accepted by the art dealer Alfred Flechtheim. He also established close relationships with important figures in the art world, including Charles Despiau, Isamu Noguchi, Maurice de Vlaminck and André Dunoyer de Segonzac, all of whom he later portrayed. He travelled to North Africa, producing lithographs which he published under the title "Tunisian Journey". He also visited Aristide Maillol, who was later to describe Breker as "Germany's Michelangelo".

In 1932, he was awarded a prize by the Prussian Ministry of Culture, which allowed him to stay in Rome for a year. In 1934 he returned to Germany on the advice of Max Liebermann. At this time Alfred Rosenberg, editor of the National Socialist newspaper Völkischer Beobachter, actually denounced some of Breker's work as degenerate art. However, Breker was supported by many party leaders, especially Adolf Hitler. Even Rosenberg later hailed his sculptures as expressions of the "mighty momentum and will power” (“Wucht und Willenhaftigkeit”) of National Socialist Germany.[1] He took commissions from the party officials from 1933 through 1942, for example participating in a show of his work in occupied Paris in 1942, where he met Jean Cocteau, who appreciated his work.

He maintained personal relationships with Albert Speer and with Hitler. In 1936 he won the commission for two sculptures representing athletic prowess, intended for the 1936 Olympic games, one representing a Decathlete (“Zehnkämpfer”) and the other The Victress (“Die Siegerin”). In 1937 he married Demetra Messala, a Greek model. The same year, Breker was made "official state sculptor" by Hitler, given a large property and provided a studio with thousand assistants. Hitler also exempted him from military service. His twin sculptures The Party and The Army held a prominent position at the entrance to the Reich Chancellery.

The neoclassical nature of his work, with titles like Comradeship, Torchbearer, and Sacrifice, typified National Socialist ideals. On closer inspection, though, the proportions of his figures, the highly colouristic treatment of his surfaces (the strong contrasts between dark and light accents), and the melodramatic tension of their musculatures perhaps invites comparison with the Italian Mannerist sculptors of the 16th century. This Mannerist tendency to Breker's neoclassicism may suggest closer affinities to concurrent expressionist tendencies in German Modernism than is acknowledged.

After the war

Until the fall of the Third Reich, Breker was a professor of visual arts in Berlin. While nearly all of his sculptures survived WWII, more than 90 % of his public work was destroyed by the allies after the war. In 1948 Breker was designated as a "fellow traveller" of the National Socialists and fined, upon which he returned to Düsseldorf. The latter city remained his base, with periods of residence in Paris. During this time he worked as an architect. However, he continued to receive commissions for sculptures, producing a number of works in his familiar classical style, working for businesses and individual patrons. He also produced many portrait sculptures.

In 1970, he was commissioned by the king of Morocco to produce work for the United Nations Building in Casablanca, but the work was destroyed. Many other works followed, including portraits of Anwar Sadat and Konrad Adenauer. Breker's rehabilitation continued, culminating in plans for the creation of a Breker museum, funded by the Bodenstein family, who set aside the castle of Nörvenich (between Aachen and Cologne) for the purpose. The Arno Breker Museum was inaugurated in 1985.

Breker's rehabilitation led to backlashes from anti-National Socialist activists, including controversy in Paris when some of his works were exhibited at the Pompidou Center in 1981. In the same year anti-Breker demonstrations accompanied an exhibition in Berlin. Breker's admirers insisted that he had never been a supporter of National Socialist ideology (despite being a member of the NSDAP), but had simply accepted their patronage.

Breker's last major work was a monumental sculpture of Alexander the Great intended to be located in Greece.

Portraits (mostly in bronze)

Breker carves a portrait of Albert Speer in 1940.
Berufung (The Call)
Adler des Zeus
Die Bereitschaft (The Readiness / The Willingness)
Jünglingsgestalt (Youthful Figure) by Arno Breker

Sculptures 1935–1945

  • Prometheus (1935)
  • Relief am Gebäude der Lebensversicherung Nordstern, Berlin (1936)
  • Der Zehnkämpfer fürs Olympia-Stadion, Berlin (1936, Silvermedal)
  • Die Siegerin fürs Olympia-Stadion, Berlin (1936)
  • Dionysos fürs Olympia-Dorf, Berlin (1936)
  • Der Verwundete (1938)
  • Der Rosseführer (1938)
  • Anmut (1938)
  • Fackelträger („Die Partei“) im Hof der Neuen Reichskanzlei (1939)
  • Schwertträger („Die Wehrmacht“) im Hof der Neuen Reichskanzlei (1939)
  • Der Künder (1939)
  • Der Wäger (1939)
  • Bereitschaft (1939)
  • Der Rächer (1940)
  • Kameraden (1940), Breker-Museum
  • Bannerträger (1940)
  • Abschied (1940)
  • Vernichtung (1940)
  • Opfer (1940)
  • Schreitende (1940)
  • Der Wächter (1941)
  • Psyche (1941)
  • Berufung (1941)
  • Der Sieger (1942)
  • Kniende (1942)
  • Eos (1942)
  • Flora (1943)


  • Der Genius (1938)
  • Der Kämpfer (1938)
  • Apollo und Daphne
  • Auszug zum Kampf (1941)
  • Aufbruch der Kämpfer (1940/41)
  • Der Rufer (1941)
  • Orpheus and Eurydice (1944, Breker-Museum)

Books by and on Arno Breker

  • Dominique Egret (Hg.): Arno Breker. Ein Leben für das Schöne, A life for the Beautiful, 352 S., 600 Photographs, 1997, German, English, French. ISBN 3-87847-157-2.
  • Hermann Leber: Rodin, Breker, Hrdlicka ISBN 3-487-10722-8
  • Volker G. Probst: Das Pietà-Motiv bei Arno Breker. 1985.
  • Volker G. Probst: Der Bildhauer Arno Breker – Eine Untersuchung, Marco Edition, ISBN 3-921754-07-0.
  • Volker G. Probst: Das Bildnis des Menschen im Werk von Arno Breker, Studio de L'Art 1981 Berlin, Marco-VG, ISBN 3-921754-13-5.
  • Arno Breker: Schriften, 190 S., zahlreiche Abbildungen, Einleitung F.J. Hall, Marco Bonn-Paris-New York, ISBN 3-921754-19-4.
  • B. John Zavrel: Arno Breker - His Art and Life, 1985 West-Art USA, ISBN 0-914301-01-2
  • Arno Breker: Begegnungen und Betrachtungen, 1987, Marco Paris-New York, ISBN 3-921754-27-5.
  • Dr. Hans Klier: Arno Breker - Form und Schönheit, 1978 Salzburger Kulturvereinigung, Marco-Edition Bonn-Paris.
  • B. John Zavrel: Interview with Arno Breker: The divine Beauty in Art, New York, 1982, West-Art USA ISBN 0-914301-04-7.
  • Uwe Möller: Arno Breker - Zeichnungen - Drawings - Dessins 1927-1990, Bildband mit 110 Handzeichnungen, Museums-Edition. ISBN 3-921754-37-2
  • Roger Peyrefitte: Hommage a Arno Breker, 1980, Marco-Editeur Paris. mit 8 Originallithographien.
  • Reagan/Bush/Carstens: Salut America (zu 300 Jahre Einwanderung USA), Lithographien von Arno Breker. West-Art, N.Y.
  • Charles Despiau: Arno Breker, 1942, Bildband zur Retrospektive in der Orangerie Paris. Edition Flammarion/Frankreich.
  • Paul Morand, Dali, Fuchs u.a.: Hommage a Arno Breker zum 75. Geburtstag des Künstlers 1975, Edition Mourlot/Marco Paris.
  • Rolf Schilling: Eros und Ares - Begegnung mit Breker, 1994, Edition Arnshaugk ISBN 3-926370-21-1
  • Arno Breker - Über allem Schönheit, Farb-Katalog als Festgabe zum 100.Geburtstag. Edition Dr. S. Nöhring/Museum Europäische Kunst

Films / Video

  • Arno Breker – Harte Zeit, starke Kunst, by Arnold Fanck, Hans Cürlis, Riefenstahl-Film GmbH, Berlin (1944)
  • Arno Breker - Skulpturen und Musik, by Marco J. Bodenstein, 20 Minuten, Marco-Edition Bonn.
  • Arno Breker - Deutsche Lebensläufe, Farbfilm 60 Minuten, Marco-VG, Bonn
  • Paris-Rom-Berlin und Arno Breker, and Interview with Albert Speer. Farbfilm, 60 Minuten, EKS Museum Europäische Kunst, Schloss 52388 Nörvenich.

External links