Degenerate art

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Cover of the program for Degenerate Art exhibition, 1937. Note the word „Kunst“ (art) in scare quotes.
See also Art in the Third Reich

Degenerate art (German: Entartete Kunst) was a term used in National Socialist Germany to describe certain forms of modern art. Such art was discouraged or banned on the grounds that it was more or less subtle propaganda of anti-German, Jewish, or Communist nature; or that it was simply perverse rubbish. Those identified as producing such art were subjected to sanctions, aimed at preventing or reducing the influence of such art.

Contrary to popular opinion, the phrase "Entartete Kunst" (degenerate art) was originated not by the National Socialists, but rather by an early Zionist, Max Nordau.[1]

Degenerate Art was also the title of an exhibition, held first in Munich in 1937 and subsequently in other German cities, consisting of such art accompanied by negative descriptions.

Degenerate music is a similar term applied to certain forms of modern music and to a 1938 exhibition. The term was applied to both "elitist" music, such as atonal music, and to "popular" music, such as jazz.

Not just music and visual arts such as painting could be seen as degenerate, but also sculpture, film, literature, and architecture. One example is the Bauhaus art movement, particularly influential on modern architecture.

Less politically correct views

As for other aspects of National Socialist Germany, there may be various problems with, or seldom mentioned aspects of, the politically correct view. Some of the art allegedly "stolen" by National Socialist Germany has been stated to be "degenerate art" removed from museums.[2][3] More generally, some alleged cases of "stolen" art have been argued to be attempts to protect the art during the war, which was required by the Hague Convention. The artworks were carefully packed, appraised, and repaired. Had it been the German intention to "loot" or to "steal", then it is argued that it would not have been necessary to catalogue these artworks, with an exact notation of the name and address of the owner, if that was known. Hermann Göring is accused of having appropriated art for a personal collection, but this has been argued to be for a museum which Hitler intended to create in Linz, where he was raised.[4]

Regarding Richard Wagner and his influence on National Socialist views on art, see the article on Wagner and the external links there. Censorship of art for various reasons were and are common many countries. Many countries, including Western countries, had laws or other measures against, for example, obscenity, pornography, and blasphemy. The Communist Soviet Union, after an initial period with less censorship, strictly enforced socialist realism in art, in effect implying that some form of modern art were viewed as harmful for society. Today, many countries continue to have various forms of censorship of art, sometimes with harsh punishments, such as for blasphemy. One country with a blasphemy law is Israel.

Today, the German "Office for Youth Welfare" investigates some 1,000 to 1,500 cases each year: videos, CDs, DVDs, the internet and games. The authority may judge media to be "youth-endangering" and issue a ban.[5] Many countries use various measures to promote its own (traditional) culture, including art, and may, for example, ban or limit foreign media productions.

Less politically correct views on why some forms of modern art emerged include dislike of Western civilization and its art, dislike of Christianity and its traditional values and the many forms of traditional art associated with this, and a revolutionary agenda where art is intended to make people miserable and shock them in order to promote support for revolutionary changes.[6][7] Art, as being an important part of culture, has been an important part of Cultural Marxism. Pseudoscientific psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic ideas on the "unconscious" and sexuality have had great influence on modern art.

Jews have been argued to be very influential in the art world and on the development of modern art. One suggestion is that a relatively lower average visual than verbal IQ of Jews (see Jews and intelligence) has influenced Jewish views and support for different forms of art.[6][7]

The Entartete Kunst exhibit

Hitler visiting the Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937.

By 1937, the concept of degeneracy was firmly entrenched in national socialist policy. On June 30 of that year, Goebbels put Adolf Ziegler, the head of the Reichskammer der Bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Visual Art), in charge of a six-man commission authorized to confiscate from museums and art collections throughout the Reich, any remaining art deemed modern, degenerate, or subversive. These works were then to be presented to the public in an exhibit intended to incite further revulsion against the "perverse Jewish spirit" penetrating German culture.[8]

Over 5,000 works were seized, including 1,052 by Nolde, 759 by Heckel, 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and 508 by Max Beckmann, as well as smaller numbers of works by such artists as Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.[9] The Entartete Kunst exhibit, featuring over 650 paintings, sculptures, prints, and books from the collections of thirty two German museums, premiered in Munich on July 19, 1937 and remained on view until November 30 before travelling to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria.

The exhibit was held on the second floor of a building formerly occupied by the Institute of Archaeology. Viewers had to reach the exhibit by means of a narrow staircase. The first sculpture was an oversized, theatrical portrait of Jesus, which purposely intimidated viewers as they literally bumped into it in order to enter. The rooms were made of temporary partitions and deliberately chaotic and overfilled. Pictures were crowded together, sometimes unframed, usually hung by cord.

The first three rooms were grouped thematically. The first room contained works considered demeaning of religion; the second featured works by Jewish artists in particular; the third contained works deemed insulting to the women, soldiers and farmers of Germany. The rest of the exhibit had no particular theme.

Speeches of national socialist party leaders contrasted with artist manifestos from various art movements, such as Dada and Surrealism. Next to many paintings were labels indicating how much money a museum spent to acquire the artwork. In the case of paintings acquired during the post-war Weimar hyperinflation of the early 1920s, when the cost of a kilo loaf of bread reached 233 billion German marks,[10] the prices of the paintings were of course greatly exaggerated.

The exhibit was designed to promote the idea that modernism was a conspiracy by people who hated German decency, frequently identified as Jewish-Bolshevist, although only six of the 112 artists included in the exhibition were in fact Jewish.[11]

A few weeks after the opening of the exhibition, Goebbels ordered a second and more thorough scouring of German art collections; inventory lists indicate that the artworks seized in this second round, combined with those gathered prior to the exhibition, amounted to some 16,558 works.[12]

Coinciding with the Entartete Kunst exhibition, the Great German art exhibition (Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung) made its premiere amid much pageantry. This exhibition, held at the palatial House of German Art (Haus der Deutschen Kunst), displayed the work of officially approved artists such as Arno Breker and Adolf Wissel. At the end of four months Entartete Kunst had attracted over two million visitors, nearly three and a half times the number that visited the nearby Große deutsche Kunstausstellung (GdK).[13]

Exibition slogans

National Socialist Germany
Adolf Hitler
Allied psychological warfare
Book burning/censorship
and National Socialist Germany
Claimed mass killings of Germans
by the WWII Allies
Claimed mass killings of non-Jews
by National Socialist Germany
Clean Wehrmacht
Degenerate art
Foreign military volunteers
and National Socialist Germany
Master race
Munich Putsch
National Socialism and occultism
National Socialist Germany
and forced labor
National Socialist Germany
and partisans/resistance movements
National Socialist Germany revisionism
National Socialist Germany's
nuclear weapons program
Night of the Long Knives
Nuremberg trials
Pre-WWII anti-National
Socialist Germany boycott
Revisionist views on
the causes of the World Wars
Soviet offensive plans controversy
Superior orders
The Holocaust
The World Wars and mass starvation‎

There were slogans painted on the walls. For example:

  • Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist rule
  • Revelation of the Jewish racial soul
  • An insult to German womanhood
  • The ideal—cretin and whore
  • Deliberate sabotage of national defense
  • German farmers—a Yiddish view
  • The Jewish longing for the wilderness reveals itself—in Germany the Negro becomes the racial ideal of a degenerate art
  • Madness becomes method
  • Nature as seen by sick minds
  • Even museum bigwigs called this the "art of the German people"[14]

See also


  • Adam, Peter (1992). Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-1912-5
  • Barron, Stephanie, ed. (1991). 'Degenerate Art:' The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-3653-4
  • Bradley, W. S. (1986). Emil Nolde and German Expressionism: A prophet in his Own Land Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Research Press. ISBN 0835717003
  • Evans, R. J. (2004). The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: The Penguin Press. ISBN 1594200041
  • Grosshans, Henry (1983). Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer. ISBN 0-8419-0746-3
  • Grosshans, Henry (1993). Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer. ISBN 0-8109-3653-4
  • Karcher, Eva (1988). Otto Dix 1891-1969: His Life and Works. Cologne: Benedikt Taschen.
  • Laqueur, Walter (1996). Fascism: Past, Present, Future. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509245-7
  • Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut (1973). Art Under a Dictatorship. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Minnion, John (2nd edition 2005). Hitler's List: an Illustrated Guide to 'Degenerates' . Liverpool: Checkmate Books. ISBN 0-9544499-2-4
  • Nordau, Max (1998). Degeneration, introduction by George L. Mosse. New York: Howard Fertig. ISBN 0-8032-8367-9
  • Petropoulos, Jonathan (2000). The Faustian Bargain: the Art World in Nazi Germany. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512964-4
  • Rose, Carol Washton Long (1995). Documents from the End of the Wilhemine Empire to the Rise of National Socialism. San Francisco: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20264-3
  • Schulz-Hoffmann, Carla; Weiss, Judith C. (1984). Max Beckmann: Retrospective. Munich: Prestel. ISBN 0-393-01937-3
  • Suslav, Vitaly (1994). The State Hermitage: Masterpieces from the Museum's Collections vol. 2 Western European Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 1-873968-03-5

External links



Article archives


  1. Aspects of the Third Reich, Book Review
  2. The Heretics' Hour: The Degenerate Jewish Art World and the “New Antisemitism
  3. German taskforce finds only five of 1,500 artworks were looted by Nazi
  4. NOT GUILTY AT NUREMBERG: The German Defense Case
  5. Music forbidden to youth: Germany's "index"
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Plot Against Art
  7. 7.0 7.1 Adorno as Critic: Celebrating the Socially Destructive Force of Music
  8. Adam 1992, p.123, quoting Goebbels, November 26, 1937, in Von der Grossmacht zur Weltmacht.
  9. Adam 1992, pp. 121-122
  10. Evans 2004, p. 106.
  11. Barron 1991, p.9.
  12. Barron 1991, pp.47-48
  13. Adam 1992, pp.124-125
  14. Barron 1991, p.46