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Nazi Censorship of the Arts

"Entartete Kunst" - Degenerate Art


Example of paintings condemned and called Degenerate by the evil Nazis (click to Enlarge)

The years 1927-37 were alarming and terrifying for artists in Germany.   In 1937 The National Socialist Society for German Culture held an art exhibition in Munich.  The Nazis  called the exhibit Entartete Kunst, or Degenerate Art.   During this time  over 22 thousand art-works by more than 200 modern avant-garde painters of that time were confiscated.  Hitler declared "It is not the mission of art to wallow in filth for filth's sake, to paint the human being only in a state of putrefaction, to draw cretins as symbols of motherhood, or to present deformed idiots as representatives of manly strength."

The National Socialist Society for German Culture  declared artists of the banned paintings, mostly Expressionists,  Cubists Dadaism, Surrealist, Fauvists, nineteenth-century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist  to be  insane and morally corrupt madmen.  

Goebbels launched a vicious campaign ordering avant-garde artists residing in Germany not to paint.  

Particularly reviled  were some of the greatest painters of the time; Edvard Munch, Emile Nolde,  Ernst Kirchner ( Kirchner was so devastated by his exile to Switzerland that he committed suicide in  in 1938.) Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Dix, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Klee feared for his life and spent his years  cast out in Switzerland. The artist unable to obtain Swiss citizenship because of his status as a degenerate artist. The Nazis felt that these artists led young people astray and encouraged corrupt ideas. The upper echelons of the SS occasionally got together for 'art burning' parties. They would drink beer and throw darts at so called degenerate paintings, later burning the paintings in huge art pyre.

The justification for deciding on what could be classified as  "degenerate" art was relatively straightforward and spiteful: any painting or sculpture that was in conflict with Hitler's artistic philosophy, was considered to be "Entartete Kunst".  Hitler asserted "Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters, and window displays must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political, and cultural idea." 

Hitler preferred realistic genre painting, especially landscapes with windmills and beasts in the field. Many historians believe Hitler despised the artists of his day because he was never recognized for his own uninspired, lackluster paintings.  

In the late 1930s, Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Public Enlightenment,  had his minions scour German museums and private collections in search of modern, non traditional, avant-garde art-works. From the thousands of works confiscated, 650 were chosen for a special exhibit called Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). The exhibit opened in Munich and then traveled to dozens of other cities in the region. The curators purposely hung the paintings askew  with scribbled hand written labels in the hopes that the public would view the artists and their creations in a bad light. Millions of visitors attended these sham exhibitions.  The purpose of the exhibition was to show the public the stupidity, immorality, and depravity of the modern art movement. Hitler declared, "By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise."

Main Artists on the The Nazi List ....   singled out for special criticism.

Otto Dix German 1862-1942 Expressionist
 Vincent van Gogh Dutch, 1853-1890 Post-Impressionist
Max Beckmann German, 1884-1950 Expressionist
 Edvard Munch Norwegian, 1863-1944 Symbolist/Expressionist
 Emile Nolde German, 1867-1956 Expressionist Painter 
 Ernst Kirchner German, 1880-1938 Expressionist Painter. 
Wassily Kandinsky  Russian, 1866-1944 Expressionist Painter
Paul Klee  Swiss 1879-1940 Swiss Expressionist Painter
 Franz Marc German, 1880-1916  Expressionist / Fauvist

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