Art the Nazis Hated

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When Adolf Hitler seized control of Germany, one of his first priorities was to ‘cleanse German culture.’ This involved explaining to the German people why certain art is degenerate, and then methodically getting rid of that art. 

In Hitler’s mind, modern art, and all art made by artists of non-Aryan blood, was degenerate. To make sure people knew where the line was, he ordered up a special exhibition creatively entitled “Austellung Entartete Kunst“ (Show of Degenerate Art). 

In it, paintings were poorly lit, hung in a haphazard fashion, and interspersed with Nazi slogans slamming the art.

Ironically, the Degenerate Art Show was a wildly popular, and there were lines at the door. At the same time, a few blocks away, the Nazis opened a brand new museum, the ‘Haus der Deutschen Kunst,’ in which they staged an exhibition intended to show off what proper art looked like. It was poorly attended, and, in the view of non-Nazi art historians, the art in it was mediocre.


Lines for the ‘Degenerate’ show in 1937


Interior of the awesomely successful ‘degenerate’ show


Interior of the awesomely boring ‘Great German Art’ show  

Hitler’s method for getting rid of degenerate art was to send his Nazi minions to all of the museums in Nazi territory to inspect their collections and remove anything that looked like it met the degenerate criteria. Some of that art was then sold at bargain basement prices at auction in Switzerland, some of it was saved by greedy opportunists, such as Hitler’s best bud and loyal #2, Hermann Goering, for their own collections. The rest of the degenerate art was simply burned! In all, it is estimated that, at today’s prices, the Nazis easily destroyed over a billion dollars worth of art.


Nazis burning books and art Hitler disliked

The bottom line result of Hitler’s grand collecting and cleansing project, other than the murder and torture of millions of human beings, is that we are missing a huge amount of art, and we do not know for sure what was burned and what was stolen.

Thanks to numerous organizations dedicated to keeping track of and recovering art looted during the Nazi era, new artworks are re-discovered every year, and there are ongoing battles to get the re-discovered works returned to their original owners.


A year after Hitler’s “Degenerate Art’ show, UK art critic Herbert Reed helped organize a sort of counter show to educate people about the awesomeness of German ‘degenerate art’. Here is a Sartle favorite, The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Max Beckmann being hung at that show:


By Francisco Serrador

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Francisco Serrador


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