THE EXPOSITIONS OF
THE GREAT GERMAN ART
In 1937 the Nazis inaugurated the House of German Art and
organized the first exposition of Great German Art. In this
year -- 1937 -- the reins were finally tightened : Hitler made it
clear that the cliques of "dilettantes and art forgers" of the
modern art will be liquidated ....."they have had four years'
time to prove themselves," he said at the inauguration (see
For the Nazis, it was the final victory of German art over
modern art. It culminated in two exhibitions that would make,
they thought, worldwide history : Degenerate Art and the
first Great German Art Exhibition. Both "demonstrated the
artistic credo" of the National Socialist movement. "We do
not reject the Modernists because they are modern but
because they are spiritually destructive", wrote Robert
Scholz, one of the leading National Socialist art critics, in
The Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) was
built in a park-like setting just northeast of the
Feldherrnhalle in downtown Munich on the orders of Adolf
Hitler, to replace the Crystal Palace Gallery which had been
destroyed by fire in 1931. It was built under the direction of
Professor Paul Ludwig Troost who died before it was
finished. The building was completed by his young widow,
Gerdie Troost with the help of her associate Professor
Leonhard Gall in 1937.
The first show was a modest success. At the same time the
Nazis organized the exposition of "degenerated art"
(entartete kunst) which -to their great shame- was a huge
success as it showed artworks that were deemed
"forbidden". More than 250 artists, sculptors and painters,
were exposed at the first exposition of German art.
The themes and subjects of the show were strictly set out by
Hitler, Goebbels and Frau Troost :
* 40 percent showing landscapes,
* 30 percent showing ordinary people,
* 11 percent portraits of historical figures,
* 10 percent showing animals
* 7 percent still lifes.
The exposition revealed a great number of talents to the
German public and to the European public who came to
Munich. But most of those exposed were already well known
and famous German artists. Nazism did not create a genre
nouveau but emphasized the traditional tendencies in Art.It would be a grave error indeed to judge all artists exposed
between 1937 and 1944 as mediocre or bad. Most of them
were not Nazis but only admitted to the exposition by the
Nazis and were happy to find a place of exhibition for their
works which seperated themselves from the "modernist"
current. Secretly some of them however had probably deep
sympathies for the Nazi program like Josef Thorak for
instance. Others were more open : many artists working in
the traditional vein were eager participants, finding
themselves able to communicate with the masses, thereby
being released from the isolation of modern art. The poet
Gottfried Benn wrote these words to Klaus Mann in exile:
" I declare myself for the new State, because it is my Folk
that is making its way now. Who am I to exclude myself; do I
know anything better? No! Within the limits of my powers I can
try to guide the Folk to where I would like to see it; but if I
should not succeed, still it would remain my Folk."
Later in the 40s, many even praised the German soldier in
combat -like Paul Matthias Padua- which is normal for a
people as patriotic as the German and for a nation at war on
two fronts. Furthermore it would be another mistake to
think that all artists are anti-conformist, disinterested and
flee the conformism of mainstream art. Because essentially
Nazi inspired art was boring, conformist and unprovocative.
The paintings that exalted the SS men were made during
the war but on average the Nazi political message was
absent. If a "fascist" leaning was present in many works
of art we must not forget that European people in the 20s &
30s were massively conservative and anti-semitic. Modern
art, like Socialism and Communism, was deemed to be a
creation of internationalist and pacifist Jewry.
Of course many paintings glorify family life virtues and
women in the more traditional role of child raiser and house
keeper but no artist can be qualified as "Nazi" because he
supports those values, generally out of sheer ambition. It
does not make them "war criminals", no more than Soviet
painters were turned into doctrinaire monsters because
they exalted Stalin or the achievements of Socialism.
Sculptures by the German artists are generally beautiful and
the strong shapes mold by artists like Breker or Karl May
do not make them rabid Nazis or anti-semites either. After all
Karajan himself joined the party and nobody had ever
denied his genius. Is there a Nazi way to conduct an
orchestra ? And after all, why La Marseillaise by Francois
Rude (Paris Arc de Triomphe 1838) to the left would be less
Nazi than the Genius of Victory by Adolf Wamper ? Because
she raises her left arm instead of the right one ? Or because
her lines are plumpier, less thin and less agressive ? Maybe
but she is still inspired by victory and patriotism and the
whole issue remains highly debatable. And both sculptures
are beautiful and patriotically inspiring and inspired.
Furthermore a lot of works of the artists exposed in 1937
and after are still today selling very well. It suffices to look at
the records of auction sales on Artnet to be convinced of it :
if they were that bad as Nazis artworks, they would have
fallen in total oblivion sixty three years after the fall of
|LIST OF ARTISTS EXPOSED DURING THE 1937-1944 GREAT GERMAN ART EXHIBITIONS|
The list mentions the sculptor in blue colour and the painters in green.
Artists both painter and sculptor are in yellow. Click on each name to get more information.
|At the first Great German Art Exhibition, 200 sculptures were shown. However as time wore on, the |
numbers grew : 440 works by 237 sculptors were shown in 1940. This increasing number of sculptures
was caused by the fact that sculpture seemed better able to express the National Socialist obsession
with race and biology. It offered a body language people could identify with and on which they could
model themselves. In that sense, sculpture was seen as an enduring faith carved in stone and eventually
expressed better racist concepts and latent antisemitism. Some painters like Hans
Schmidt-Wiedenbrück chose to exalt the community of men and classes at war : his paintings are on the
verge of being ridiculous and exalt a patriotism of convenience.
Another important factor was that art was increasingly viewed as a complement to architecture.
Frequently sculpture and low reliefs were used on and in conjunction with buildings, enhancing the idea
of architecture as art. As we now know Hitler was a poor painter and a better building designer. Please
find below the complete list of the exposed artists in 1937 and with each artist's name (when possible) a
link to more information about him/her or a link to his/her current market value according to Artnet