Monuments Men, the FuhrerMuseum and the Degenerate Art Show of 1937- How Hitler Disgraced the Art World

by Karen on March 2, 2014

in Art, Collections, History, Museum Issues, Museums in the News

I had the pleasure of seeing the Monuments Men movie this past weekend. Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Dimitri Leonidis, Monuments Men is based on a true story in which a group of museum professionals, art scholars and professors were sent into World War II Europe to try and rescue artwork that was in the path of destruction from war or being confiscated by the Nazis.

Adolf Hitler had many dreams to highlight the superiority of the Nazi Empire. One dream was to form the FuhrerMuseum, a massive museum and cultural arts complex in Linz, Austria, Hitler’s hometown, to display a specially curated massive art collection. In 1939, he established the Sonderauftrag Linz, a commission to systematically collect the artwork for his museum. While some works were legitmately purchased through dealerships or auctions, thousands of other art masterpieces were acquired when Jews were forced by the Nazi regime to give up major assets. Additional paintings, sculptures, books and artifacts were confiscated from museums, libraries, educational facilities, and monasteries across Europe as Nazi occupation expanded throughout World War II.
Hitlerlooks at model of his proposed FuhrerMuseum
Adolf Hitler contemplating his Fuherer Museum to be built in Linz, Austria after the war.

Even before he established the Sonderauftrag Linz commission, Hitler voiced strong opinions about what he considered worthwhile art. He favored art that was realistic looking and forwarded the strong values of the Nazi culture and systematically stripped artwork, books and music, and the artists who created them, from German institutions. In 1937, the Nazi party produced two art exhibits in Munich, Germany. One was the Great German Art Exhibition (GroBe Deutsche Kunstausstellung) which highlighted the works Hitler preferred. The other was the Degenerate Art Exhibition, or Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst” in German, which openly mocked those pieces Hitler and the Nazis felt were inferior.
Degenerate Art Exhibition 1937 with Adolf Hitler and Adolf Ziegler
Adolf Hitler and Adolf Ziegler visit the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, Germany, 1937.

The Degenerate Art Exhibition was widely attended, with over 2 million people visiting the exhibit. According to Frederic Spotts in his book, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, The Nazi party defined degenerate art as any piece that would “insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill”. The exhibit included 650 works by 112 artists. Many pieces were hung crookedly, without frames and surrounded by derogatory slogans painted on the walls.

The exhibit later travelled to additional cities and afterward, many of the pieces were sold. The Nazi regime took the artistic purging seriously, burning many works, but later realized that by auctioning of the art, they could financially fatten their war chest. Some of these pieces were later recovered by the Monuments Men, and some have continued to resurface in recent decades.

Here’s how to learn more about Hitler’s dreams of the FuhrerMuseum, the Great German Art Exhibit, the Degenerate Art Exhibition and the work of the Monuments Men:

*The Neue Galerie New York Museum for German and Austrian Art will be presenting a major exhibit, March 13-June 30, 2014, displaying pieces from the original Nazi Degenerate Art Exhibit. The exhibit is entitled: Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 and a corresponding book by the same name is being released on March 25.

We also recommend the following books and media. When you purchase these items through the shopping portal, a percentage of your purchase amount will be donated to your favorite U.S. museum, many of whom now have World War II confiscated art and Monuments Men stories among their collections. Remember to select a museum to support with your donation first, then click on the links below to shop. Thank you for taking the time to help keep history and art alive!

*Hitler’s Museum: The Secret History of Art Theft During World War II – DVD

*Degenerate Art: The Exhibition Catalogue Guide In German And English by Fritz Kaiser, a copy of the original souvenir book from 1937 translated into English.

*The Rape of Europa Documentary DVD

*The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas

*The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy To Steal The World’s Greatest Works Of Art by Hector Feliciano

*The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel

*Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum by Corinne Bouchoux and Robert M. Edsel

*Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice by Melissa Muller, Monica Tatzkow, Ronald Lauder and Elie Wiesel

Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece by Noah Charney

Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics by Frederic Spotts

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