Nazi Art Essay

Many people know that Adolph Hitler was an artist in his youth as an Austrian, but just how
much art played a role in the National Socialist Germany seems to get underrated in the history
books. Just as a racial war was waged against the Jewish population and the military fought the
French and the Slavic people, an artistic cleansing for the Germanic culture was in progress.

Special Nazi units were searching the ancient arts of antiquity for evidence of a great Germanic
race that existed well before history. Hitler had monuments and museums built on a grand scale
with carefully designed architecture that would last a thousand years. Art of this nature was a
priority because Hitler wanted to capture Chronos, not Gaea. He wanted to dominate the rest of
time, not the limits of Earth.

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Hitler was born and raised in the town of Linz. As a youth he studied art, primarily as a painter
capturing mostly the surrounding Alpine Mountain landscapes that he grew up with, but he also
had an interest in architecture. When he turned eighteen he applied to the Vienna Art Academy,
and was rejected. Along with art, Hitler was fascinated with Linz, Antiquity, and Wagner. It was at
this time in his youth that Hitler and his friend, Kubicheck would try to finish an opera that
Wagner had abandoned. This opera was about a leader trying to establish the Roman Empire by
overthrowing the Papal government in Rome. Hitler would remember It was in that hour it all
Hitler thought of Wagner and art as the basis for a new government, nation, and people. It is
not just coincidence that he would be surrounded by National Socialist leaders with background
in the arts. Joseph Gobbels, the Minister of Propaganda and head of the Reich Chamber of
Culture, was an experienced writer and aspiring poet. Rosenberg was a painter and Von Sherot
wrote poetry. Hans Frederick Munch of the Reich’s Chamber of Literature said This government
born out of opposition to rationalism knows the peoples inner longings and dreams, which only
the artist can give them.2 Less than three months after coming to power, the Nazis issued
What German artists expect of their new government in March of 1933. One of the first projects
of the Nazi regime was the House of German Art (Haus der Deutschen Kunst), a large museum.

Quickly the Third Reich was forming it’s own style of art, as identifiable as Soviet Social-
Realism, but symbolizing the national and racial policies. And while the Soviets tended to
emphasize Literature, the Nazis focused on Visual art and Architecture. Nazi art was Neo-
Classical with a twist of German romanticism, heroicism, and nostalgia for the times of yore.3
In the beginning there was debate on what exactly the Nazis were looking for in art. It is well
known that the Third Reich was extremely hostile to Avant-Garde artists, but before the Nazis
came to power, Joseph Goebbels took to the opinion that some German Expressionists were
compatible with National Socialist ideas. These artists include Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich
Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Barlach, and Emil Nolde. Nolde was even a Nazi party
member, but these artists could hardly be called Nazi artists. They declared nationalism and
were very anti-capitalist. The Expressionists promoted sensation and passion over rational logic
and were heavily into primitive German culture. Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg, and other senior
Nazis attacked these modern artists as incompatible with the Nazi ideal because of there strong
opposition to authoritarianism and the individualism expressed within their work.4 Albert Speer,
commissioned to decorate Goebbels home would later write: I borrowed a few watercolours from
… the director of the Berlin Nationalgalerie. Goebbels and his wife were delighted with the
paintings—until Hitler came to inspect, and expressed his severe disapproval. Then the minister
summoned me immediately. ‘The pictures will have to go at once; they’re simply impossible’.5
Upon the assumption of power, almost all modern art was attacked and artists of all sorts fled the
country as work was confiscated and art schools were closed.

There are many reasons Hitler attacked modern art. Such groups as the Dadaists and the
Bauhaus had close connections with the Soviet schools of Constructivism and Suprematism.

These groups, while not necessarily Communist, were overly leftist ranging the gauntlet from
Socialism to Anarchism and was extremely anti-military. Hitler also attacked the aesthetics of
modern art. The Bauhaus was ultra-modern and cosmopolitan in it’s designs. It’s creations were
seamless global industrial works that lacked a recognizable element of German tradition and
craft. And other movements such as Cubism and Expressionism that distorted the picture to
analyze colour, shape and space, Hitler found to be an example of the Degeneration of culture
and race. On the day of the German Arts Festival in 1937, Hitler opened a dual exhibition to
commemorate the House of German Art, One of Nazi approved art called the Great German Art
Exhibition (Grosse Deutsch Kunstausstellung) and another exhibition of Degenerate Art
(Entartete Kunst).

From the pictures sent in for exhibition, it is clear that the eye of some men shows them things
other than they are—that there are men who on principle feel meadows to be blue, heavens
green, the clouds sulfur yellow. Either these ‘artists’ do really see things in this way and believe
that in which they represent—then one has to ask how the defect in vision arose, and if it is
hereditary the Minister of the Interior will have to see it that so ghastly a defect shall not be
allowed to perpetuate itself—or, if they do not believe in the reality of such impressions but seek
on other grounds to impose them upon the nation, then it is a matter for the criminal court. Hitler
stated on the House of German Art’s inauguration.6 This connection of degenerate art and
physical disability was best linked by Paul Schults-Naumberg’s book, Art and Race published in
1928. This book paired up modern paintings and sculpture with photographs of diseased and
misshapen people. A film was made in 1936 on this principle and shown in almost every city.

This brings forth the question of what Nazi approved artwork was. Goebbels ordered racially
conscious art that was within the limits prescribed, not by any artistic idea, but by the political
idea.7 The Nazi art had to represent Nazi ideas such as the Aryan body, healthy and beautiful.

The male would be strong and active, a superman, either a warrior, proud and heroic reaping
victory after victory or participating in sport and shaping the body for battle in a friendly
competition that would help shape his opponent preparing him for the same battle. And the
female would be the lovely Nordic superwoman, a mother to birth and teach a generation of men
for work and battle. Another popular theme in Nazi art was the German landscape. Hitler was
very fond of the snow covered peaks of the Alps, but the portrait and genre paintings are of more
political and historical significance.

Paintings of various figures high in the Nazi government were popular in art exhibits during
the regime. Portraits of party officials, doctors, genocide experts and architects have been found
in abundance in nazi cellars after the war. Usually the paintings were patterned on Renaissance
and Baroque styles. Such paintings as Heinrich Knirr’s Portrait of the Fuhrer painted in 1937 show
Hitler posed in a powerful but stable position. Obviously based on Baroque works, this piece has
a non-descript background of trees and clouds that give an outdoor atmosphere without
specifically stating a place or time. It relates to a nature setting that could easily be Germany or
whatever place that the viewer happens to be. He is dressed in military uniform like the
noblemen that were in full armour when this style was developed.

Another portrait of Hitler that confuses the barrier between Baroque and Nazi art even more is
The Flag Bearer by Hubert Lanzinger sometime after 1933. This torso shot of Hitler riding a
horse has him dresses in a suit of pure silvery armour, undented and unblemished, like a
Teutonic knight. He carries a red flag with the Nazi swastika. In this painting Hitler is bringing a
salvation through warfare. Like a crusader in this painting, Hitler seems to be a visual
complement to his speaking on how war and permanent revolution strengthen a nation and it’s
people. The horse is black, and the background white. His armour is pure and polished. The only
distinct colour is the red Nazi flag. Separated and pure are the colours, like the people of the
new Germany are to be in Hitler’s eyes.

Such genre paintings of the period like Gisbert Palmie’s The Rewards of Work also use the
separation of colour to represent purity of race. The golden seamless cloth being woven by the
man at the bottom right of the picture flows around a centered beautiful Aryan woman. The
cloth’s colour matches her blond hair. The background is a rural farmland setting. The various
fields can be distinguished from each other. The figures are out of time. A man picks fruit and a
woman harvests grain while sewing and the caring for animals is being carried out in the picture
plane form a unity of the rural people (volk) and the cycle of nature. Their equipment for
performing these tasks of labour are outdated. They use a spinning wheel for sewing and
dressed in Renaissance costumes to express the anti-modern position of the Nazi government.

1936 had brought Germany the eyes of the world with it’s Olympic games. In 1937 Hitler
proclaimed: Never was mankind closer than now to antiquity in it’s appearance and it’s
sensibilities. Sport contests and competitions are hardening millions of youthful bodies,
displaying them to us more and more in a form and temper that they have never manifested nor
been thought to possess for perhaps a thousand years.7 The much anticipated boxing match
between the Aryan and the American negro proved German racial superiority to the watching
world. And the Olympic village built for the games was a utopia as grand and bogus as the
villages Potemkin built for Catherine the Great of Russia. Nazi architecture would be the
achievement of the century. Hitler wanted to outshine Paris. By 1950 Hitler planned to have a
new German capital ready. After the House of German Art, Hitler planned many buildings. He
wanted to reconstruct a Germany in the Grecco-Roman style. His obsession with antiquity is
clearly diplayed in his ruins principal that he formed with Albert Speer in 1934. This idea would
have the new constructions collapse in on themselves after a period of abandonment that left
ruins similar to such famous structures as the Acropolis in Athens. Hitler said If here in the
distant future archeologists should dig the Earth and strike granite beneath, Let them stand bear-
headed in front of a glorious idea that shook the world.8
Forty cities had monumental building projects planned by Hitler and Speer. In 1939 a new
chancellery was built because the old one was a piddaly cigar box in Hitler’s words. Such
buildings as large as his Great Hall that could sit one hundred eighty thousand people and
would be seventeen times St.Peter’s in Rome or his sports hall that held four hundred thousand
people can far better be described in Richard Harris’s novel Fatherland that has a setting of
1960’s Germany after the hypothetical Nazi winning of World War Two. But the fact is that the
Hitler lost his war. Even in defeat he was preoccupied with the art and architecture of the Third
Reich. Losing battle after battle, Hitler received the final model for his plans of a Hitleropolis in
his hometown of Linz on February 9th, 19459 and while in his bunker he studied the project for
hours on end. He called doom art’s highest form of expression obviously bases on the firey
ending to some of Wagner’s operas. A grand German fall would fill other German generations
with inspiration. Hitler tried to obtain a timeless existence through the immortality of art. Although
Germany has yet to rise again from its own ashes, we still remember Hitler and his infamous
deeds. One could say he was successful.

1. Architecture of Doom. Directed by Peter Cohen. 90 Minuets. First Run Features. Videotape.

2. Architecture of Doom.

3. Payne, Stanley G. A History of Fascism 1914-1945. Madison: The University of Wisconson
Press, 1995. pp196-198
4. Clarke, Toby. Art and Propaganda in the Twentieth Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc,
1997. pp62-63
5. Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and
the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. pp10-11
6. Harris, Robert. Fatherland. New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1992. p276
7. Clark, Toby. p37
8. Architecture of Doom.


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