The Portrait of Esther The Black Notebook

Hitler and ‘Degenerate Art’

Episode III - page 38

Léa explains to her daughter how Hitler, since his rise to power in 1933, attacked any form of art that deviated from traditional or classical representations.

Comparison between a Breker and a classical sculpture
Both sculptures represent idealized nudes. Breker’s statue however, may be said to display German traits and an overtly warrior-like stance that glorifies the use of force.

From 1910 onwards, numerous artists like Picasso, Klee and Kandinsky began to explore new modes of artistic expression, which would culminate in abstract art. Artworks gradually moved away from a faithful representation of reality, sometimes depicting an abstract arrangement of form and colour. Artists would suffer the wrath of the German dictator, who condemned all these types of art as ‘degenerate’, in other words, having lost their classical purity.

Totally against avant-garde art, Hitler imposed an official art which would be used as propaganda to serve Nazi ideology. This ‘heroic art’ presented works where the bodies of athletic warriors were said to represent the purity of the German soul, in contrast to the ‘filth of the foreigner’. Arno Brecker, the official sculptor of the party, executed a large number of artworks glorifying the regime’s ideology.

In 1937, the Nazi Regime organized a large exhibition devoted to ‘degenerate art’. The aim was to present the public with debased examples of avant-garde works, thereby glorifying through opposition, the values of heroic art. Amongst the works selected for the exhibition, a certain number was sold or burnt in public.