Many people know that Adolph Hitler was an artist in his youth as an Austrian, but just howmuch art played a role in the National Socialist Germany seems to get underrated in the historybooks. Just as a racial war was waged against the Jewish population and the military fought theFrench 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 Germanicrace that existed well before history. Hitler had monuments and museums built on a grand scalewith carefully designed architecture that would last a thousand years. Art of this nature was apriority because Hitler wanted to capture Chronos, not Gaea.
He wanted to dominate the rest oftime, not the limits of Earth. Hitler was born and raised in the town of Linz. As a youth he studied art, primarily as a paintercapturing mostly the surrounding Alpine Mountain landscapes that he grew up with, but he alsohad 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 atthis time in his youth that Hitler and his friend, Kubicheck would try to finish an opera thatWagner had abandoned. This opera was about a leader trying to establish the Roman Empire byoverthrowing the Papal government in Rome. Hitler would remember It was in that hour it allbegan. 1Hitler thought of Wagner and art as the basis for a new government, nation, and people.
It isnot just coincidence that he would be surrounded by National Socialist leaders with backgroundin the arts. Joseph Gobbels, the Minister of Propaganda and head of the Reich Chamber ofCulture, was an experienced writer and aspiring poet. Rosenberg was a painter and Von Sherotwrote poetry. Hans Frederick Munch of the Reich’s Chamber of Literature said This governmentborn out of opposition to rationalism knows the peoples inner longings and dreams, which onlythe artist can give them. 2 Less than three months after coming to power, the Nazis issuedWhat German artists expect of their new government in March of 1933. One of the first projectsof 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 toemphasize 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. 3In the beginning there was debate on what exactly the Nazis were looking for in art. It is wellknown that the Third Reich was extremely hostile to Avant-Garde artists, but before the Naziscame to power, Joseph Goebbels took to the opinion that some German Expressionists werecompatible with National Socialist ideas.
These artists include Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, ErichHeckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Barlach, and Emil Nolde. Nolde was even a Nazi partymember, but these artists could hardly be called Nazi artists. They declared nationalism andwere very anti-capitalist. The Expressionists promoted sensation and passion over rational logicand were heavily into primitive German culture. Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg, and other seniorNazis attacked these modern artists as incompatible with the Nazi ideal because of there strongopposition 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 thepaintings—until Hitler came to inspect, and expressed his severe disapproval.
Then the ministersummoned me immediately. ‘The pictures will have to go at once; they’re simply impossible’. 5Upon the assumption of power, almost all modern art was attacked and artists of all sorts fled thecountry as work was confiscated and art schools were closed. There are many reasons Hitler attacked modern art. Such groups as the Dadaists and theBauhaus had close connections with the Soviet schools of Constructivism and Suprematism. These groups, while not necessarily Communist, were overly leftist ranging the gauntlet fromSocialism to Anarchism and was extremely anti-military.
Hitler also attacked the aesthetics ofmodern art. The Bauhaus was ultra-modern and cosmopolitan in it’s designs. It’s creations wereseamless global industrial works that lacked a recognizable element of German tradition andcraft. And other movements such as Cubism and Expressionism that distorted the picture toanalyze colour, shape and space, Hitler found to be an example of the Degeneration of cultureand race. On the day of the German Arts Festival in 1937, Hitler opened a dual exhibition tocommemorate the House of German Art, One of Nazi approved art called the Great German ArtExhibition (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 thingsother than they are—that there are men who on principle feel meadows to be blue, heavensgreen, the clouds sulfur yellow. Either these ‘artists’ do really see things in this way and believethat in which they represent—then one has to ask how the defect in vision arose, and if it ishereditary the Minister of the Interior will have to see it that so ghastly a defect shall not beallowed to perpetuate itself—or, if they do not believe in the reality of such impressions but seekon other grounds to impose them upon the nation, then it is a matter for the criminal court. Hitlerstated on the House of German Art’s inauguration. 6 This connection of degenerate art andphysical disability was best linked by Paul Schults-Naumberg’s book, Art and Race published in1928. This book paired up modern paintings and sculpture with photographs of diseased andmisshapen 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 raciallyconscious art that was within the limits prescribed, not by any artistic idea, but by the politicalidea. 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 reapingvictory after victory or participating in sport and shaping the body for battle in a friendlycompetition that would help shape his opponent preparing him for the same battle. And thefemale would be the lovely Nordic superwoman, a mother to birth and teach a generation of menfor work and battle. Another popular theme in Nazi art was the German landscape.
Hitler wasvery fond of the snow covered peaks of the Alps, but the portrait and genre paintings are of morepolitical and historical significance. Paintings of various figures high in the Nazi government were popular in art exhibits duringthe regime. Portraits of party officials, doctors, genocide experts and architects have been foundin abundance in nazi cellars after the war. Usually the paintings were patterned on Renaissanceand Baroque styles. Such paintings as Heinrich Knirr’s Portrait of the Fuhrer painted in 1937 showHitler posed in a powerful but stable position. Obviously based on Baroque works, this piece hasa non-descript background of trees and clouds that give an outdoor atmosphere withoutspecifically stating a place or time.
It relates to a nature setting that could easily be Germany orwhatever place that the viewer happens to be. He is dressed in military uniform like thenoblemen 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 isThe Flag Bearer by Hubert Lanzinger sometime after 1933. This torso shot of Hitler riding ahorse has him dresses in a suit of pure silvery armour, undented and unblemished, like aTeutonic knight.
He carries a red flag with the Nazi swastika. In this painting Hitler is bringing asalvation through warfare. Like a crusader in this painting, Hitler seems to be a visualcomplement to his speaking on how war and permanent revolution strengthen a nation and it’speople. The horse is black, and the background white. His armour is pure and polished.
The onlydistinct colour is the red Nazi flag. Separated and pure are the colours, like the people of thenew Germany are to be in Hitler’s eyes. Such genre paintings of the period like Gisbert Palmie’s The Rewards of Work also use theseparation of colour to represent purity of race. The golden seamless cloth being woven by theman at the bottom right of the picture flows around a centered beautiful Aryan woman. Thecloth’s colour matches her blond hair. The background is a rural farmland setting.
The variousfields can be distinguished from each other. The figures are out of time. A man picks fruit and awoman harvests grain while sewing and the caring for animals is being carried out in the pictureplane form a unity of the rural people (volk) and the cycle of nature. Their equipment forperforming these tasks of labour are outdated.
They use a spinning wheel for sewing anddressed 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 Hitlerproclaimed: Never was mankind closer than now to antiquity in it’s appearance and it’ssensibilities. 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 norbeen thought to possess for perhaps a thousand years. 7 The much anticipated boxing matchbetween the Aryan and the American negro proved German racial superiority to the watchingworld.
And the Olympic village built for the games was a utopia as grand and bogus as thevillages Potemkin built for Catherine the Great of Russia. Nazi architecture would be theachievement of the century. Hitler wanted to outshine Paris. By 1950 Hitler planned to have anew German capital ready. After the House of German Art, Hitler planned many buildings. Hewanted to reconstruct a Germany in the Grecco-Roman style.
His obsession with antiquity isclearly diplayed in his ruins principal that he formed with Albert Speer in 1934. This idea wouldhave the new constructions collapse in on themselves after a period of abandonment that leftruins similar to such famous structures as the Acropolis in Athens. Hitler said If here in thedistant 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. 8Forty cities had monumental building projects planned by Hitler and Speer. In 1939 a newchancellery was built because the old one was a piddaly cigar box in Hitler’s words. Suchbuildings as large as his Great Hall that could sit one hundred eighty thousand people andwould be seventeen times St.
Peter’s in Rome or his sports hall that held four hundred thousandpeople can far better be described in Richard Harris’s novel Fatherland that has a setting of1960’s Germany after the hypothetical Nazi winning of World War Two. But the fact is that theHitler lost his war. Even in defeat he was preoccupied with the art and architecture of the ThirdReich. Losing battle after battle, Hitler received the final model for his plans of a Hitleropolis inhis hometown of Linz on February 9th, 19459 and while in his bunker he studied the project forhours on end. He called doom art’s highest form of expression obviously bases on the fireyending to some of Wagner’s operas. A grand German fall would fill other German generationswith inspiration.
Hitler tried to obtain a timeless existence through the immortality of art. AlthoughGermany has yet to rise again from its own ashes, we still remember Hitler and his infamousdeeds. One could say he was successful. Bibliography1. 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 WisconsonPress, 1995. pp196-1984. Clarke, Toby.
Art and Propaganda in the Twentieth Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc,1997. pp62-635.
Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich andthe Second World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. pp10-116. Harris, Robert. Fatherland.
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