Nazi Germany regulated and controlled the art produced between 1933 and 1945 to ensure they embodied the values they wished to indoctrinate into the German people. The notion of ‘volk’ people and ‘blut und boden’ soil and blood was championed in paintings to glorify an idealized rural Germany and instill a sense of ‘superiority’ in the Nordic physicality. Highly veristic and asthetisized works romanticized everyday subjects and reiterated redundant stereotyped Nazi ideals of the human body and its purposes in the Reich.
Paintings of Adolf Hitler valorized and his image to heroic status, even to the extent of deification, elevating him to a god-like status. By promoting Hitler as superior to the average person, the artist made Hitler a mythological being who, if followed with unconditional religious piety, would lead the Germanic race to an ideal future. The architecture, or so-called ‘ideology in stone’, was also a vessel for political ideology. The monumental buildings served to construct a pseudo-history to authenticate the stable, strong and righteous nature of the ‘thousand year Reich’.Order now
Thus, art in the Third Reich was merely a form of propaganda that insidiously promoted the superiority of the Nordic race, the need for loyalty and obedience and the invulnerability of the German nation. Images of the Nordic peasant endorsed a return to a pre-industrial idyllic rural Germany. The oil painting ‘Kalenberg Farm Family’, by Adolf Wissel, depicts an intimate domestic situation of a family relaxing, presumably after a day of ‘working the land’, in a tranquil natural setting.
It is an easily accessible work, that the Dadaist Duchamp would label ‘retinal art’, as it is an aesthetically motivated and stylistically anti-modernist piece. The rich warm colours are inviting, serving to emphasize the serenity and timelessness of the scene. The composition is extremely ordered, controlled, and dignified, there is no indication of social unrest under the rule of the Third Reich, it is an ideal Utopia where the every day person a subject worthy of intense interest.
This is a blatant celebration of the virtues of a simple rural life that in reality did not exist as it presents the family in such positive and reverent way, a stereotyped ‘perfect’ standard for German families to aspire to. This was an extremely popular subject as indicated by the multitudes of paintings that were similar in genre, for example ‘Rest During the Harvest’ by George Gunter, and ‘Farm Girls returning from the Fields’ by Leopold Schmutzter.
Hitler said that art should be the ‘expressions of the soul and ideals of the community’ and these painting certainly do present the ideals of life that the National Socialists chose to privilege. These values in turn, like a circulatory motion encouraged the feelings and values of the German people who saw it, by instilling a sense of national pride in a wholesome and righteous life dictated by the Nazi values. Nazi ideology is also illustrated by ‘Ploughing’, by Julius Paul Junghan; this is more specifically linked to the notion of ‘blood and soil’.
A person who works with the land achieves a spiritual unity with it, so that they become a part of the natural world and integral to both the continuances of its fertility and yours. The painting displays this ancient German ideology that was appropriated and extended by the Nazis to rationalize the policy of Lebensraum or ‘living space’ so that the superior Nordic race could control over and order the land of other inferior nations. The oil landscape painting depicts a man reigning three sturdy workhorses with an archaic plow.
The eyes are drawn from the three horses to the ‘intellectual’ force behind the action with sweeping converging lines, thus ploughing the land is a collective action, shared between farmer and animal, working towards a better field, or in symbolic terms a better Germany. Again a highly romanticized image of life entwined with nature is presented to manipulate the viewer, it forces them to connect hard work to achieve a collective goal plowing the soil ready for planting with moral righteousness.
This theme is reiterated repeatedly almost to exhaustion in such works as ‘Ploughing in the Evening’ by Willy Jackel, and ‘The Sower’ by Oskar Martin-Ambach. The Nazi ideals are embodied more implicitly in ‘Ploughing’ than ‘Kalenburg Farm Family’, as on a sub-conscious level the positive view of expansionist values, the farmer representing a hard working Germany, who is regulator of the land representing European countries, acts to subtly alter personal views on the Nazi situation. Water Sports’ painted by Albert Janesh in 1936 is a prime example of the way National Socialists encouraged, through the commissioning of the piece, ‘collective action’ and the superiority of the Germanic body. There is a great sense of movement in this veristic depiction of a canoe race, where so-called examples of the ‘perfection’ of the ‘pure’ blood male Aryans harmoniously working together in their respective teams.
The painting conforms to stereotypical representations of the male body who is an agent of action, the rowers enforce their will upon the elements of nature water, wind and surge forward to the finish line, symbolic of the glorious future. The sculptured bodies of the men resemble the classical ideals appropriated by the Nazis from Grecian statutes, the way the men are articulated as having bulging toned muscles, fair skin and hair and as examples of superior strength and will of the ‘pure’ blooded Aryan male.
The piece obliquely champions the notion of the individual conforming to the group and being unified in both physical and intellect strength. Whether rowing in a race, building the new German nation, or fighting as one force against the enemy, becoming homogenous with the crowed will result in success. In this way ‘Water Sports’ is discouraging independent thought and rational evaluation of Nazi actions, and urging the unanimous and uncritical following of the National Socialist ideology. ‘Hitler and God’ painted by Toust, is a more explicit depiction of the need for absolute and unconditional trust in Nazi actions.
The piece portrays Hitler triading in front of an avid crowed; we only see his back, but assume it the ‘glorious’ Fuhrer because of the title. The way the painting is articulated, Hitler is literally deified â€“ he is elevated to a god-like status. There are three religious references present, firstly there is a luminescent aura or halo surrounding his head, and this is often depicted in Jesus icons. Secondly, the positioning of his hand, in a blessing motion, combined with the extreme symmetry of the ‘disciples’ could possibly be a reference Leonardo Da Vinci’s 1497 Mural ‘The Last Supper’.
This is connoting that Hitler is in direct contact with, or a medium through which God acts and therefore Hitler cannot be wrong. Thirdly, in the foreground, the swastika stands within a semi-circle, both flaming and bringing light to the night. Toust constructs a sense of reverence here, postulating that Germany has been through ‘dark times’, hence the fact that it is nighttime, but the purifying flames of the Nazis represented by the swastika bring light and order to chaos.
This is a simplistic glorified portrayal of Hitler, constructed to initiate a sense of awe within those that saw it, and encouraged a link between Hitler and religion. Another painting that uses a similar tactic is Hermann Otto Hoyer’s ‘In the Beginning Was the Word’ in which Hitler is again linked to God through his ‘words of power’. These paintings act to legitimize the power of the National socialists by equating Hitler with the righteousness of God, and construct a pseudo-religion to be followed without question. Hitler as a superior being is also illustrated in Lanzinger’s ‘The Flag Bearer’.
The painting portrays Hitler the leader and representative of the national socialist party as a superior superhuman being. In the profile he is depicted as a medieval Knight, facing steadfastly forward bearing a Nazi flag in his right hand that sways ‘heroically’ in the wind. This is an ideologically saturated piece drawing on the German history of Tutonic knights medieval militant group who conquered Poland to instill a sense strength. Hitler is presented as a clear headed, determined leader who has the power to lead the Germanic people to a ‘glorious future’ of mythological greatness.
As in ‘Water Sports’ the Aryan body is celebrated with veristic precision, every shine on the silver armor is emphasized as evidence of the light and purity that seems to radiates from the actual person, in this way the body is labeled the bastion against Jewish, Asian and African influence. These two elements, the reference to the past, and the celebration of the Nordic physicality, work to imbue the Nazi’s political program represented by its leader as principled, trustworthy, and pure, therefore above criticism.
Architecture in the Third Reich was also used as a political instrument by the Nazis with two main agendas; firstly, to weight the national socialist party with a sense of history, and secondly, to induce a type of militaristic behavior in those who saw it. Paul Ludwig Troost’s ‘Fuhrer Building’ in Munich is a prime example of the effect the building had on the German people. The medium of stone was used to construct the building, although it was more expensive and laborious, to construct a sense of stability and spurious eternal value.
Hitler said that the buildings ‘should not be conceived for the year 1942, nor for the 2000, but like the cathedrals of the past they will stretch into the millennium of the future. ‘ The strong vertical lines and noble pillars are marked by an ‘heroic severity of tone,’ and a deliberate heaviness or sense of the monumental aids in the construction of it being and eternal structure. By drawing on neo-classical designs and in turn ancient Grecian and Roman styles, the building imbues a sense of pseudo-history in the people.
The inset windows create art fortress like, and add to the idea of an impenetrable and invulnerable building, and therefore Germany. The building was constructed to be a physical testament to the power of the National Socialist Party, and proof that they had the strength to lead the Germanic people into a future of prosperity and above all stability. Thus a sense of national pride was induced, and a confidence in the competence of the Nazis way of life occurred. There was an extremely deliberate effort to influence the way people acted around such establishments.
It was monumental in its size, practically towering over the people below, thus insinuating that it is not the individual who counts in the long run, rather it homogenous mass that is remembered. The buildings such as the Fuhrer building, and the House of German Law act as symbols of teamwork and conformity, the straight vertical columns are like the lines of soldiers marching in unison. The highly symmetrical nature of the monumental buildings and lack of decorative features evoked a sense of militaristic order and balance, and induced a formal behavior from citizens.
The bare Spartan qualities were perhaps an attempt to embody ancient Roman virtues and nobility into the common German citizen, thus to encourage the sacrificing of personal time and effort for the ‘greater good’ of the nation. The swastika symbol and the eagle were often prominent features of Nazi architecture. The Swastika obviously points to the creators of the building, and forces the monumental size of the structure and the power of the National Socialist party to be conflated, thus attempting to cajole the German people into treat the Nazis with more formal respect.
The eagle is the rapacious emblem of the right to rule, tying in notions of royalty and nobility, thus subtly discouraging any criticism of Nazi power. Yet, the positive enforcement of Nazi ideology through the production of works that embody their values was not the only means of enforcing political hegemony. The marginalization of works that did not conform to naturalistic standards was marginalized in quite violent ways.
The ‘Entartete Kunstausstellung’ Degenerate art exhibition, as the name suggests displayed all artworks that did not conform to the static naturalism, in an attempt to mock and undermine styles of modern art. The artists themselves were labeled ‘cultural vandals’ and ‘criminals’ who did not paint realistically because they had no real skill. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Propaganda passed laws forbidding the production of ‘degenerate’ art, such as DADA, cubism and expressionism, and in 1936 placed a ban on all literary criticism about Nazi art.
Thus, a form of almost total censorship was enforced by the National Socialist Party to regulate the kinds of art produced and seen by the general German public, and therefore the opinions they formed. Art in Germany during the reign of the Nazi Party certainly was a major form of propaganda. Although not as blatant as the massive Nuremberg rallies, they aided in the subliminal formation of the thoughts and actions of the German people towards the National Socialists.
Paintings insidiously played on common values already present in the national psyche, such as the need to regain a relationship with the land, and conflated them with National Socialist ideology in a bid to indoctrinate and shape the views of the public. The Nazi architecture and painting induced them to believe in; the invulnerability and superiority of the Germanic race, the working as a harmonious team, and the legitimacy of the Nazi government, to justify the total controlling of a nation. Thus, Nazi art is an ideologically saturated and highly politicized instrument used for the subjugation of the German people.