10 modern artworks banned by the Nazis
80 years ago this month, the Nazi party unveiled their Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich.
Art that Hitler believed insulted the country, had no moral value and no artistic merit.
That was all modern art in the Fuhrer's eyes. Modern art wasn't just unedifying to Hitler, it was dangerous. He saw modernity as a movement designed by Jews and Communists to threaten German society.
The exhibition featured 650 works by 112 artists – predominately German. Just a fraction of the 16,000 "degenerate" pieces seized from 32 of the country's art galleries.
One of the best-attended modern art exhibitions in history
The paintings were poorly hung, and accompanied by derogatory graffiti on the walls. The Nazis even hired actors to make scathing comments.
With 2.5 million visitors, it is one of the best-attended modern art exhibitions in history.
What happened to the thousands of seized artworks? The Nazis sold on some pieces for profit abroad through intermediary dealers.
5,000 they burned at the Berlin fire department HQ.
The intermediary dealers kept several. They turn up from time to time. Most notably in the recent case of Cornelius Gurlitt, who inherited 1,400 such works from his art dealer father.
Here are 10 of the 16,000 pieces labelled "degenerate" by the Nazis, their fates and the fates of their creators.
Otto Freundlich's The New Man (1912)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The 5-foot-high 1912 plaster of Paris work features on the cover of the exhibition's guidebook.
That fact is a chilling one.
Freundlich (1878-1943) was a Jewish German sculptor and painter. He spent the bulk of his career in France, and it was there, despite going into hiding, that he was arrested by the Germans in February 1943. He was sent to Poland's Majdanek concentration camp and murdered the day he arrived.
It's thought the Nazis destroyed the piece, today regarded as one of Germany's finest pre-first world war sculptures, in 1941.
Want to own a Freundlich? His few surviving artworks sell for between $20,000 and $50,000.
Otto Dix's War Cripples (1920)
The German painter (1891-1969) is famed for his horrifying portraits of the first world war. His 1920 work War Cripples depicts a familiar sight on Germany's post-war streets.
"In this painting, Dix leaves no one unscathed," explains the Otto Dix Project.
"He damns the military for butchering his generation, the public for its fascination with these reconstituted men and the cripples themselves for their undiminished national pride."
The Nazis captioned it: "Slander against the German Heroes of the World War."
After appearing in the Nazis' exhibition, it was burned. This is a reproduction of the original work.
In 1933, the Nazis had sacked Dix from his role as art teacher at the Dresden Academy. As with all German artists at the time, he was forced to work in the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts, where he was allowed only to produce gentle landscape works. In 1939 he was arrested on suspicion of plotting against Hitler, but was released. After the war he produced several works depicting post-war suffering.
You can acquire small Dix landscape watercolours for less than $10,000.
George Grosz' Portrait of Writer Max Hermann-Neisse (1927)
Image: Estate of George Grosz
George Grosz's son explains why his father (1893-1959) left Germany for the US in 1933.
"You didn't have to be Jewish to be disliked by the Nazis," he told CBS.
"He was an enemy of the state. And that meant he lost his German citizenship. He lost his bank account. They took everything."
Grosz returned in the 1950s.
You can pick up small pencil sketches for as little as $2,000. His large paintings can surpass $1 million.
Oskar Kokoschka's Self-Portrait as Degenerate Artist (1937)
Image: National Galleries Scotland
Austrian expressionist Kokoschka (1886-1980) fled his home country for Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1934, and from there, with war looking certain, to the UK in 1938.
There he remained throughout the conflict, making much of his "degenerate artist" tag.
In fact, he'd been revelling in the title for a while. That's evidenced by his 1937 work Self-Portrait as Degenerate Artist, which the Nazis promptly labelled 'degenerate' and confiscated, along with more than 500 others from German museums. You can see it today at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Kokoschka settled in Switzerland at the end of the war.
His major paintings can sell for more than $1 million, although you can pick up original pencil drawings for around $5,000.
Wassily Kandinsky's Several Circles (1926)
Image: Guggenheim Museum
The great Russian abstract painter (1866-1944) was teaching at the esteemed Bauhaus art school in Germany in 1933, when the Nazis closed it down.
He moved to Paris, and lived in a small apartment until his death in 1944.
Kandinsky's 1926 work Several Circles was among several seized by the Nazis. You can view it at the Guggenheim in New York today.
At befits one of the foremost names in modern art, Kandinsky's paintings achieve huge sums today. 1935's Rigid and Bent set a Kandinsky auction record $23.3 million in 2016.
Paul Klee's The Angler (1921)
Swiss-born Klee lived much of his life in Germany. But well before the Degenerate Art Exhibition he feared for his freedom. In 1933, the Nazis enforced his dismissal from a post at the Dusseldorf Academy and labelled his artwork "degenerate", forcing him to return to Switzerland.
He fought back against Hitler with a series of pieces depicting the horrors of Nazism.
The Nazis confiscated 102 of his artworks. 17 appeared in the exhibition. His 1921 watercolour The Angler was among the 102. You can see it at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
He died in 1940 from a wasting disease.
Klee had a prodigious output. Meaning that despite the purges you can find his work relatively easily at auction today. Expect to pay at least $15,000 for an original drawing. His larger paintings routinely sell for the low millions.
Picasso's Absinthe Drinker (1903)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Picasso was the leading degenerate.
The biggest name in modern art. The man who painted Guernica, the vast condemnation of the Nazi regime.
Yet while the Nazis confiscated several Picasso works from German museums and private owners, including his 1903 blue period piece Absinthe Drinker, they left the man himself relatively untroubled.
The Germans had the opportunity to kill the greatest degenerate when they invaded France. And although the German military occasionally interrogated him, and probed him on the suggestion he was Jewish, they let him be - perhaps wary of martyring the artist.
The Absinthe Drinker sold at auction in 2010 for £34.7 million ($52 million) to an unknown bidder. The vendor was the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation.
Max Beckmann's Cattle in a barn (1933)
Image: The Art Stack
Beckmann (1884-1950) lost 500 artworks, including 1933 oil Cattle in a barn, to the Nazi purges. The day after Hitler made a 1937 radio speech condemning degenerate art, the German painter left for the Netherlands.
When the Germans invaded the country in 1940, they tried to force the 60-year-old heart attack patient in to the army.
Beckmann's 10-year attempt to gain a US visa finally succeeded in 1947. He died in 1950, walking to New York's Met to view one of his paintings.
You can see Cattle in a barn at Germany's Museum Wiesbaden.
His large paintings regularly surpass $1 million today. His Self-Portrait with Horn sold for $22.5 million in 2001.
Emil Nolde's Red-Haired Girl (1919)
Image: The Art Institute of Chicago
Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was a member of the Nazi party and shared their anti-Semitic stance. But that didn't stop this early expressionist's work being confiscated, including this 1919 piece – today on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Nazis seized more than 1,000 Nolde works and banned him from painting, even in private. He ignored this, producing scores of watercolours that he hid.
Expect to pay close to $2 million for one of his colourful landscapes. Limited edition artist's prints are available for less than $5,000.
Ernst Kirchner's self-portrait (1930s)
Image: Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchner's self-portrait, produced between 1934 and 1937, and one of 639 removed from museums, is one of his last works.
The pioneering German expressionist, fearing Germany might invade his adopted country of Switzerland…
…fearing for his livelihood…
…and his life…
…shot himself through the heart in 1938, aged 58.
Kirchner's importance in the history of modern art is growing. It's why his 1913 work Street Scene, Berlin made $38 million in 2006 at Christie's – an artist record.
You can see it today at the Bundner Kunstmuseum Chur in Switzerland.
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