Art’s Survivors of Hitler’s War

Published: November 30, 2010

BERLIN — The past still thrusts itself back into the headlines here, occasionally as an unexploded bomb turning up somewhere. Now it has reappeared as art.

Marg Moll’s “Dancer,” from around 1930, is one of the found works in the “Degenerate Art” show at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

Researchers learned the bust was a portrait by Edwin Scharff, a nearly forgotten German modernist, from around 1920. It seemed anomalous until August, when more sculpture emerged nearby: “Standing Girl” by Otto Baum, “Dancer” by Marg Moll and the remains of a head by Otto Freundlich. Excavators also rescued another fragment, a different head, belonging to Emy Roeder’s “Pregnant Woman.” October produced yet a further batch.

The 11 sculptures proved to be survivors of Hitler’s campaign against what the Nazis notoriously called “degenerate art.” Several works, records showed, were seized from German museums in the 1930s, paraded in the fateful “Degenerate Art” show, and in a couple of cases also exploited for a 1941 Nazi film, an anti-Semitic comedy lambasting modern art. They were last known to have been stored in the depot of the Reichspropagandaministerium, which organized the “Degenerate” show.

Then the sculptures vanished.

How they ended up underground near City Hall is still a mystery; it seems to involve an Oskar Schindler-like hero. Meanwhile a modest exhibition of the discoveries has been organized and recently opened at the Neues Museum, Berlin’s archaeological collection, the perfect site for these works.

Like the sculptures, the museum lately rose, all these years later, from the ruins of war. In the architect David Chipperfield’s ingenious, Humpty Dumpty-like reconstruction of the building, it has become a popular palimpsest of German history, bearing witness, via the evidence of the damage done to it, to a violence that not even time and several generations have been able to erase.

I can hardly express how moving this little show is, unexpectedly so. Its effect ends up being all out of proportion to the objects discovered, which are, in strictly aesthetic terms, fine but not remarkable. They are works of quasi-Cubism or Expressionism, mostly not much more than a foot high, several newly cleaned but still scarred, inspiring the obvious human analogy.

The poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan came up, in a different context, with the metaphor of bottles tossed into the ocean “at the shoreline of the heart,” now finally washed ashore. They’re like the dead, these sculptures, ever coming back to us, radiant ghosts.

In a country that for decades has been profoundly diligent at disclosing its own crimes and framing them in the context of history, it makes sense that the exhibition was installed to share a courtyard with Assyrian friezes from a long-ago regime that made an art of totalitarian rule and with an ancient frieze describing the eruption of Vesuvius, which preserved priceless objects, buried in the ash, that have found sanctuary in institutions like the Neues Museum.

Archeologists have so far determined that the recovered works must have come from 50 Königstrasse, across the street from City Hall. The building belonged to a Jewish woman, Edith Steinitz; several Jewish lawyers are listed as her tenants in 1939, but their names disappear from the record by 1942, when the house became property of the Reich. Among its subsequent occupants, German investigators now believe, the likeliest candidate to have hidden the art was Erhard Oewerdieck, a tax lawyer and escrow agent.

Oewerdieck is not widely known, but he is remembered at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel. In 1939, he and his wife gave money to a Jewish family to escape to Shanghai. He also hid an employee, Martin Lange, in his apartment. In 1941 he helped the historian Eugen Täubler and his wife flee to America, preserving part of Täubler’s library. And he stood by Wolfgang Abendroth too, a leftist and Nazi opponent, by writing him a job recommendation when that risked his own life.

The current theory is that when fire from Allied air raids in 1944 consumed 50 Königstrasse, the contents of Oewerdieck’s office fell through the floor, and then the building collapsed on top. Tests are being done on ash from the site for remains of incinerated paintings and wood sculptures. How the lost art came into Oewerdieck’s possession in the first place still isn’t clear.

But at least it’s now back on view. Scharff’s bust, of an actress named Anni Mewes, brings to mind Egyptian works in the Neues Museum. Karl Knappe’s “Hagar,” a bronze from 1923, twisted like knotted rope, has been left with its green patina of rust and rubble, making it almost impossible to decipher, save as evidence of its fate. On the other hand, Freundlich’s “Head,” from 1925, a work made of glazed terra cotta, gnarled like an old olive tree, loses little of its power for being broken. The Nazis seized the Freundlich from a museum in Hamburg in 1937, then six years later, in France, seized the artist and sent him to Majdanek, the concentration camp in Poland, where he was murdered on the day he arrived.

Across the street from the Neues Museum contemporary galleries showcase the sort of work the Nazis hoped to eradicate but that instead give Berlin its current identity as a capital of cool. This is a city that resembles the young masses who gravitate here: forever in a state of becoming, wary, unsure and unresolved, generally broke, but optimistic about the future, with the difference that Germany can’t escape its past.

Farther down the block the Deutsches Historisches Museum’s Hitler exhibition, today’s version of a “Degenerate” show, means to warn viewers about succumbing to what present German law declares morally reprehensible. How could any decent German have ever been taken in? the show asks.

From The New York Times

That happens to be the question the Nazis’ “Degenerate” show posed about modern art. Many more Germans visited that exhibition than the concurrent one of approved German art. Maybe Oewerdieck was among those who went to the modern show and saw these sculptures in it. In any case, today’s Germany has salvaged them and has organized this display. Redemption sometimes comes late and in small measures.


Wanted: buyer for Hitler’s statue

A sculpture by Fritz Röll, once owned by the Führer, was rejected by Sotheby’s but is now being offered by a private dealer

A sculpture bought by Hitler in 1939 was offered for sale by London dealer Simon Wingett for £150,000 ($233,000) last month. The marble work, by Fritz Röll (1879-1956), was to have been sold at Sotheby’s in 2004, but was withdrawn when the auction house discovered it had been owned by Hitler.

Hitler visited the pro-Nazi Great German Art Exhibition in Munich in 1939, and decided to buy the idealised, near-life size naked figure tying its sandals. The work, made sometime between 1910 and 1914, is regarded as Röll’s masterpiece. What happened to the sculpture after Hitler’s death is un­known.

The sculpture was recently consigned to Sotheby’s, and was offered at their Sussex saleroom in a sale of garden statuary on 28 September 2004 (lot 287).

Although identified in the catalogue as a Röll, the work’s original title (Sandalenbind­er) was not given and it was described simply as a Naked Classical Athlete. The estimate was £8,000-£12,000.

Shortly before the sale, Sotheby’s was contacted by a descendant of the sculptor in Germany, who pointed out that it was the long-lost work which had once belonged to Hitler. The auctioneers decided that it would be unwise to sell the piece and it was withdrawn on the eve of the auction.

Sotheby’s then put several potential bidders in touch with the consignor, a minor dealer in the Czech Republic. Shortly afterwards the Röll was bought by UK conservator and part-time dealer Imogen Paine, along with two colleagues. Earlier this year they asked Wrexham dealer Simon Wingett to sell it, and it was the highlight of his stand at the Olympia International Art & Antiques fair in June and the Lapada fair the previous month. The work was priced at around £150,000 ($295,000) and did not sell at Olympia.

The post-war whereabouts of the sculpture remain a mystery. All that is known is that the Czech dealer had acquired it from a fellow countryman who had lived in Vienna.

The statue’s status is not entirely clear. At the time of Hitler’s suicide in Berlin in 1945, his official place of residence was Munich. Arguably this means that his estate passed to the government of Bavaria. Nevertheless, there has been no claim on the Röll, so it can presumably be sold freely on the open market. The sculpture was bought by the UK owners in good faith, after due diligence.

The Art Newspaper

Nazi Art on Display at Grohmann Museum

Nazi associations of collection “not relevant” says founder of new museum

The art on show includes works by artists collected by Hitler and displayed in exhibitions sponsored by the Third Reich

the Grohmann Museum with its nine-foot sculptures of labourers on the roof and the

In praise of workers: the Grohmann Museum with its nine-foot sculptures of labourers on the roof and the “Kaiserdom” inspired by Sir Norman Foster’s addition to the Reichstag in Berlin

NEW YORK. The new Grohmann Museum, which is dedicated to art showing “the evolution of human work”, has been called to account for failing to display any information about the art’s association with the Nazi regime. The institution opened in October at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).

While the school celebrated the opening of its first cultural asset, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel asked why works of

art produced under the Third Reich are displayed without texts explaining their historical background.

The museum houses more than 700 paintings and sculptures, most by little known 20th-century German and Northern European artists, but includes works attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Jan van Goyen, Max Liebermann and Frederic Remington. Subjects include farming, mining, glassblowing, construction, iron and steel production and heavy industry.

SS Guards - Painting by Ferdinand Staeger
[ SS-Wache (SS Guards) – Ferdinand Staeger. Oil painting. Year unknown

The museum’s founding benefactor is MSOE regent and Milwaukee industrialist Eckhart G. Grohmann, 71, who was born in Silesia, Germany (today part of Poland) and emigrated to the US in 1962 where he bought a small foundry that he built into Aluminum Casting & Engineering Co.

He joined the board of MSOE in 1974 and donated his “Men at Work” collection in 2001, stipulating that none of the works ever be exchanged or sold. He also provided funds to purchase and renovate the museum that bears his name, and acquired an adjacent building providing rental income that will support the museum. Mr Grohmann named John Kopmeier, an engineer whom he knew socially, to serve as director.

The three-storey brick building, originally an automobile dealership, has a new glass turret inspired by architect Sir Norman Foster’s addition to the Reichstag in Berlin. Mr Groh­mann says this “Kaiserdom” was his idea, as was the rooftop phalanx of a dozen nine-foot bronzes that he commissioned based on statues of muscular workers in the collection, and the ceiling paintings of inventors and a stained-glass window depicting workers commissioned for the atrium. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s verdict is that: “the effect is rather like Old World Berlin as reinterpreted by Walt Disney”.

Mr Grohmann amassed his collection over four decades, buying from auction houses in Germany and Switzerland, as well as various other sources. “I have very little competition because [the paintings] are not the sort of things you hang over your sofa,” he says.

The most heavily represented artist, with 81 works, is Erich Mercker (1891-1973) whose images of German industry were endorsed by the Third Reich and exhibited in the annual Nazi-sanctioned “Great German Art Exhibition” in 1937. The museum labels cite only his name, dates and titles and the museum website does not refer to his Nazi ties either. Other artists in the Grohmann collection known to have worked with the Nazis are Ferdinand Staeger—whose work was collected by Hitler—Ria Picco-Rückert, and Otto Hamel. All of them participated in the annual Nazi exhibitions. The collection also includes work by Magnus Zeller, a German who opposed the Nazis.

The art on display includes a Mercker painting of a U-boat building facility (left) and a 1942 Picco-Rückert picture of Nazi steel manufacturing, but Mr Grohmann denies that any of his paintings glorify the Third Reich. “Propaganda pictures would show flags and swastikas,” he contends, apparently ignoring scholarship that suggests otherwise. Art historian Mark Antliff, for example, has written that “the Nazis propagated a ‘myth-image’ [through] imagery devoted to ‘the sanctification of creative work’,” and cites Staeger and Picco-Rückert as portraying workers engaged in their “‘sacred’ effort to create ‘the eternal Germany.’” Others have noted that labourers depicted in Nazi paintings are likely conscripts from concentration camps.

Mr Grohmann and Mr Kopmeier say that historical context is irrelevant to the museum. “The mission is to educate MSOE students primarily about art, what industry was like years ago, why we are where we are right now,” says Mr Kopmeier, adding that Mr Grohmann is responsible for the institution’s content. “He’s the one that collects the art, and what goes on the wall is a decision he would make,” he told The Art Newspaper. “We don’t know that any was actually commissioned by the Third Reich,” says Mr Grohmann, “and to be honest I wouldn’t care. It is a totally subject-oriented collection for the purpose of teaching at the technical university. I don’t politicise pictures.”

US Jewish organisations have not voiced strong objections to the museum, but some have asked for disclosure of provenance and historical context. University president Hermann Viets says he is not concerned with the allegations of whitewashing the artists’ Nazi pasts. “We are perfectly open about it,” he says, citing a catalogue that includes more information than appears on the museum walls. Asked if he personally condemns the Nazi regime, Mr Grohmann replied: “I do not make any political statements. I just don’t do it.”

Winston Churchill

Churchill as a painter

I have had Hitler so I have to have Churchill.  Churchill’s art has sold for a staggering £600,000 in recent years, that is certainly another step ahead of Hitler.  Personally, I don’t really like his paintings either.

As a painter he was prolific, with over 570 paintings and two sculptures; he received a Diploma from the Royal Academy of London. Approximately 350 paintings are housed in Churchill’s garden Studio at Chartwell. His paintings were catalogued after his death by historian David Coombs with the support of the Churchill family. Coombs has published two books on the subject. The modern archive of Churchill’s art work is managed by designer Tony Malone, who oversees the administration and management of digital catalogue. Anthea Morton Saner and the Churchill Heritage Trust are responsible for all copyrights.

Churchill began painting in his 40s following a personal and political disaster, the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915. He is quoted as telling the painter Sir John Rothenstein: “If it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t live; I couldn’t bear the strain of things.” In 1921, Winston Churchill’s artwork was exhibited at the prestigious Galerie Druet in the Rue Royale, under the pseudonym Charles Morin. Six paintings were said to have been sold. In 1948, he was bestowed the prestigious recognition of Honorary Academician Extraordinary by the Royal Academy of Arts. Sir Hugh Casson, President of the Royal Academy of Art, introduced Churchill as “an amateur of considerable natural ability who, had he had the time (to study and practice), could have held his own with most professionals … especially as a colourist.”

For more than forty years he found contentment in his painting pastime.[2] Yet, as important as it was to him, this fascinating aspect of his life remained relatively unknown for years. The first public exhibition of his paintings was under an assumed name and only a few major shows were held in his lifetime. The Winston Churchill Trust has permitted Churchill’s works of art to be made available in the form of original limited editions, bearing the unique embossed seal of the Churchill Trust.

Churchill’s work has been displayed in art galleries and exhibitions in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and the United States. Works by Churchill can be found in the permanent collections of the following museums: The Royal Academy and the Tate Gallery, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Museum of Art in Sao Paolo, Brazil. His association with these prestigious institutions gives credibility to Churchill’s work as an artist. Some of Churchill’s art has been sold at the major Auction houses, and the latest work, ‘View of Tinherir’, was sold at Sotheby’s for a record £612,800 (over US$1,100,000), nearly three times its estimate. A 76 inch x 63.5 inch landscape painting by Winston fetched one million pounds in July 2007.

Hitler’s Art

Before amassing his fortune with the enormous royalties from the publication of his hugely popular Mein Kampf, Hitler earned a living by using his artistic skills to produce paintings that were sold to the public or used for postcards. Hitler was a great student of the fine arts and studied music, opera, painting, sculpture, and architecture. While living in Vienna under conditions of poverty, he read voraciously and still managed to spend whatever meager income he had to attend lectures, concerts, opera, and the theater. Even when he barely had enough money to survive he refused to compromise and always purchased the best paints, brushes, paper, and canvas. As a remarkably prolific artist, he is estimated to have created between 2000 and 3000 drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings. His artistic talent revealed itself at an early age and continued painting and drawing throughout his life. Even while behind the front lines in World War 1, he continued to paint in his spare time and contributed instructional drawings and cartoons to the military newspaper. His art continued throughout his leadership of Germany and included detailed building plans, furniture design, city planning, and monuments.

Perhaps the notion of an artist becoming a political seems strange in the current era where politics are dominated by professional politicians, it was Hitler’s profound artistic vision that translated from his dreams into reality the Autobahn, Volkswagen, Rocket Science, and in the general the groundwork for a prosperous people and flourishing culture before this was lost in World War 2.

Just as the ancient Greeks wrote about the unique qualifications of a philosopher to be a leader, an artist’s unique perspective and instinctual drive to create something out of nothing makes the artist uniquely qualified to lead and inspire a nation.