Paul Schultze-Naumburg was born in Almrich, Germany on 10th June, 1869. He became a fairly successful painter and architect. He also authored a very large production of essays, both in the field of art in general and in architecture. This included a series of books entitled Kulturarbeiten (Works of Culture). The nine volumes were published between 1900–1917 were extremely popular and established him as a major tastemaker for the German middle class. (1)
Schultze-Naumburg joined the Nazi Party and on 23rd January, 1930, Dr William Frick became the first party member to hold high office when he was appointed as Minister of the Interior in the state of Thuringia. Frick's policy of replacing most of the key officials under his jurisdiction gave him the opportunity to develop a new cultural policy. This included making Schultze-Naumburg director of the United Institutes for Art Instruction. (2)
In 1932 Schultze-Naumburg, a senior figure in the Nazi Party, wrote a pamphlet entitled, The Struggle for Art: "We know that, from the works of art that the peoples and the times have left us, we can draw a picture of their true spiritual essence, form and environment... After all, one cannot ignore that the higher task of the artist is to show the final objectives to the people of their time, to make visible the image towards which one wishes to move, so that all people could recognize beauty and can start the contest to imitate it and to make themselves compliant with that ideal... Woman has probably never been depicted so disrespectfully and in so unappetizing a way as in the paintings we have been obliged to put up with in German exhibits of the last twelve years, paintings that inspire only nausea and distrust. They convey not the slightest trace of the sacredness of the human body or of the glory of a divine nakedness. They express a ravening lasciviousness that sees the nude only as an undressed human being in its lowest form... The essential element of art, as we understand it, is therefore to always show a ‘spiritual direction’. And the idea of National Socialism is based on appropriately 'giving direction' to the German people and leading it to salvation. And since that task is substantially conducted with spiritual tools, national socialism cannot ignore the instrument of art." (3)
Adolf Hitler took a keen interest in art and saw it as a means of promoting fascism and changing attitudes in Germany. He was especially angry about the popularity of left-wing and anti-war artists such as Käthe Kollwitz, John Heartfield, George Grosz and Otto Dix. Hitler agreed with Schultze-Naumburg when he wrote: "A life-and-death struggle is taking place in art, just as it is in the realm of politics. And the battle for art has to be fought with the same seriousness and determination as the battle for political power." According to Berthold Hinz, the author of Art in the Third Reich (1979): "This issue became a touchstone for determining who were the friends and who were the foes of the Third Reich". (4)
Soon after Adolf Hitler gained power he appointed Adolf Ziegler, a strong supporter of Schultze-Naumburg, as his artistic adviser. Joseph Goebbels, the head of the Culture Ministry. At the time Goebbels did not share Ziegler's views on modern art and liked artists such as Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel and Ernst Barlach. As a student at university he had regularly attended lectures in art history. In March 1934 he had served as a honorary patron of an exhibition on Italian Futurism in Berlin. (5) In a speech made in June 1934 Goebbels argued "We National Socialists are not un-modern; we are the carrier of a new modernity, not only in politics and in social matters, but also in art and intellectual matters." (6)
In January 1934 Hitler had appointed Alfred Rosenberg as the cultural and educational leader of the Reich. Ziegler got support from Rosenberg in his disagreement with Goebbels. Rosenberg saw his mission to preserve the "folkish ideology in its purest form" and rejected Goebbels's belief that artists such as Heckel, Nolde and Barlach were representative of contemporary Germany's "indigenous Nordic" art. (7)
Hitler was asked to intervene in the dispute. He made his position clear in a speech in September, 1934. Hitler argued that there were "two dangers" that National Socialism had to overcome. First, the iconoclastic "saboteurs of art," were threatening the development of art in Nazi Germany. "These charlatans are mistaken if they think that the creators of the new Reich are stupid enough or insecure enough to be confused, let alone intimidated, by their twaddle. They will see that the commissioning of what may be the greatest cultural and artistic projects of all time will pass them by as if they had never existed." (8)
In 1936 Adolf Ziegler became President of the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste), a subdivision of the Cultural Ministry under Joseph Goebbels. (9) Ziegler made all artists join the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts. In this way it became possible to prevent artists who were opposed to the policies of the Nazi government from working. For example, Otto Dix had to promise to paint only inoffensive landscapes or portraits. However, he was eventually sacked as professor at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts. Dix's dismissal letter said that his work "threatened to sap the will of the German people to defend themselves." (10)
In June 1936, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: "Horrible examples of art Bolshevism have been brought to my attention... I want to arrange an exhibit in Berlin of art from the period of degeneracy. So that people can see and learn to recognize it." (9) By the end of the month he had obtained Hitler's permission to requisition "German degenerate art since 1910" from public collections for the show. Goebbels actually liked modern art and was a collector of the work of Emil Nolde. As Richard J. Evans has pointed out: "Its political opportunism was cynical even by Goebbels's standards. He knew that Hitler's hatred of artistic modernism was unquestionable, and so he decided to gain favour by pandering to it, even though he did not share it himself." (11)
On 27th November, 1936, Goebbels issued the following decree: "On the express authority of the Führer, I hereby empower the President of the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts, Professor Ziegler of Munich, to select and secure for an exhibition works of German degenerate art since 1910, both painting and sculpture, which are now in collections owned by the German Reich, by provinces, and by municipalities. You are requested to give Professor Ziegler your full support during his examination and selection of these works." (13)
Schultze-Naumburg fully approved of this policy. Ziegler and his entourage toured German galleries and museums and picked out works to be taken to the new exhibition, some museum directors were furious, refused to co-operate, and pleaded with Hitler to obtain compensation if the the confiscated works were sold abroad. Such resistance was not tolerated and some of them lost their jobs. Over a 100 works were seized from the Munich collections, and comparable numbers from museums elsewhere. (14)
The Degenerate Art Exhibition organized by Adolf Ziegler and the Nazi Party in Munich took place between 19th July to 30th November 1937. The exhibition presented 650 works of art, confiscated from German museums. The day before the exhibition started, Hitler delivered a speech declaring "merciless war" on cultural disintegration. Degenerate art was defined as works that "insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill". Whereas these artists are "men who are nearer to animals than to humans, children who, if they lived so, would virtually have to be regarded as curses of God." (15)
Ziegler made a speech at the opening of the exhibition. "Our patience with all those who have not been able to fall in line with National Socialist reconstructions during the last four years is at an end. The German people will judge them. We are not scared. The people trust, as in all things, the judgment of one man, our Führer. He knows which way German art must go in order to fulfil its task as the expression of German character... What you are seeing here are the crippled products of madness, impertinence, and lack of talent... I would need several freight trains clear our galleries of this rubbish... This will happen soon." (16)
Ziegler had been very influenced by the ideas of Schultze-Naumburg when selecting the nudes for the exhibition: "Woman has probably never been depicted so disrespectfully and in so unappetizing a way as in the paintings we have been obliged to put up with in German exhibits of the last twelve years, paintings that inspire only nausea and distrust. They convey not the slightest trace of the sacredness of the human body or of the glory of a divine nakedness. They express a ravening lasciviousness that sees the nude only as an undressed human being in its lowest form... The essential element of art, as we understand it, is therefore to always show a ‘spiritual direction’. And the idea of National Socialism is based on appropriately 'giving direction' to the German people and leading it to salvation. And since that task is substantially conducted with spiritual tools, national socialism cannot ignore the instrument of art." (17)
The exhibition included paintings, sculptures and prints by 112 artists. This included work by Kathe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Paul Klee, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Beckmann, Christian Rohlfs, Oskar Kokoschka, Lyonel Feininger, Ernst Barlach, Otto Müller, Karl Hofer, Max Pechstein, Lovis Corinth, Georg Kolbe, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Franz Marc, Emil Nolde, Willi Baumeister, Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky.
The exhibition cleverly manipulated visitors to loathe and ridicule the art on show. As Nausikaä El-Mecky has pointed out: "The shock-value was enhanced by only allowing over-18s into the exhibition. The lines for the Degenerate Art Exhibition went around the block. Inside, many pictures had been taken out of their frames, and were attached to walls that were emblazoned with outraged slogans. Rather than whispering respectfully, people pointed and snickered. The paintings and sculptures had lost their status as artworks, and were now reduced to dangerous and outrageous rubbish." (18)
Visitors found that the works of art were "deliberately badly displayed, hung at odd angles, poorly lit, and jammed up together on the walls, higgledy-piggledy". They carried titles such as Farmers Seen by Jews, Insult to German Womanhood, and Mockery of God. "They were intended to express a congruity between the art produced by mental asylum inmates... and the distorted perspectives adopted by the Cubists and their ilk, a point made explicit in much of the propaganda surrounding the assault on degenerate art as the product of degenerate human beings." (19)
It was decided to hold a Great German Art Exhibition in Munich. Adolf Ziegler, signed the announcement for the competition. "All German artists in the Reich and abroad" were invited to participate. The only requirement for entering the competition was German nationality or "race". After extending the deadline for submissions, 15,000 works of art were sent in, and of these about 900 were exhibited. According to official records, the exhibition had 600,000 visitors. (20) Hubert Wilm, a pro-Nazi artist, explained what they were trying to achieve: “Representation of the perfect beauty of a race steeled in battle and sport, inspired not by antiquity or classicism but by the pulsing life of our present-day events”. (21)
The objective was to "reveal the philosophical, political, racial and moral goals and intentions behind this movement, and the driving forces of corruption which follow them". The Nazis claimed that degenerate art was the product of Jews and Bolsheviks, although only six of the artists featured in the exhibition were actually Jewish. Jonathan Petropoulos, the author of Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany (2014) has pointed out that works were included "if they were abstract or expressionistic, but also in certain cases if the work was by a Jewish artist... The pictures were hung askew, there was graffiti on the walls, which insulted the art and the artists, and made claims that made this art seem outlandish, ridiculous." (22)
On the opening day of the First Exhibition of German Art, Munich was covered with Nazi flags. "In the streets perspiring Teuton warriors manhandled a giant sun and carried the tinfoil-covered cosmic ash-tree Yggdrasil (of German legend), in solemn procession... Regaled with these evocations of the past, the crowds entered the exhibition hall and found themselves - back in the past... Every single painting on display projected either soulful elevation or challenging heroism. Cast-iron dignity alternated with idyllic pastoralism. The many rustic family scenes invariably showed entire kinship groups... All the work exhibited transmitted the impression of an intact life from which the stresses and problems of modern existence were entirely absent - and there was one glaringly obvious omission: not a single canvas depicted urban and industrial life." (23)
The art critic, Bruno E. Werner, wrote in Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung: "Most of the painting shows the closest possible ties to the Munich school at the turn of the century. Leibl and his circle and, in some cases, Defregger are the major influences on many paintings portraying farmers, farmers' wives, woodcutters, shepherds, etc., and on interiors that lovingly depict many small and charming facets of country life. Then there is an extremely large number of landscapes that also carry on the old traditions.... We also find a rich display of portraits, particularly likenesses of government and party leaders. Although subjects taken from the National Socialist movement are relatively few in number, there is nonetheless a significant group of paintings with symbolic and allegorical themes. The Führer is portrayed as a mounted knight clad in silver armour and carrying a fluttering flag. National awakening is allegorized in a reclining male nude, above which hover inspirational spirits in the form of female nudes. The female nude is strongly represented in this exhibit, which emanates delight in the healthy human body." (24)
The Berliner Illustriere Zeitung commented: "Adolf Wissel's Peasant Group told intimately of the secrets of the German countenance; Karl Leipold's Sailor experienced the sea as creative world-fluidum; Adolf Ziegler's Terpsichore combined a grasp of modern painting with the purity of classical antiquity in its conception of the human body; Elk-Eber's The Last Hand-Grenade showed movingly how the artist had experienced the Great War and given sublime expression to this vision." (25)
The exhibition included Adolf Ziegler's The Four Elements (1937). Ziegler had been inspired by the words of Alfred Rosenberg, who had highlighted the importance of Greek mythology to the Nazi aesthetic, saying that "The Nordic artist was always inspired by an ideal of beauty. This is nowhere more evident than in Hellas’s powerful, natural ideal of beauty". Ziegler extended the "use of mythology still further, being full depictions of ancient Greek myths in a romantic classical style." (26) Hitler purchased the painting and was eventually hung over his fireplace in his apartment in Munich. (27)
Paul Schultze-Naumburg died on 19th May, 1949.
It is often said that every genuine art reflects the people that originates and sustains it. Obviously, each artist can capture, through his mirror, only a specific part of the character of his people. And yet, it is completely unthinkable that art can live a life of its own and that the beings that appear in front of our eyes are not a true representation of the beings that physically represent a people in the flesh. We know that, from the works of art that the peoples and the times have left us, we can draw a picture of their true spiritual essence, form and environment...
The individual personalities of the artists are too different to reach full overlap. There are those that are tightly oriented to the model and their environment and reproduce it faithfully on the canvas, and those who can only give shape to their dreams of that reality. It does not matter if art is an accurate representation of reality – like it has always been the task of the fine arts - or if it reflects only the times from a spiritual point of view, as a perceptible expression of the substance of reality. After all, one cannot ignore that the higher task of the artist is to show the final objectives to the people of their time, to make visible the image towards which one wishes to move, so that all people could recognize beauty and can start the contest to imitate it and to make themselves compliant with that ideal...
Woman has probably never been depicted so disrespectfully and in so unappetizing a way as in the paintings we have been obliged to put up with in German exhibits of the last twelve years, paintings that inspire only nausea and distrust. They convey not the slightest trace of the sacredness of the human body or of the glory of a divine nakedness. They express a ravening lasciviousness that sees the nude only as an undressed human being in its lowest form...
We often come across with the opinion that art can produce so many pleasures, introducing the beauty in life. When it comes instead of the most important questions of life, art would have nothing to say. Who thinks so, is not clear on the concept of art and the scale of the task that it has to play in people's lives. Actually, those who think that artistic activity consists of the fact that one is rich enough to buy a French impressionist, in order to display it with pride to friends, capture a very small and not important piece of the whole. If you want to give a simple and essential meaning to the concept of art, you might say, it is always the expression of man's desire, which is hereby translated into a perceptible form. This putting-in-shape is a creative act, for which the artist forces are necessary. The essential element of art, as we understand it, is therefore to always show a ‘spiritual direction’. And the idea of National Socialism is based on appropriately 'giving direction' to the German people and leading it to salvation. And since that task is substantially conducted with spiritual tools, national socialism cannot ignore the instrument of art.
With the pamphlet The Struggle for Art by Paul Schultze-Naumburg (1869-1949), art literature fell into the black hole of history: National Socialism. The text aimed at convincing German readers of the perceived good reasons of the Nazi ideology in supporting and promoting a certain kind of art, while condemning another one. It was published by the printing house of the Nazi party (the same that published every day the Völkischer Beobachter, the party official newspaper). We felt useful to examine this pamphlet for two reasons: first, because a review of German art literature in the twentieth century would not be complete if it did not take into account the theoretical texts of National Socialism, however repellent their arguments may certainly have been; and secondly, because it allows to better recognize future risks, wherever they may appear in the world. To be clear: reading the text of Paul Schultze-Naumburg teaches us that sometimes also the most dangerous arguments may be presented in a particularly effective way. He wrote the pamphlet in a clear and effective style, and presented his reasons so as to make sure they would appear obvious and evident. His opponents' arguments were not given any legitimacy; the tone (in the radicalness of an openly racist discourse) was dogmatically affirmative and aimed at providing easy (and, exactly for this reason, dangerously charming) mental shortcuts also in the thinking on the art. Many of the writings of the artists who would eventually fall victims of Nazi persecution (consider, for example, the anthology of art history sources by Paul Westheim, published in 1928) were certainly richer, more interesting and more thoughtful, but clearly showed a serious underestimation of the threats of those years, and they did not have the same ambition to convince readers of the need to undertake a struggle for art. And the only battles that one is sure to lose are those who are never fought.
The author of the pamphlet (published in 1932, one year before the elections that would lead to the seizure of power by Hitler, but according to internal evidence actually written in 1930) had already released in 1928 a broader essay titled "Kunst und Rasse" (Art and Race) which would be published again in 1935, 1938 and 1942. That essay turned to become the theoretical reference used by the Nazi regime to prepare the exhibition on degenerate art of 1937 . Schultze-Naumburg, however, formally joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party only in 1930, at the age of 51; his race-based concept of art was therefore probably a legacy of his previous activity at the beginning of the century within the so-called Völkisch movement (i.e. the German nationalist movement), even before becoming an integral part of Nazi fanaticism.
(1) Francesco Mazzaferro, Paul Schultze-Naumburg (April 2019)
(2) Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (1979) page 45
(3) Paul Schultze-Naumburg, The Struggle for Art (1932) page 3
(4) Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (1979) page 45
(5) Ralf Georg Reuth, The Life of Joseph Goebbels: The Mephistophelian Genius of Nazi Propaganda (1993) page 226
(6) Peter Adam, Art of the Third Reich (1992) page 56
(7) Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (1979) page 34
(8) Adolf Hitler, speech at Nuremberg (5th September, 1934)
(9) Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (1979) page 8
(10) Linda F. McGreevy, Humanities Magazine (November/December, 2002) page 15
(11) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (June, 1936)
(12) Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 171
(13) Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (2002) pages 151–168
(14) Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 171
(15) Adolf Hitler, speech in Munich (18th July, 1937)
(16) Adolf Ziegler, speech at the opening of the Degenerate Art Exhibition (19th July, 1937)
(17) Paul Schultze-Naumburg, The Struggle for Art (1932) page 4
(18) Nausikaä El-Mecky, Art in Nazi Germany (9th August, 2015)
(19) Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 171
(20) Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (1979) pages 8-9
(21) Peter Adam, Art of the Third Reich (1992) page 179
(22) Lucy Burns, Degenerate Art: Why Hitler Hated Modernism (2013)
(23) Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (1971) page 537
(24) Bruno E. Werner, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (20th July, 1937)
(25) The Berliner Illustriere Zeitung (27th Febuary, 1937)
(26) Ginny Dawe-Woodings, The Political Picture - How the Nazis created a Distinctly Fascist Art (26th September, 2015)
(27) Jonathon Keats, The Kitschy Triptych That Hung Over Hitler's Fireplace (14th May, 2014)