“Degenerate” Art – the scale of removal of art works from German Museums in 1937

To give an idea of the scale of the removal of designated “degenerate” art from german Museums and Institutions in 1937 Nazi Germany I’d like to refer to the MoMa web-site. It is interesting to know that the below mentioned auction of 125 works that were put up for auction in Lucerne in 1939 did not turn out nearly as profitable as Nazi Germany had hoped for as word had gotten about that profits would most likely fuel the German war machinery.


“By August 1937 the wide-scale confiscation of all works of art in museums designated ‘degenerate’ had already begun. According to records, a total of 15,997 works of fine art were confiscated from 101 German museums. This action was justified by the Law on the Confiscation of Products of Degenerate Art, passed belatedly on 31 May 1938. Works affected were those of classical modernity, works by artists of Jewish descent and works of social criticism. Only a few were retained and hidden through the brave manoeuvring of individual members of museum staff. The artists themselves, assuming they had not already left Germany, were forbidden to paint or exhibit. In addition to confiscation, destruction took place of murals and architectural monuments, among others. In May 1938 Goebbels instigated the establishment of the Kommission zur Verwertung der Beschlagnahmten Werke Entarteter Kunst. Confiscated works were stored in depots and from there sold to interested parties abroad (the Nazis hoped for a source of revenue for foreign currency, which was needed for the rearmament programme), and sometimes exchanged (Hermann Goering made exchanges with older works of art for his private collection). In 1939, 125 works were put up for auction in Lucerne, including works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Franz Marc, Macke, Klee, Kokoschka and Lehmbruck. The end of the Aktion entartete Kunst was signalled by the burning of 4829 art works in the courtyard of the Berlin Fire Brigade.

Anita Kühnel
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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