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For several years in the late 1930s and early 1940s, during the summer months, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich held what came to be known as “A Day of German Art,” conceived as a kind of Aryan-inflected kickoff for the annual Great German Art Exhibition in Munich. Paintings, sculpture and spectacle combined to celebrate a strenuously Nazified vision of Teutonic culture—one in which German legends and myths were bent to the service (and the aesthetic) of the Reich.
“Approved” German art, after all, was yet another form of Reich propaganda, utterly in line with radio broadcasts, photographs, films and other vehicles designed to spread the Nazi gospel. Hitler and others extolled realist paintings and sculptures, while dismissing as “degenerate” the art of Surrealists, Fauvists, Expressionists and other Moderns. The idyllic and the mythological, as well as scenes depicting and romanticizing family values, hard work, robust physicality, the military and, of course, the Fatherland’s leaders were, in the Reich’s eyes, the only true, legitimate subjects for art.
Here, in Hitler’s own words, from a speech he gave during the first “Day of German Art” in 1937, was the vision that the Führer and his followers—Goebbels, Bernard Rust, Alfred Rosenberg and others—formulated and shoved down the (often acquiescent) public’s throat during the run-up to World War II:
By the time the last “Day of German Art” took place in 1944, the “invincible” German army that had swept across Europe a few years before, seemingly conquering at will, was routinely being routed by Allied forces from the east and the west. By the late spring of 1945, Hitler, Goebbels, Rust and most of the rest of the Reich’s leadership was dead, or on the run.
The Haus der Kunst in Munich, meanwhile, still stands. No longer serving as a full-fledged museum, the enormous building now houses temporary and traveling exhibitions, often featuring the sort of “degenerate” art that the Nazis railed against, so loudly and so futilely, not so very long ago.