During the 1930s the Nazi Regime had a stranglehold on Germany. Hitler’s obsession with the classic straightforward style, later on led him to despise Modern Art. The problem was, as he resolutely clung to the past, Avant-Garde taking Europe by storm, with new ideas, energy and dynamic shapes and colours. As these movements took off, Hitler’s own art was left behind.

When he finally had absolute power, Hitler banned all Modern Art from Germany. His men confiscated thousands of Avant-Garde works and many artists such as Max Beckman and Wassily Kandinsky fled Germany to go to Europe and America. One artist, Emil Nolde, who had previously been a supporter of the regime, had over a thousand pieces taken, and was banned from buying art supplies or working at the university. However, he chose to stay in Germany and paint in secret, swapping his oil paints for watercolours so the police would not smell them – he called these ‘unpainted pictures’.

Hitler ordered two exhibitions to be arranged. The first would show ‘degenerate’ art, specifically the banned Avant-Garde pieces, to educate people that this was improper and vulgar. The sculptures and paintings were messily hung up around the room and shoved into corners, with messages painted on the walls.

Image Degenerate Exhibition

The second would show what he considered to be excellent upstanding examples of art that were straightforward and traditional. Unsurprisingly, this did not work as well as he planned. The Degenerate Exhibition took in at least three times as much as the Classical exhibition.

However, Hitler did manage to use some modern art to his own advantage. He recruited Leni Riefenstahl to create nationalistic films from the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany. Her pro-propaganda films became internationally famous. They were very powerful films, returning to the idealised form of the Roman and Greek physique. They glorified death, strength and power. Even the company Hugo Boss produced the uniforms for the SS, based on the traditional uniforms.