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Revealed: what happened to the “degenerate” art in Germany’s museums, from G to Z

A 1941 typescript has been discovered that fills in the missing history of 16,588 works of art seized by the Nazis

London

A complete list of 16,558 “degenerate” works of art seized by the Nazis has finally surfaced in Britain’s National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The 480-page typescript notes every work of “Entartete Kunst” seized in 1937. With Teutonic thoroughness, all is recorded, in an alphabetical list of 101 museums, from Aachen (Stadt Museum) to Zwickau (König Albert Museum). Compiled by the Institute for German Cultural and Economic Propaganda, the list appears to date from late 1941.

The National Art Library’s copy is bound in two volumes, covering cities whose names begin with letters A-G and G-Z. Although most of the material A-G is already known from three similar lists now in Berlin archives, no such records had been thought to survive from museums in cities G-Z. Some information on works in the second volume is available from other sources, but German scholar Andreas Hüneke still believes that “up to 60% of the details are new”.

Mystery surrounds the acquisition of this historically invaluable record, and all that is certain is that it comes from the late Heinrich (Harry) Fischer (see facing page). Although he died in 1977, the sixty-eight selected publications, including the Nazi typescript, remained with his family and were presented to the library last September by his widow Elfriede. She told the National Art Library that she knew nothing about how the typescript had been acquired and had not appreciated its importance.

The typescript itself gives no obvious clue as to where it has been since the early 1940s. The binding appears to be post-war and the first page of the A-G volume seems to have been ripped out after it had been bound. Despite a lack of an earlier provenance, the National Art Library has no reason to doubt its authenticity.

The typescript is arranged by cities and then by museums. For each museum, there is an alphabetical list of artists, and individual works are then recorded by title, medium, and fate. When works were sold or exchanged, the name of the dealer is given and often the price paid. The Art Newspaper is the first publication to be given full access to the original document.

The first seizures of modern works of art took place in Germany in June 1937. This operation was mounted to gather material for the notorious “Entartete Kunst” exhibition, opened by Hitler on 18 July 1937 at Munich’s Haus der Deutschen Kunst. Thousands more works were taken later in the year, mainly art of classical Modernism or social criticism, or by artists of Jewish descent.

In May 1938 Goebbels proclaimed that, “we hope at least to make some money from this garbage.” Art which would fetch the best sums on the international market was sent to Switzerland, where it was auctioned by Theodor Fischer in Lucerne (no relation of Harry Fischer). Altogether 125 pictures and sculptures were auctioned on 30 June 1939, fetching SFr500,000 (then about $115,000). They included works by Braque, Chagall, Corinth, Derain, Dix, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Grosz, Klee, Kokoschka, Matisse, Modigliani, Nolde, Picasso and Vlaminck.

Dealers quickly contacted the Nazi authorities to ask to be allowed to sell lesser works. Eventually four dealers were selected to be the main outlets, and their names recur most frequently in the newly-discovered list: Bernard Boehmer (Güstrow), Karl Buchholz (Berlin), Dr Hildebrand Gurlitt (Hamburg) and Ferdinand Möller (Berlin). Other dealers whose names are recorded in the typescript include Harald Halvorsen (Oslo) and Vilstrup. Emmanuel Fohn, an Austrian-born, Italian-based artist and dealer made a series of exchanges in 1939, offering a few works by German Romantic painters in return for a large consignments of “degenerate” items.

Although most of the business went to German dealers, an unusual insight into the competition comes in a letter sent to Hitler on behalf of the London dealers, Colnaghi, on 19 October 1938. In the letter, preserved in German archives, the gallery explained: “We are probably the only English firm that has never shown degenerate art from any country nor recommended it to any of our clients, since the whole of this trend in all its vulgar dishonesty is heartily repugnant to us.” Despite this repugnance, Colnaghi’s was eager to sell the art and prompt action was recommended: “Your stance towards this humbug art is beginning to find such widespread approval abroad that, in spite of efforts by Jewish dealers, the international market for such products may start to give way at any moment.” Despite this direct approach to Hitler, Colnaghi’s failed to win the business.

By 1939 the warehouse on Köpenicker Strasse where the “degenerate” art was kept was needed to store grain and most of what had not been sold was destroyed. On 20 March 1939 nearly 5,000 works were shifted to the courtyard of Berlin’s main fire station. There, 1,004 paintings and sculpture and 3,825 drawings, watercolours and prints were burnt, under the watchful eyes of the firemen.

The newly discovered Nazi typescript will raise the question of whether works recorded as sold to dealers can be tracked down and identified. But even if they are found, the German museums which lost them might find it difficult to press legal claims for restitution.

Nevertheless, the Nazi typescript is of great historical importance—for scholars and for German museums which lost works (the list records items taken from museums, not private collections). Susanna Robson, curator at the National Art Library responsible for cataloguing the Fischer bequest, promises that a microfilm of the typescript will now be available to researchers. Consideration is also being given to eventual publication of the full document.

Exchanged, sold, destroyed...the fate of just a few of the works listed

Braque, Composition, print, Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, destroyed

Chagall, Pogrom Street, print, Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr0.2

Chagall, Above the town, watercolour, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, exchanged with Fohn

Chagall, Rabbi, print , Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, sold to Gurlitt SFr0.2

Chagall, Family scene, print, Stuttgart: Staatliche Galerie, sold to Gurlitt SFr0.2

Chagall, Elderly Jew, print, Wiesbaden: Landesmuseum, sold to Möller $12

Chagall, Violinist, drawing, Wiesbaden: Landesmuseum, sold to Gurlitt SFr40

Corinth, Birth of Venus, print, Kiel: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr0.2

Corinth, Walchensee, watercolour, Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Buchholz £40

Corinth, Walchensee, oil, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Boehmer £150

Corinth, Lucerne at midday, oil, München: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, exchanged with Gurlitt

Corinth, Portrait of Wilhelm Trübner, oil , Nürnberg: Städtische Galerie, auctioned at Fischer SFr100

Corinth, Walchensee, oil, Stuttgart: Staatliche Galerie, sold to Buchholz £400

Derain, Southern landscape, oil, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, sold to Buchholz SFr300

Derain, Group of women, print, Stettin: Städtisches Museum, sold to Buchholz $3

Dix, Self-portrait, print, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, destroyed

Dix, Woman with infant, oi, Könisgberg: Städtische Kunstsammlung, auctioned at Fischer SFr20

Dix, Portrait of Klemperer, print, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, sold to Gurlitt SFr0.5

Dufy, Seabattle, print, Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, destroyed

Ensor, Entry of Christ into Brussels, print, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, exchanged with Fohn

Ernst, Fiat Modes (portfolio), prints, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, destroyed

Gauguin, Exotic scene, print , Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr80

Gauguin, Horsemen on the beach, oil, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, recorded as going to Reichsmarschal Goering

Gauguin, Rider, print, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr100

Grosz, Café-concert, print, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Böhmer $4

Grosz, Injured nurse, watercolour, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr10

Grosz, Street scene, watercolour, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr10

Grosz, Living Christ, print, Weimar: Staatliche Kunstsammlung, destroyed

Kandinsky, Geometric decoration, print, Hamburg: Kunstgewerbe Museum, sold to Buchholz $0.5

Kandinsky, Small worlds portfolio, prints, Jena: Stadtmuseum, destroyed

Kandinsky, Solid, print , Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Buchholz $0.5

Kandinsky, Composition, print , Mannheim: Kunsthalle, exchanged with Möller

Kandinsky, Sounds (book), prints, Hannover: Kestner Museum, destroyed

Klee, Marsh legend, oil , Hannover: Landesmuseum, sold to Gurlitt SFr500

Klee, Body, print, Königsberg: Städtische Meisteratelier, sold to Buchholz $1

Klee, Forest view, drawing, , Leipzig: Museum der Bildenden Künste, sold to Boehmer $10

Klee, Head, print, Lübeck: Museum Behnhaus, sold to Buchholz $

Klee, Dance, drawing , Lübeck: Museum Behnhaus, sold to Möller $60

Klee, Health resort, print, Magdeburg: Kaiser Friedrich Museum, sold to Buchholz $1

Klee, Phantom, print, Mainz: Städtisches Museum, sold to Buchholz $1

Klee, Head, print, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, destroyed

Klee, Plants, watercolour, Weimar: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, sold to Buchholz $50

Klee, Cold town, watercolour, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Buchholz $50

Klee, Garden plan, print, Zwickau: König Albert Museum, sold to Buchholz $1

Klimt, Female nude, drawing, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, exchanged with Fohn

Klimt, Lying nude, drawing, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, exchanged with Fohn

Kokoschka, Self-portrait, oil, Halle: Moritzburg Museum, sold to Buchholz $50

Kokoschka, The tempest, oil, Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Buchholz SFr4,000

Kokoschka, Gethsemane, print, Hannover: Kestner Museum, sold to Buchholz $1

Kokoschka, Artist and muse, print , Karlsruhe: Staatliche Kunsthalle, sold to Buchholz $1

Kokoschka, Portrait of Ettlinger, oil, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, sold to Boehmer $250

Kokoschka, Girl, oil, Lübeck: Museum Behnhaus, sold to Boehmer $125

Leger, Abstract composition, watercolour, Hannover: Landesmuseum, destroyed

Leger, Woman, watercolour, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr10

Leger, Jug, print , Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, sold to Gurlitt SFr20

Lissitzky, Study, oil, Halle: Moritzburg Museum, sold to Buchholz

Marc, Blue horse, oil, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, sold to Boehmer $600

Marc, Red deer, oil, München: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, returned

Matisse, Portrait of Cocteau, print, Hannover: Landesmuseum, sold to Gurlitt 60 SF

Mondrian, Abstract composition, oil, Hannover: Landesmuseum, sold to Buchholz $200

Modigliani Young girl, print, Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, exchanged with Fohn

Munch, Woman in blue, oil , Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Halvorsen £100

Munch, Sin, print, Hannover: Landesmuseum, sold to Halvorsen £10

Munch, Bathing woman, print, Kiel: Kunsthalle, sold to Halvorsen £5

Munch, Landscape, oil, Köln: Wallraf Richartz Museum, sold to Halvorsen £450

Munch, Four sons of Dr Linde, oil, Lübeck: Museum Behnhaus, returned

Munch, Self-portrait, oil , Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Halvorsen £350

Nolde, Evening meal, oil , Halle: Moritzburg Museum, sold to Vilstrup $1000

Nolde, Summer cloud, oil , Kiel: Kunsthalle , sold to Buchholz £40

Nolde, Three children, print, Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie, sold at Boehmer, $0.5

Picasso, Absinthe drinker, oil , Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Boehmer SFr 24,000

Picasso, Still life, print, Hamburg: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr60

Picasso, Self-portrait, print, Hannover: Landesmuseum, exchanged with Fohn

Picasso, Portrait of a man, print, Hannover: Landesmuseum, exchanged with Fohn

Picasso, Three Graces, print , Karlsruhe: Staatliche Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr40

Picasso, Peasant family, print, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, sold to Gurlitt SFr60

Picasso, Rider, print, Mannheim: Kunsthalle, exchanged with Boehmer

Picasso, Still life, print, Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, sold to Boehmer $2

Picasso, Mother and child, print , Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, destroyed

Picasso, Dance scene, print, Ulm: Stadtmuseum, sold to Gurlitt SFr20

Picasso, Man’s head, print, Wiesbaden: Landesmuseum, sold to Gurlitt SFr20

Picasso, Woman at the water, oil, Wuppertal: Städtische Bildergalerie, stored

Vlaminck, Village, print, Recklinghausen: Vestisches Museum, exchanged with Boehmer

Vlaminck, The Oise at Auvers, oil, Ulm: Stadtmuseum, exchanged with Boehmer

Vlaminck, Town street, watercolour, Saarbrücken: Staatliches Museum, sold to Gurlitt SFr60