On March 15th, 2018 after many years of intensive research, the “Degenerate Art” Research Center at the Art History Institute at Freie Universität Berlin took its final steps towards publishing their largest project live on the internet, an inventory of all the modern artworks that the Nazis confiscated from public institutions in 1937/38.1 The data collected has been successively released since 2010. Currently there are over 21,000 data entries with details that are continually being expanded upon and corrected. The database is accessible via internet to all interested users in both the English and German language, and completely free of charge.2 The importance of such a database for everyday museum work, provenance research, and research in general, has become abundantly clear in recent years. This is in part because of the discovery of the so-called “Gurlitt Collection” in Munich, which harnessed a newfound public interest in the topic of confiscated artworks, particularly “Degenerate Art”. Some institutions had already carried out research on their former collections. Other institutions only began their process in cooperation with our research center, the result was a very supportive and beneficial dynamic, especially because it created the opportunity to evaluate other internal archives.3
In conjunction with the release, the research center organized an international symposium on a topic that had previously received little attention. Under the title “Degenerate Art” in Breslau, Stettin and Königsberg, lectures and discussions were held that focused on the special status of those cities, their collections of modern art, its confiscation and exploitation, and the consequences that followed. Fortunately, research on this subject area has expanded in the recent past, both by colleagues and experts based in the post-war institutions in Poland and Russia, as well as the “Degenerate Art” Research Centers in Berlin and Hamburg. The findings obtained through this mutually intensive, academic exchange are published within this volume.
Meike Hoffmann introduces the subject and the special status of the cities in question by revealing the provenance history of Emil Nolde’s painting Papua-Jünglinge (Papua Youths, p. 17–29). However, the “Degenerate Art” Research Center’s effort is not solely focused on reconstructing the confiscations from the individual institutions and maintaining the database of confiscated works. Which is why this publication includes an in-depth look at Stettin (Dariusz Kacprzak p. 117–126) and Königsberg (Andreas Hüneke p. 143–157), as well as contributions that give a broader view on the field of research. Diana Codogni-Łańcucka examines aspects of Nazi Art Policy and its impact on the extraordinary circumstances that prevailed in Silesia (p. 51–69). Małgorzata Stolarska-Fronia illuminates the persecution of Jewish modern artists and collectors in Breslau during the Nazi regime through the telling of Heinrich Tischler’s fate, who was an artist that belonged to what is now referred to as the “Lost Generation” (p. 95–105). Her contribution is only presented in English. And Nawojka Cieślińska-Lobkowicz reports on a local museum in Lodz, a city that was conquered in 1939, whose modern art collection was temporarily exhibited as negative examples alongside “good German art in the east” in Litzmannstadt (p. 175–189). The publication also includes an essay from Christoph Zuschlag, an established expert on Nazi Art Policy who worked at the research center during its first three years, and who now holds a professorship at the University of Bonn at their newly established Centre for Provenance Research, Art and Cultural Heritage Law. His essay focuses on a Max Liebermann painting that was sold by the Schlesische Museum der Bildenden Künste (Silesian Museum of Fine Arts) in Breslau. Zuschlag analyzes this transaction to observe the museum’s role in the outsourcing of unwanted art (p. 83–94). Finally, Petra Winter reconstructs the events that led to the acquisition of confiscated works by the Nationalgalerie Berlin (National Gallery Berlin) from Breslau, Stettin and Königsberg in the early post-war years (p. 203–213).
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to the success of the 2018 symposium and the publication of the book in 2021. First and foremost, we would like to thank the authors for the presentations on their latest research results, and the profound text contributions based on those findings. We are deeply grateful for our colleagues at the “Degenerate Art” Research Center at the Freie Universität Berlin. Without their committed and dedicated support neither the symposium, nor the publication, would have been possible: Brighid Casey (publication assistance), Marie Elisabeth Fischer (symposium organization), Maren Fusswinkel (symposium assistance), Anna Roberta Hövelmann (publication assistance), Jan Thomas Köhler (publication assistance), Lily Sabelus (publication organization), Sonja Seidel (symposium and publication administration), Justine Tutmann (symposium assistance), Nadine Vehling (symposium assistance), Barbara Zeisler (symposium assistance). Furthermore, many thanks are due to Brian Currid (Zweisprachkunst Berlin) for carefully translating the texts into English, as well as our publisher Wilhelm Fink, and especially to Andreas Knop who worked with us on all matters concerning the new volume of our publication series. We would also like to thank the following foundations and public authorities for their funding and support of the “Degenerate Art” Research Center since its establishment in 2003: Ferdinand-Möller-Stiftung (Berlin), Gerda Henkel Stiftung (Düsseldorf), Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung (Hamburg), International Music and Art Foundation (Vaduz), Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien, Kulturstiftung der Länder.
Meike Hoffmann and Andreas Hüneke in July 2020
For reasons of better readability, no systematic gendering has been used in this publication. As far as relevant for the statement, all gender identities are explicitly included in the choice of form. The Nazi terminology used in this publication has been exclusively for academic reasons and we strongly reject their contextual meaning.
The assessment of the total quantity of confiscated works is based on the so-called Harry Fischer List from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, a transcription of the original Nazi Inventory, whose various parts and versions are only preserved in fragments.
Database “Degenerate Art,” last accessed August 11, 2020.
Two examples are the exhibitions (Re) Discover – The Kunsthalle Mannheim from 1933 to 1945 and the Consequences 2018–2020 (Co-Curator: Matthias Listl) and Das Comeback at the Kunstmuseum Moritzburg, Halle/Saale 2019–2020 (Co-Curator: Susanna Köller).