Adolf Hitler was an aspiring painter before forming the National Socialist Party, and once he became the Fuhrer, he used his political power to dictate the aesthetic taste of his party and country through art theft, collaboration with artists, and destruction of works he deemed ‘degenerate.’ The following resources describe the relationship of the Nazis to aesthetic culture.
Book, Documentary, and Website: Nicholas, Lynn. The Rape of Europa: the Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print. documentary: The Rape of Europa. dir. Bonnie Cohen. Menemsha Films, 2008. DVD. website: http://therapeofeuropa.com/
Independent researcher Lynn Nicholas’s work predates The Monuments Men by more than a decade and retells the story of the MFAA. However, Nicholas begins her account at the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power and discusses how and why the Nazis stole art, recounts victim’s stories, and documents efforts put forth by other participants in the war to protect and recover cultural property, and the impact of its loss. The documentary retells the story in film with interviews and primary source photographs. While primarily a commercial venture, the accompanying website also provides updates on the recovery and restitution of stolen artworks, a timeline of the war, and many original photographs.
Book: Kirkpatrick, Sidney. Hitler’s Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Journalist and documentary filmmaker Sidney Kirkpatrick retells the true story of how Hitler stole the Crown Jewels of Charlemagne and the Spear of Destiny (a lance said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ as he was being crucified) from Austria, his intent to employ them in his quest to create a Fourth Reich, and how a member of the MFAA, Dr. Walter Horn, eventually located the relics after the close of World War II.
Book: Charney, Noah. Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.
Art Historian Noah Charney recounts the theft of the famous Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck (also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) from Belgium in WWII and numerous other times throughout history, and how it was recovered.
Book: Riding, Alan. And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi Occupied Paris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
Former European correspondent for the New York Times, Alan Riding discusses the cultural impact that Nazi occupation had on the citizens and artists of France, from writers, like Jean-Paul Sartre, to painters, such as Pablo Picasso, and ultimately examines the morality of creativity during wartime.
Book: Petropoulos,Jonathan. Art as Politics in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Historian Jonathan Petropoulos examines Hitler’s aesthetic policy and how art was used to articulate the tenets of Nazi ideology and legitimize his rule. Also discusses the contents of Nazi leaders’ private collections, and how this art reflected the hierarchy of the party.
Book: Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Historian Jonathan Petropoulos discusses why some artists chose to collaborate with the Nazis and the effect that choice had on their careers. Also examines the aesthetic policies of the Third Reich and its subsequent impact on art produced during Hitler’s reign.