Hitler’s label for what is now called modern art was “degenerate art”. This refers to the idea of a degrading of the ideals Hitler had of the German people and his ideal Germany. It is associated with Jewish or partial Jewish painters such as Max Liebermann. These works were targeted at the beginning of Hitler’s reign and should not be confused with later looted art, or spoils of war taken during Nazi occupation. Hitler used museum curators and art historians that were willing to remove the works of artist like Chagall, Lieberman, and Picasso. The works were then sold to fund the Nazi party. In November 2013 the press reported on a large stash of these
“degenerate art” paintings found in an apartment in Munich, Germany. Cornelius Gurtlitt, an elderly gentleman in his late seventies, under investigation for tax evasion was reported to have 1,400 works of art stashed in his apartment (States News Service). Mr. Gurlitt claims that the works belonged to him and were collected by his father Hldebrand Gurlitt. In this paper I would like to look at the issue of family secrets related to the collection art. Why these works of art create such an obsession among their collectors that they are willing to create family secrets that effect generations.
In the case of Cornelius Gurlitt his life was transformed by his father’s activities during World War II. Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt directed the Zwichua Museum before Hitler’s rise to power was removed as director for “pursuing an artistic policy affronting the healthy folk feeling of Germany” (Nicholas,9). Despite this he would later be considered one of the head art dealers for Hitler selling the types of work that he was fired for showing in the Zwichau Museum. It is possible that through his position of selling “degenerate art” to fund the acquisition of pieces for Hitler’s museum that he managed to save many of these works from destruction. The question lies in how Hildebrand acquired these works. It is believed by many that he purchased the paintings in his collection from jews who needed money to flee Germany. The prices of the art works were minimal in comparison with the resale value of the time. A listing of sale prices from the Nationgalerie showed that Hildebrand bought a portrait by M. Beckman for SFr 1( Nicolas,25). Nicholas in her definitive work The Rape of Europa gives a currency value in 1939 showing an equivalency of less than a dollar (Nicholas,445). The question of desire to protect art or the obsession often seen in art collectors becomes the complicated issue in the case of Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt. When asked by the US anti looting contingent referred to as the monuments men Dr. Gurlitt claimed that the works of art later found in his sons apartment has been burned in the bombing of allied troops coming into Dresden, Germany(Times of Oman).
Why Dr. Gurlitt did not tell the Allied troops about the paintings currently being held by the German government only he can answer. The shaping...