Christoph Zuschlag Abstract

 Looted Art, Booty Art, Degenerate Art – Aspects of Art Collecting in the Third Reich

Christoph Zuschlag
University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany

In November 2013 the public was informed that a large private art collection in the Schwabing district of Munich had been seized in spring 2012 as part of an investigation by the public prosecutor and on the basis of a court order. More than 1200 artworks from the property of Mr. Cornelius Gurlitt were confiscated. Cornelius Gurlitt was the son of the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who on behalf of the National Socialists dealt with artworks which had been seized as “degenerate art” in German museums in 1937. Another part of the Cor-nelius Gurlitt collection consisted of artworks which had been confiscated from their Jewish owners by the Nazis (“Looted Art”). The so-called Schwabing art trove raised an enormous echo worldwide. In Germany it ended up in the founding of a “Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste” (German Centre for Lost Cultural Objects) by the federal government in order to force provenance research in German museums, libraries, and archives.

In the Third Reich literally hundreds of thousands of artworks travelled across Ger-many and Europe. More than 20000 objects of modern art were confiscated as “Degenerate Art” in German museums; many of them were sold at the art market and found their way to museums all over the world (which is part of the secondary results of Nazi art policy). Other objects were used for propagandistic reasons by including them into the travelling exhibition “degenerate art”. On the other hand Nazi officials like Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring built up their own huge collections which comprised of old master paintings, sculpture, and decorative art objects. They systematically included objects that were either looted from Jewish owners (Looted Art) or captured in occupied countries, e. g. France, The Netherlands, and Poland (Booty Art).

In my lecture I would try to provide an overview about the different aspects of art collecting in the Third Reich by using individual examples of artworks and their specific provenances as well as individual examples of collectors like Hitler and Gurlitt. An important issue not only for the entire conference but especially for the Third Reich is the legacy of the collecting practices in this empire. What consequences do the Nazi collecting practices have for us today — directly and indirectly?