Reviled art that made the Nazis rich

Revealed for the first time: the complete account of masterpieces plundered during the Hitler era
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Crucial new information about art works seized and sold by the Nazis because they were "degenerate" has been found in a routine bequest of German books and catalogues left to the Victoria and Albert Museum by a London art dealer.

The discovery is being hailed by experts in Germany as the first complete record of Hitler's raiding of museums and galleries for paintings and sculptures the Nazis deemed sub- versive and obscene. Many were simply modernist or abstract pictures. Others were by Jewish artists.

The Independent is the only newspaper to have seen the typescripts now being examined by V&A specialists. They contain lists of "degenerate" artists, including Van Gogh, the titles of their confiscated works and prices they were sold for - often to Swiss art dealers.

But not always. Three entries list Van Gogh paintings and in the column for the buyer's name, it says simply "Reichsm[arschall] Goering", the official title of Hermann Goering, Hitler's lieutenant and the head of the Luftwaffe. He is listed as having paid 150,000 Reichsmarks for one Van Gogh to a Berlin gallery, though there is no evidence that the money was ever received. One of these works is Dr Gachet, one of a series of paintings by Van Gogh with the same title.

Goering, who clearly did not mind owning degenerate works by Old Masters, is also down as having bought an oil painting by Gauguin, Reiter Am Strand.

A Van Gogh self-portrait was sold for 175,000 Swiss francs to a Swiss art dealer, and four prints by Lovis Corinth were sold to a Swiss art dealer for exactly one Swiss franc - such was the Nazi contempt for many of the works.

Because of the new information contained in these documents, historians will now know of several thousand more works confiscated by the Nazis. The new complete set of artists and works lists 18,000 paintings and sculptures. Only 12,000 had been officially collated in public archives before.

Most crucially, these newly discovered documents detail which paintings were destroyed and which were sold.

A number of paintings by Edvard Munch are listed as having been confiscated and sold. So are 10 works by Georg Grosz, the subject of a London exhibition at present. But numerous photographs by Man Ray, one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, are marked X, meaning destroyed. One of these was inoffensively titled Pistols And Keys

Compiled by the Nazi ministry of propaganda, the typescripts contain handwritten notes stating whether the paintings should be sold or destroyed, which dealers they were sold to and what prices they fetched. The prices are staggeringly low. A number of works by Munch were sold for less than 10 Swiss francs.

The discovery will cause excitement not only among art historians but among historians of the Third Reich. Andreas Huneke, an art historian in Potsdam who has specialised in this area, said yesterday: "Now we can see the glorious names of the artists and the names of their works. And we can see which of the works were destroyed. It is very important."

It is well-known that the Nazis seized artworks they thought degenerate and put on a special exhibition of them in 1937 - an exhibition they quickly had to close because it proved so popular.

Copies of the first volume, detailing the places where works were confiscated alphabetically from Aachen to Griefswald, are held in archives in Berlin and Potsdam. But the second, H-Z, volume listing thousands of other seizures had been thought lost for decades.

It has now been discovered among books in a bequest left by Austrian- born London art dealer, Harry Fischer, in 1977. The bequest, containing the first complete record of the number of works the Nazis had removed from German museums, was handed to the V&A by his widow, unaware of what it contained.

Susanna Robson, assistant curator in Special Collections, said: "What is so exciting about this is that it is complete. It appears to be the only complete inventory in existence.

"There have been people in Germany specifically working on trying to find out what happened to this document. We will be making it available for their study."

Mr Fischer was born in Vienna in 1903 to Jewish middle class parents. In 1938 he fled to England, where he served in the British Army's Pioneer Corps during the Second World War. In 1946 he founded the Marlborough Art Gallery in London, and in 1971 opened his own gallery, Fischer Fine Art.

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