80 years on: Defending ‘degenerate’ art from Nazi Germany’s campaign

PUBLISHED: 15:01 13 June 2018 | UPDATED: 15:30 13 June 2018

Hitler visiting the degenerate art exhibition in munich, 1937. (picture: The Wiener Library)

Hitler visiting the degenerate art exhibition in munich, 1937. (picture: The Wiener Library)


The Wiener Library explores Nazi Germany’s suppression of ‘degenerate’ artists and stories of displaced Jews arriving before the war.

max slevogt, der panther, 1931. (picture: The Wiener Library) max slevogt, der panther, 1931. (picture: The Wiener Library)

Eighty years ago the Britain rejected Nazi Germany’s campaign against ‘degenerate’ art with a groundbreaking London exhibition. In 1938, the New Burlington Galleries displayed a selection of German modern art in its defence – a direct response to the degenerate art exhibition staged by the Nazis in Munich in 1937.

Although many of the artworks were innoffensive landscapes or abstract modern pieces, they were described as ‘sick’ and ‘insulting’ by the Nazis. The Munich exhibition displayed works by artists including Ernest Ludwig Kirchner, with labels such as “an insult to German womanhood” and “nature as seen by sick minds.”

To explore the topic, the Wiener Library is presenting a selection of archival items from its collections alongside artworks that featured in the original exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1938. The first half of the exhibition explores the history and context of the degenerate art campaign while the latter section features original painting and reproductions from the London 1938 exhibition.

“I think that this topic is important as it reveals the virtually unknown history of the largest international response to the Nazis’ suppression of so-called degenerate art. The exhibition in London at the New Burlington Galleries remains the largest ever display in this country of works of modern German art. It also illustrates the contributions that refugees and emigres made to British culture,” says Barbara Warnock, a curator at the Wiener Library exhibition.

The display also includes documents from its archives telling the stories of displaced Jews arriving in Britain before the war. For example, Ernst Nelkenstock, the lender of the Emil Nolde painting Young Academic to the 1938 London exhibition, was a German Jewish lawyer who fled and became a butcher in Swiss Cottage.

“I was fascinated by the catalogue of the Nazi’s degenerate art show, held in Munich in 1937 – we have a copy in our collections. It was put together in order to try and make the artworks look as disturbing and crude as possible. I also found a letter in our collections relating to the looting of art sent by Alfred Rosenberg – who was instrumental in promoting the idea of racially ‘degenerate’ art – to Hitler. Very illuminating,” Warnock adds.

London 1938: Defending ‘Degenerate’ German Art is a free display at the Wiener Library in London, running 13 June – 14 September.

Latest Hampstead & Highgate Stories

The temperature nudged the mercury towards nearly 30c as the man sat down on a bench, sited between Grace Road’s evocative pavilion and the sight screen.

Middlesex ended day three of their County Championship match at Grace Road on 82-3, 299 runs adrift with only seven wickets remaining.

Yesterday, 17:00

A day before the fun day, Highgate will take on Finchley at Shepherds Cot in the Middlesex County League Premier Division

Yesterday, 16:33

Brazil and Costa Rica were winless in their opening matches at the World Cup and were both hoping for their first victory of the tournament at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.

Middlesex bowled Leicestershire out for 186 in their second innings on a baking hot afternoon at Grace Road, to leave the visitors facing a challenging target of 381 to win.

Yesterday, 17:15

Hampstead voted overwhelmingly to adopts its neighbourbood plan in a referendum yesterday.

Disability campaigner, Olympic torchbearer and Shepherd’s Hill resident Pamela Moffatt has died at the age of 80.

Yesterday, 15:54

Teddy bears will be cascading down from St James’ Church once again on Saturday, as part of the fourth annual Midsummer Muswell festival.

Most read Hampstead & Highgate etcetera

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now