An Artist against the Third Reich: Ernst Barlach, 1933-1938

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The conflict between Ernst Barlach, the most important German sculptor of the time, and the Third Reich is a remarkable episode in Hitler's war against modern art. Rather than accept repression passively, Barlach denounced the confiscation and destruction of his work as ideologically inspired and continued on his independent course. The author's discussion of Barlach's art and of his insistence on creative freedom is joined to an analysis of his opponents' motives and tactics. Hitler's ill-informed rantings against modernism in German art were nevertheless an internally consistent and politically effective critique of liberal culture. That despite Hitler's strictures some National Socialists advocated a "Nordic modernism" and tried to win Barlach to their cause exemplifies the cultural crosscurrents running through the Third Reich. Peter Paret's closely focused study of an artist in a time of crisis seamlessly combines the history of modern Germany and the history of modern art.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Though Barlach's personal story resonates -- poor health and the state's hounding forced him to stop working at the very end of his life -- the historian Peter Paret's Artist Against the Third Reich sheds much light on the tortured evolution of Nazi policy. — Ted Loos
Publishers Weekly
Before Hitler's mission to weld Nazi ideology to art produced in the Reich, modernists and National Socialists met their ill-defined enmity with fumbling hands. Paret (German Encounters with Modernism) views the clash through the career of Barlach (1870-1938) who emerges from this meticulous study paradoxically steadfast and yet destroyed. After 1933, the then renowned artist continued to sculpt and sketch broad-planed, fine-lined figures possessed of an earthy grace, and to proclaim that "[n]othing can be more certain than that art is not subject to the strictures of a political view of the world." As internal party factions sought correlatives to the "un-German" art that Hitler reviled, this avowedly apolitical work became a locus of rhetorical contest: vanguards proclaimed its Nordic virility while conservatives denounced its alien distortion. Paret finds that Barlach, in the beginning, had no clue of the magnitude of his affront to the manic radicals who finally deemed his drawings "`likely to endanger public safety and order.'" Ultimately, Barlach was disowned by the state that might have embraced him: cultural police moved his work from museum to warehouse, from the office of Goebbels (an early admirer) to the 1937 "Degenerate Art" exhibit. He died of a heart attack the next year. While Paret charts this history with graceful clarity, his appraisals of the sculptures sometimes want aesthetic defense. It's unclear, for instance, why certain pieces would "seem to belong not to a national or even an international world, but to a world that is non-national." Still, he succinctly assesses the artist's threat to the Nazi agenda-in particular, by setting Barlach's spare, mournful monuments to World War I against popular tributes to the invincible Reich. Wholly compelling yet never celebratory, Paret's account (including 38 halftones) grants Barlach his long-due regard in English. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
" important intellectual biography of a nonpolitical artist who was forced to become a dissident, but also a lens by which to view the evolution of Hitler's war against abstract art." The Weekly Standard

"[Paret] succinctly assesses the artist's threat to the Nazi agenda - in particular, by setting Barlach's spare, mournful monuments to World War I against popular tributes to the invincible Reich. Wholly compelling yet never celebratory, Paret's account grants for Barlach his long-due regard in English." Publishers Weekly

"[T]he historian Peter Paret's Artist Against the Third Reich sheds much light on the tortured evolution of Nazi policy." New York Times

"As a book about process, as a case study in totalitarianism and a vignette of the crucial relationship between nationalism and war, it has a resonance—and a relevance—far greater than its own modest length." New York Sun

"Paret's effort to weave together the story of a single artistic career while interpreting the history of the Third Reich offers an eminently readable narrative and a potential model to scholars working on related material." CAA Reviews

"Concise, authoritative, with a style accessible to undergraduates, the book would be a good choice to assign in courses on the Third Reich." H-GERMAN Digest

"[A]n excellent contribution to our understanding of the nature of personal and artistic crosscurrent in the German totalitarian environment.... Highly recommended." Choice

"...(H)e has produced a volume that is a model of how the specific and particular can illuminate the general. It is a book to read more than once."
Neil Gregor, The Journal of Modern History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521035705
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2007
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
1 Hitler 5
2 Barlach 23
3 Nordic Modernism 51
4 The Hounding of Barlach 77
5 German and Un-German Art 109
6 After the Fact 139
A Note on the Literature 155
Notes 167
Documents with Works Cited 183
Index 189
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