The House of German Art in Munich, a new museum designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost (1873-1934), was conceived as a showcase for “good” art that accorded with Nazi tastes: neoclassical paintings and sculptures that reflected the heroic spirit of the Third Reich, idealized landscapes, mythological scenes, and images that featured – and were produced by – “pure” Aryan people. At the opening of the museum on July 18, 1937, Hitler delivered a programmatic speech on National Socialist cultural policy and its understanding of “German art.”
The next day, the “degenerate art” exhibition opened in the Hofgarten arcades of Munich’s Residenz. It included 650 works of art confiscated from 32 German museums. For the National Socialists, the term “degenerate” applied to any type of art that was incompatible with their ideology or propaganda. Whole movements were disparaged as such, including Expressionism, Impressionism, Dada, New Objectivity, Surrealism, Cubism, and Fauvism, among others. Many of Germany’s most talented and innovative artists suffered official defamation: for example, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Ernst, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein, Paul Klee, and Ernst Barlach. With this exhibition, the visual arts were forced to fully submit to censorship and National Socialist “coordination.” Initiated by Goebbels and the President of the Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts Adolf Ziegler (1892-1959), the exhibition traveled to twelve others cities from 1937 to 1941. In all, it drew more than 3 million visitors, raising some question about popular responses to the Nazi use of art as propaganda.