5 Forgotten Female Artists Deemed Degenerate By The Nazis

5 Forgotten Female Artists Deemed Degenerate By The Nazis

These artists were once acclaimed, but with the rise of the Nazis, their art was banned and them forgotten.

One of the main reasons why Hitler and the Nazi party secured so much power in Germany is that they understood culture’s impact on the way societies are built and driven. They understood they had to dominate all cultural expressions and use them to spread their nationalistic discourse. Art was naturally one of the first victims to fall under their policies so much so that as soon as Hitler rose to power, he enacted a series of rules and precepts of what art (especially German art) should be and which type of styles and schools had to be destroyed.

Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and four years later he was already the Führer. He commissioned his cabinet members to organize two different art exhibits that would “educate” Germans on the new standards of art. The first of them, The Great German Art Exhibition, was a devotedly curated selection of art the Third Reich not only considered akin to its ideology but that deemed the only valid artistic expression. This meant art that glorified German pride through authorized folklore that could also set social behavior norms (idealized Arian women and men, German landscapes, etc.).

The second exhibit (and the one that had way much more turnout) had the opposite intention. The Degenerate Art Exhibition, as the name indicates, sought to show  “corrupted” and immoral values that modern art had adopted, which basically included all modern artistic currents like Cubism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and many others. However, the parameters behind the exhibit weren’t only related to art but actually had to do more with race and ideology (as most things did when it came to the Nazis).

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The Degenerate Art Exhibition was made up of modernist artworks, and art made by either Soviet and Jewish artists, as well. According to their pamphlet, this type of art revealed “the philosophical, political, racial and moral goals and intentions behind this movement, and the driving forces of corruption which follow them." The Nazis thought Degenerate art had evil intentions to corrupt the German people and therefore had to be destroyed, which eventually did happen.

The idea of degeneracy wasn’t only seen in political terms. According to the discourse, it had real links to pathological disorders, and thus their creators were as dangerous as an enemy of the State. These talented women were among those who were banned, and even imprisoned, or murdered, and forgotten by mainstream art history even after the ban. 

Broncia Koller-Pinell (1863-1934)

forgotten female artist considered degenerated nazisSitting (1907)Born in what is now Poland, Broncia Koller-Pinell was raised in Austria where she pursued a career in Art through private lessons. She held her first exhibition in 1885 and her popularity kept growing locally as well as in Germany to the point that she became friends of some of the most important Austrian painters of the time like Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. She was one of the artists banned and neglected for being a Jew. She died in 1934, but with the rise of Nazism, her modernist art (plus her Jewish origins) made her a persona non grata, and thus she was forgotten.

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Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler (1899-1940)

forgotten female artist considered degenerated nazisSelf-portrait (1930) / A female patient. Woman with Landscape (1929)Lohse-Wächtler’s story is that of thousands who lost their lives during the Nazi regime. Born to a middle-class family, she started her formal art education at age 16 when she was admitted at the Royal Arts School of Dresden where she specialized in Expressionism. In 1921 she married the painter and opera singer Kurt Lohse but her marriage wasn’t precisely the most stable, which were a cause of severe mental health issues she coped with through painting. In 1932, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1935 she was forced to be sterilized and eventually euthanized in 1940 under the Aktion T4 program that killed thousands of Germans with disabilities.

Teresa Feoderovna Ries (1874-1950)

forgotten female artist considered degenerated nazisSelf-portrait (1902)After being expelled from the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, Teresa Feoderovna Ries moved to Vienna, which was the capital of Art at the turn of the century capital of art. Her work, though quite bold and provocative, soon captured the interest of the most influential figures in Austria including Emperor Franz Joseph I. However, fame and admiration weren’t going to last forever. When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, a group of soldiers raided her studio forcing her to vacate it under their Aryanization policy. They destroyed most of her work and even though she managed to flee from Austria four years later, her work never received the attention it once had. 

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Ilse Twardowski-Conrat (1880-1942)

forgotten female artist considered degenerated nazisReading Lady (probable self-portrait)Born to a Jewish family in Vienna, Twardowski showed great talent as a sculptor from an early age. After thorough training with important artists of the time, she soon caught the eye of powerful people, including Empress Elisabeth of Austria who commissioned a work to her. Within a short period of time, she was exhibiting her work all over the country and some places in Europe, as well. By the 1930s, she decided to move to Munich but, with the Nazi art policies, she was forbidden to practice her work. She sold her studio and the work she left unfinished and moved to the suburbs where little by little she was stripped of all her rights. It all reached a terrible end in 1942 when she was forced to move into a Jewish community outside the city without her possessions. She decided to take her life before yielding to the Nazis one more time.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944)

forgotten female artist considered degenerated nazisInterrogation I (1934)Dicker was born in Vienna at the turn of the century. Her passion for art was so huge that she devoted most of her life to studying and teaching it. She was also quite a versatile artist who didn’t focus only on painting; she was also quite proficient in textile design and printmaking. Friedl was one of the many artists deemed degenerate by the Nazi party, but she was one of the few that was actually quite vocal against their policies through her work (as the painting above shows). Of course, she was eventually interrogated by the SS and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There she spent the little time she had to teach art lessons to Jewish children on the camp. She was later transferred to Auschwitz where she was murdered in 1944.

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These five artists are just a few of the hundreds who were banned and even persecuted throughout Europe during the Nazi regime. What’s interesting is how artists like Picasso, Klimt, Kandinsky, Chagall, Kokoschka, and so many others kept their widespread reception in art history, while pretty much no woman did, even when they were as famous, talented, and admired as their male counterparts.

forgotten female artist considered degenerated nazis

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