Why Hitler's henchman and "great collector" Hermann Goering became a disaster for world art
Why Hitler's henchman and "great collector" Hermann Goering became a disaster for world art

Organized plundering of works of art from the conquered European territory was a strategy deployed by the Nazi party, whose main supporter was Hermann Goering. In fact, at the height of Nazi rule in the early 1940s, a real power struggle unfolded between Hitler and Goering, with a number of inevitable consequences.

Degenerate art. \ Photo: express.24sata.hr

It is known that Hitler himself at the beginning of his life was refused admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, but this did not in the least prevent him from considering himself a great connoisseur of art throughout his life. In his book My Struggle, he violently attacked contemporary art and its dominant tendencies at the time - Cubism, Dadaism and Futurism. Degenerate art is a term used by the Nazis to describe many of the works of art created by contemporary artists. In 1940, under the auspices of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg task force was formed, headed by Alfred Rosenberg, the main ideologist of the Nazi party.

Soldiers of Hermann Goering's division pose with a painting of Pannini at the Palazzo Venezia, 1944. \ Photo: ru.wikipedia.org

ERR (as it was called in German for short) operated in most of Western Europe, Poland and the Baltic countries. Its main goal was the cultural appropriation of property - countless works of art were either irretrievably lost or publicly burned, although the Allies were able to return many of these works to their rightful owners.

The portrait of a young man Raphael, stolen by the Nazis from the Czartoryski Museum, is considered by many historians to be the most important painting missing since World War II. Raphael was not the only famous artist that Hitler's deputy was looking for. Hermann Goering jealously guarded and appreciated the masterpieces of Sandro Botticelli, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.

An American soldier in the hidden cave of Hermann Goering in Königssee admires a 15th century statue of Eve, 1945. \ Photo: twitter.com

When the Nazis were defeated, Goering tried to load all the booty in Karinhall on trains bound for Bavaria, blowing up Karinhall behind him. Although much was irretrievably lost or destroyed, Goering's handwritten catalog, containing nearly one thousand four hundred works, was kept in his country house near Berlin. By the most conservative estimates, Herman acquired at least three paintings a week. In 1945, the New York Times estimated the cost of these works at two hundred million dollars, which is nearly three billion dollars today.

Portrait of a young man by Raphael, 1514. \ Photo: ngv.vic.gov.au

Herman lived a life of extreme luxury and wealth. In addition, he loved more refined things: from jewelry and animals in the zoo to a heavy addiction to morphine. Every year on his birthday, January 12, Hitler, along with the Nazi elite, showered him with works of art (and other expensive items). The scale of his collection was so great that many items were scattered carelessly in his hunting lodge, despite presentation, provenance, or appraisal. As a rule, they were all acquired from museums and private collections in Western European countries, especially those that belonged to the Jewish community.

Hitler on the occasion of Hermann Goering's birthday presents him with the work of Hans Makart. \ Photo: thetimes.co.uk

In cross-examination in Nuremberg, Hermann stated that he was acting as a cultural agent of the German state and not for personal gain. He also confessed his passion for collecting, adding that he wants at least a small portion of what has been confiscated. His own expansion in tastes is a marker of the Nazi's simultaneously expanding power.A study of Hermann Goering's catalog of works of art reveals a dominant interest in European romanticism and nude female forms. It is also worth noting that there were two people in his life who supported his thirst for art with great zeal - his wife Emmy, who was obsessed with French impressionists such as Monet, and art dealer Bruno Lohse.

A private train boxcar with a cargo from Lohse containing works of art seized by the Nazis and Goering, discovered in 1945. \ Photo: google.com

Lohse acquired the infamous fame of one of the main thieves of art in history. Born in Switzerland, Bruno was a sturdy young SS officer who spoke fluent French and received his doctorate in art history. He was a self-confident deceiver, manipulator and schemer who caught the attention of Hermann Goering during his visit to the Jeu de Pume art gallery in Paris in 1937-38. Here they developed a mechanism by which the Reichsmarschall took away works of art stolen from the French Jewish community. Goering's private trains were to take these paintings back to his country estate outside Berlin. Hitler, who viewed contemporary art and its dominant forms as “degenerate,” preferred Lohse to keep the finest works of art for him, while several works by artists such as Dali, Picasso and Braque were burned or destroyed.

Langlois Bridge at Arles, Van Gogh, 1888. \ Photo: reddit.com

Jeu de Paume became Lohse's hunting ground (Göring himself personally visited the museum about twenty times between 1937 and 1941). Van Gogh's Langlois Bridge at Arles (1888) was one of several priceless masterpieces of art sent by Lohse from Jeu de Paume in Paris by private train to Goering's country house.

Although Lohse was arrested, he was soon released from prison and became part of a shadowy network of former Nazis who continued to trade in stolen art with impunity. Among them were masterpieces of dubious origin, which were bought by American museums. Hermann Goering was so eager to get Vermeer that for this he exchanged one hundred and thirty-seven stolen paintings.

One of the brilliant forgeries of the Dutch forger Henrikus Antonius van Meegeren, sold to Hermann Goering as a work of Jan Vermeer. \ Photo: pinterest.ru

After Lohse's death in 1997, dozens of paintings by Renoir, Monet and Pizarro, worth many, many millions of dollars, were found in his bank vault in Zurich and in his Munich home.

The manifold consequences of the Nazi plunder cannot be underestimated. To begin with, cultural appropriation and the urgency of acquisition and destruction serve as a reminder that forces such as the Nazis sought to conquer the arts and culture. This cultural appropriation is also an attempt to master history through war and violence.

Second, chronological documentation, such as Hermann Goering's written art catalog, points to a change in Nazi external power. These acquisitions were increasingly associated with the great artists of Western Europe, especially the art that developed during and after the European Renaissance between the 14th and 17th centuries. It also sheds an interesting light on the personal wealth and excesses of the Nazis, especially the elite.

Manuscript art catalog of Hermann Goering. \ Photo: newyorker.com

Third, the influence on contemporary art and scholars, especially Jewish academic art critics such as Erwin Panofsky, Abi Warburg, Walter Friedlander, was profound. This led to a "brain drain" in which some of the most prominent Jewish scholars and intellectuals fled to overseas institutions. In this process, the US and UK were the biggest beneficiaries, as their universities offered generous incentives in the form of grants, grants, scholarships and visas. The financiers also fled across the Atlantic, and as a result, larger movements in the visual world such as Hollywood began to emerge in the 1940s.

Nazis plundering art. \ Photo: thedailybeast.com

Finally, it would be fair to say that Hermann Goering was a burglar and marauder, not an art collector. As Adolf Hitler's deputy, he led countless horrific campaigns to destroy the cultural wealth of Europe and plunder entire aspects of a crucial and irreplaceable history.This, of course, is in addition to the bloodshed that under his leadership was waged in the vastness of Western Europe, and the millions who died as a result.

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