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Art and Images in Psychiatry
December 2006

Self-Portrait as a Degenerate Artist

Author Affiliations
 

JAMES C.HARRISMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63(12):1307. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.63.12.1307

 . . . on behalf of the German people I would like to ban any such pitiful unfortunates—evidently the victims of defective eyesight—from attempting to bluff the public into accepting the products of their distorted vision as real, or even as ‘art.’

—Adolf Hitler, July 18, 1937, opening remarks, House of German Art1(p386,388)

On July 19, 1937, the National Socialists (Nazis) opened the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit directly across the park from the newly founded House of German Art that had opened the day before. Entartete Kunst1 contained 650 items that had been confiscated from 32 public German museums during the previous 2½ weeks and hastily assembled. The confiscation of these works was retrospectively legalized on May 31, 1938; the museums were never financially compensated, and the artists represented were advised to stop painting and many were fired from their academic positions. The first rooms of the exhibit were grouped by theme: religion, Jewish artists, vilification of women; slogans in these and in other rooms scorned abstraction and antimilitarism, likening this modern art to that of the insane. Eight paintings of Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) were on display; 2 of his drawings were placed with one by an institutionalized patient diagnosed with a mental illness. On a wall poster, the viewer was asked which of the 3 was by an “inmate of a lunatic asylum,”1(p389) thus ridiculing Kokoschka's drawings and suggesting that he was a lunatic.

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