Geoff Walden


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Haus der Deutschen Kunst, Munich

   Adolf Hitler was a genuine patron of the arts, with a love for painting and architecture, but only a patron of those arts of which he approved. Having been a painter in his youth, Hitler considered himself the supreme critic of what was, and was not, proper art. Modern "degenerate" art was definitely out. To promote "proper" art Hitler had the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) built in Munich, to be the scene of special yearly exhibits. Hitler placed his photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, along with director Karl Kolb, in charge of choosing the art works for these annual exhibitions.

   The annual exhibitions featured military scenes, portraits of the Führer and other Nazi leaders, German landscapes and places associated with Hitler's youth, nudes, and scenes promoting German traditions, particularly "folk-art" agricultural views. Favored artists included sculptors Josef Thorak, Arno Breker, and Fritz Klimsch, and painters Sepp Hilz, Karl Truppe, Elk Eber, Wilhelm Hempfing, Ernst Liebermann, and Adolf Ziegler. The first exhibit was in 1937, at the opening of the building, and the annual shows continued through 1944.

   Many of the following illustrations come from catalogs of the annual exhibits, published by Heinrich Hoffmann and others. Other illustrations come from period postcards, based on Hoffmann's photos and art reproductions. In many cases, these illustrations are all that survive of the artwork produced during the Third Reich, many of the works themselves having been lost or destroyed (click here to read an informative article on the fates and whereabouts of some of this artwork). The American military authorities confiscated much of this art at the end of World War II. Many works were returned to Germany in the 1980s, where they remain in storage, not accessible to the general public. The U.S. Army War Art collection in Washington retains several of the confiscated works, principally those showing portraits of Hitler and other Nazi leaders, and Nazi party subjects. A very few former HDK works are in private hands today.

   This page is divided into four parts: this part features portraits of the Führer and his homeland, and other approved themes, Part 2 shows portraits of other Nazi leaders and Party themes, Part 3 features artwork with military themes, and Part 4 covers sculptures.


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The Haus der Deutschen Kunst was built in 1933-37 to replace the Munich "Glass Palace" Art Gallery which had burned in 1931. Designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost in the neo-classical Third Reich style, the building still serves Munich today as an art museum.  (author's collection)

Hitler and Himmler inspect ceremonial troops uniformed as Bavarian infantry, at the opening of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst on July 18, 1937.  (National Archives RG242)


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The view on the left shows the grand opening exhibition in July 1937. In the center of the photo, Hitler is seen talking to (third from the left) Heinrich Hoffmann, director Karl Kolb, and architect Paul Troost's widow Gerdy. In the background can be seen Arno Breker's "Anmut."   The photo on the right shows Frau Prof. Troost talking to Rudolf Hess during the 1940 exhibit (in the background is Adolf Wamper's "Genius des Sieges" - Genius of Victory).


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More photos of the 1937 opening exhibition. On the left, Hitler (in center) speaks with Gerdy Troost. To the left of Hitler is Josef Goebbels, and to the right of Frau Troost is Heinrich Himmler (back to camera). The photo on the right shows the parade before the exhibition opening, seen here on Ludwigstraße, in front of the Siegestor. The parade was titled "Two Thousand Years of German Culture," and featured floats depicting scenes from German history and culture from prehistory to the present.  (author's collection)


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Adolf Hitler visits the 1939 exhibit opening at the HDK. Also seen in the picture are Heinrich Himmler (far left), Josef Goebbels, Dino Alfieri (Italian Ambassador), and Frau Prof. Gerdy Troost (next to Hitler). The painting in the background is Johannes Beutner's "Erwachen."  (Ullstein Photo Service, Berlin)

A young member of the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) visits the 1943 exhibition. He is holding the exhibition catalog open to page 65, showing Paul Scheurle's "Najade."


A favored theme for Third Reich artists was portraits of the Führer. These became so numerous that Hitler finally decreed that only one would be displayed "officially" at each annual Greater German Art Exhibition (although this order was not followed every year). The portrait chosen for the grand opening in 1937 was Heinrich Knirr's "Adolf Hitler, der Schöpfer des Dritten Reiches und Erneuerer der deutschen Kunst" (Hitler, the Creator of the Third Reich and Renewer of German Art - this original painting is now in the Imperial War Museum in London). The 1938 portrait was Hubert Lanzinger's allegorical "Der Bannerträger" (The Standard Bearer), showing Hitler as an armored knight. This painting became very popular in poster and postcard form.


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"Der Führer" by Heinrich Knirr, 1937 (this painting was later displayed in the Führerbau in Munich)

"Der Führer" by Hugo Lehmann (this portrait was based on photos taken of Hitler the night he proclaimed the establishment of the Greater German Empire, 12 March 1938, at the Rathaus in Linz, Austria)


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"Der Führer und Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht" by Conrad Hommel, 1940

"Bildnis des Führers" by Franz Triebsch, 1941


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"Führerbildnis" by Hans Schachinger, 1942

"Bildnis des Führers" by Otto von Kursell, 1941


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"Bildnis des Führers" by Rudolf Zill, 1942

"Bildnis des Führers" by Franz Triebsch, 1939

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The 1943 portrait was "Der Führer" by Karl Truppe.

"Führer des Großdeutschen Reiches" By Conrad Hommel, 1939.


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"Porträt des Führers" by Fritz Erler, 1939. This work portrayed Hitler as the inspiration for German architecture and sculpture; the Haus der Deutschen Kunst is visible in the left background.

Hitler as he wished to be seen - as the chief patron of the arts. This Heinrich Hoffmann photo appeared as the frontispiece to several of the catalogs of the annual art exhibits in the Haus der Deutschen Kunst.


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Braunau, Hitler's birthplace in Austria, was a favorite scene. "Braunau am Inn" by F. X. Weidinger, 1943

Another favorite subject was the village of Leonding near Linz, where Hitler lived as a child and where his parents were buried. "Elternhaus des Führers in Leonding" by F. X. Weidinger, 1943


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"Das Geburtshaus des Führers in Braunau am Inn - Hofseite" by Paul Geißler, 1943 (Hitler's birthplace - rear side courtyard)

"Das Schulhaus des Führers in Fischlham, Radierung" by Paul Geißler, 1943 (school that Hitler attended)


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"Blut und Boden" (Blood and Soil) by Erich Erler (1942) illustrated a common Nazi propaganda theme.

This poster promoted the new Autobahn highway system (based on a photo of the autobahn bridge at Hirschberg).


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The exhibitions also featured portraits from history, as well as rustic figures from the present. On the left is "Götz von Berlichingen" by Will Tschech, 1939 (Götz was a defiant Landsknecht knight made famous in a play by Goethe). On the right is "Bergführer" (Mountain Guide) by Georg Siebert, 1941.


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"Der Führer Spricht" (The Führer Speaks) by Paul Matthias Padua, 1939 (the farmer family listens to a Hitler speech on their Volksempfänger, an inexpensive radio introduced for the common people by Josef Goebbels)

"Die Kunstzeitschrift" (The Art Journal) by Udo Wendel, 1940 (the magazine page shows the Fritz Klimsch sculpture "Die Schauende"). Heinrich Hoffmann published regular art journals (making even more money from the HDK exhibits).



Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)     Continue to Part 2, Nazi Party Themes

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)     Go to Part 3, Military Artwork

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)     Go to Part 4, Sculpture

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)     Haus der Deutschen Kunst building, Munich

Lstone.gif (1289 bytes)   Return to the Third Reich in Ruins homepage



A good overall work that explains Hitler's interest and taste in art, along with how the exhibits for the Haus der Deutschen Kunst were chosen, is Heinrich Hoffmann's Hitler Was My Friend (London, Burke, 1955) - a truly fascinating book.

Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung im Haus der Deutschen Kunst (Munich, F. Bruckmann, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 eds.; Munich, Knorr u. Hirth, 1937, 1939, 1940 eds.).

Heinrich Hoffmann, Kunst dem Volk (Vienna, Verlag Heinrich Hoffmann, 1939-1944 monthly journals, and special 1942 and 1943 editions).

Zweitausend Jahre Deutsche Kultur (Munich, Knorr & Hirth, 1937).

Joseph Wulf, Die Bildenden Künste im Dritten Reich (Gütersloh, Sigbert Mohn Verlag, 1963).

Kunst im 3. Reich - Dokumente der Unterwerfung (Frankfurt, Franfurter Kunstverein, 1975).

Robert Scholz, Architektur und Bildende Kunst 1933-1945 (Preuss. Oldendorf, Schütz Verlag, 1977).

The best detailed references in English are:

Peter Adam, Art of the Third Reich (New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1992).

Bertold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (New York, Pantheon Books, 1979 - a revised version of the 1974 German edition).

William P. Yenne, German War Art 1939-1945 (New York, Crescent Books, 1983).

Deutsche Historisches Museum, Berlin - "Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung"  -- (see also the /kunstausstellung/ and /architektur/index.html pages)

An online guide to the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, including a catalog of the period postcards showing the artworks displayed, can be found at



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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.