|ARNO BREKER : HITLER'S MICHELANGELO
|` THE BREKER'S EXHIBIT THAT SHOOK GERMANY
For the first time since 1981, the works of Hitler's favorite sculptor Arno Breker, the
creator of monumental statues glorifying the Third Reich, were in July 2006 the subject
of an exhibition in a German public museum in the city of Schwerin in the state of
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany.
It's perhaps not surprising that his work -- or what survives -- has mainly been stashed
away in museum vaults. Described by Hitler as ``the best sculptor of our time,'' Breker
modeled Ubermensch heroes incorporating Aryan ideals and made busts of Nazi
leaders including Hitler and Goebbels. He designed outsized sculptures for
``Germania,'' Hitler's megalomaniac vision of a vast new Berlin to be built by Albert
The Schleswig-Holstein-Haus in Schwerin, the capital of the state is exhibiting about 70
works owned by Breker's widow (1). Rudolf Conrades, the curator, said his goal was to
provoke a discussion about Breker, who died in 1991, and to break the taboo
surrounding his art. Some pictures of this exhibit can be seen on this page.
He has certainly achieved his first aim. Klaus Staeck, an artist who is president of
Berlin's Akademie der Kunste, or Academy of Arts, canceled his own exhibition
scheduled for 2007 in the same house, saying that he thought the Breker show was
motivated by sensationalism and that he was afraid of an attempt to ``whitewash'' the
sculptor. Politicians in Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania voiced concerns that the show
may benefit right-wing extremists in a regional election in September 2006. A very
stupid position insofar as there is an Arno Breker Museum in Germany which you can
visit by clicking here.
The controversy is not about to end any time soon. But who was Arno Breker ? .
|BREKER A GENIUS WHO FELL FOR ARYANISM
A lot has been said about Arno Breker, Hitler's
favorite sculptor along with Josef Thorak and
Gerard Hauptmann. But after 1945, he was a
forgotten figure of nazi Germany even if he
continued to execute nice works and enjoy relative
fame -after a period of denazification- until his
death in 1991.
Arno Breker was born in July 1900 in a small city
near Dusseldorf. His father was a sculptor and a
stonecutter. Very talented, he spent six years as
an apprentice with his father after graduating from
secondary school. In 1916 while his father was
drafted into the army Arno took over his small
business and until 1920 attended evening
classes at the Kunstgewerbschule in Wuppertal.
At the end of 1920 he moved into a Kunstlerheim
(artist dormitory) and matriculed at the State Art
Academy in Dusseldorf where he spent 5 years
studying sculpture and architecture with masters
like Hubertus Netzer and Wilhelm Kreis.
It must be stated that during his training Arno was
torn between modernism and classicism reflecting
a major tension within the Dusseldorf Academy
and the German art society as a whole.
|Post-WW2 Breker's statue
|In this school young provocative artists like Otto Dix were
challenging the Art establishment and Dix was even charged in
1923 with pornography. Arno Breker is known for having tried to
throw a bridge between the two communities and talked of
"reconciling Hildebrand and Rodin." Breker was not a Classicist
and in 1922 he decorated one of the Academy's exhibition rooms
with abstract sculptures ; part of these sculptures were even
confiscated in 1937 as symbol of the "entarte art" (degenerated)
that the Nazis wanted to eradicate from Germany.
Breker even met modernists like Gropius, Klee and different
members of the Bauhaus. But he could not take them seriously
and was even amazed by their techniques and façon de faire. To
him they were not serious artists. In 1926, Arno Breker went to
Paris to study with sculptors Aristide Maillol and Charles Despiau.
After a brief return in 1927 to Germany he came back and stayed
in Paris until 1932.
|Breker was very happy in Paris and socialized a lot notably befriended
luminaries like the French poet Jean Cocteau (picture left) and the Jewish
gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim who had fled Germany. He also met his wife,
Demetra Messala (1), a Greek model who used to pose for Picasso and
Maillol. He exhibited his work at the Salon d'Autome and at the Salon des
Tuileries and was extremely sucessful in Paris. Even Picasso was impressed
by his works and members of the Resistance secretly visited his expositions.
Flechtheim did a lot of good job for Breker's career and helped him a lot in
advancing his fame. In 1932, Breker was awarded the Rome Prize by the
Prussian Academy of Arts. He then spent some time in fascist ITaly where he
was impressed by the monumental "imperial art" and met the future
Propaganda minister of the IIIrd Reich, Dr. Paul Josef Goebbels who urged him
to return to Germany where "a great future was expecting him."
What would you have done in early 1933 if you were a young ambitious and
extremely talented artist ? I guess that a lot of people in the same situation
would have packed their bags and taken the first train to Berlin. Well, it is
exactly what Breker did after a short stay in Paris and he enjoyed in Germany
all the benefits that a dictatorial state could pour onto his protégés. His
benefactors were rich and influent and people as powerful as Bertha
Siemens (born Grafin von Wartenburg) commissioned him to make a bust of
her 13 year-old son. Breker's wife was herself from a rich Greek family of art
dealers and the couple led an exciting and wealthy social life in Berlin.
But he was far from being a Nazi himself, first because he was too much
influenced by foreign cultures, notably French and Greek, secondly because
the fate of the Jews in Germany worried him a lot. He was well acquainted to a
lot of Jewish artists and could not stomach the persecution they were victims
of, notably the German Impressionist Max Liebermann. .
|Influenced by Hellenic culture and civilization, Breker eventually assuaged his
concerns. As an artist he believed in a lasting and indisputable beauty and finally
did not care for the experiments of the "entarte artists" and had no difficulties to
find in the Nazis complacent and all-to-happy-to help protectors and
commissioners. Step by step, he underwent gradual changes in his conceptions of
art and he became a state sculptor out of ambition and of a complete modification
of his state of mind. Did he modify by ambition some of his conceptions to build
these massive Aryan sculptures (above) that the Nazis apparatchiks loved so
much ? It is possible.
Before 1933 he had no political consciousness at all and he was certainly like
many artists quite naive in matter of politics. But he was very well aware of the
huge opportunities that Hitler's admiration for his art would bring to his career :he
often rejoiced of the opportunity to meet the Chancellor like a young child but
joined the NSDAP in 1937 only. He has his qualms but not enough however to
prevent him to be awarded in 1940 the Golden Badge of the Party by Hitler
In 1936 Breker met Albert Speer, Hitler's favorite architect and personal friend and
it was a huge boost in his career. They became and stayed friends for ever even
after the war.
|In 1936, Breker exeuted two
large figures for the
Reichssportfeld in Berlin, Victor
and Decathalete. They won a
Silver Medal at the Olympic Arts
|As of 1936, Breker supplanted Josef Thorak on Hitler's esteem and admiration
and most Nazis dignitaries acknowledge not only Breker's huge talent but Breker
as a perfect representation of "the force and willpower of the age." Some
people like film director Robert Scholtz went as far as saying that Breker's
sculptures were embodying the intended rejuvenation of the world. Eventually
Breker became the compulsory path to exalt the IIIrd Reich's projects and
achievements : not less than 42 works by him appeared in the eight Great
German Exhibitions (GDK) held each year in Munich. In the end, Breker's works,
as author Jonathan Petropoulos put it in his book (2), " emphasized a positive
image of a Nordic super-race and it is what was never forgiven to the sculptor and
still justifies nowadays the hostility met by the exhibition of July 2006.
|The same year he executed two
figures for Alert Speer, The
Torch bearer and the Sword
bearer which adorned the
|To make the matter worse Breker broadcast lectures on the radio to the general
public concerning Art and National Socialism. Of course Breker became a very rich
man and honors and recognition poured down on him, another fact that could not
be forgiven in 1945. Göring, Himmler, Karl Wolff, SS General, Mussolini became
his protectors and clients and he won the Prize of the Duce at the Venice Biennale
in 1940. Among other honors, he was promoted in 1937 professor at the School
of Fine Arts in Berlin, appointed vice president of the Reich Chamber for the
Visual Arts in 1941. There was not one honor that not bestowed on him but he
knew how to refuse some of them when for example he turned down the
presidency of the Chamber of the Visual Arts to be contented with the position of
vice president only. A decision that singularely put off the Nazi leaders.
In addition and consequently of all that, he wielded a terrific power and could
silence any critics or terrify any challenger. He was virtuallu unassailable during
the IIIrd Reich and became a familiar figure within Hitler's inner circle. The fuehrer
took him to Paris after the Fall of France in 1940 and Breker was all too happy to
shine in front of the Fuehrer with his deep knowledge of Paris and French
architecture. Breker was commissioned to create sculptures for the planned Berlin
Arc de Triomphe that would dwarf the one in Paris.
Breker created during his period of triumph the Arno Breker Works that was a
collaborative project with Speer and the General Building Inspector for the Reich
Capital (GBI) to manufacture the artistic accoutrements for the buildings that were
erected all over Germany. Located 60 miles South of Berlin, the ABW produced
sculptures, bas reliefs, lamposts or whatever was needed by the regime : million of
Reichmarks (RM) were involved. According to Hitler himself, Breker's annual
revenues were in the region of 1 million RM.
With such an income, Breker and his wife amassed a large collection of Art
including Picassos, Derains, Legers, Vlamincks and various old masters. The
Nazis did not bulge at the fact that Breker was buying elements of the Entarte Art
revealing the double standard that was prevailing in the IIIrd Reich's world as in
any dictatorial state.
|Breker in his complex
during the war
|Breker was not alone in
sculptures of Biblical
another Hitler's favorite,
was given a huge studio
near Munich in 1938.
|For his 40th birthday in 1940, Hitler gave him the Jackelsbruch estate, East of Berlin,
a country house built in the 18th century for... Frederick the Great.
The cost of it plus renovation amounted to some 450,000 RM (3) most of it forked out
by the GBI. After the war, Breker tried to play down the extent of the collaboration he
enjoyed from the Nazis but the Breker Works installations (140 meters long) included
three work halls, a storage depot, five barracks and a tapestry workshop. The
manager of the complex, Walter Hoffmann, held the title of Leader of the Central
Office for Culture under Reichminister Albert Speer (sic). Dozens of workers were
used by the complex, some French and Italian POWs and Himmler was too glad to
provide more "Volkdeutsche" workers at the request of Breker who had no qualms
concerning the conditions of labour and the poor diet of the workforce. Breker was
an artist of a very odd nature and like Picasso he did not care too much for the fate of
the people we was dealing with ; during the bombing of the city where the complex
was located, Breker was hosting as late as January 1945 huge parties with his
friends, paying no attention to the situation of the workers.
In fact, his life even during the war, was extraordinarily luxurious, he even had a
residence in Paris put to his disposal by Otto Abetz (4) but he preferred to stay at the
Ritz and have dinners at Maxim's. He enjoyed Paris's life during the war and played
a dubious role in the pillaging of French art treasures during the war. He was in
contact with Hans Posse, the man appointed by Hitler to loot European art treasures
to the benefit of the future Linz Museum.
|Hitler did not like this
bust of himself by Breker
Hitler was not a
|His popularity in France and Germany was such that he was the only German artist
to have an exhibition in Paris during the war in 1942. Put together to the benefit of
the armed forces of Occupation by the German Labor Front's Strength Through
Joy organization led by Robert Ley and staged in the Orangerie of the Louvre, it was
"an affair of state." Abel Bonnard, French minister of education, attended and artists
like Maillol and Despiau too or Nazi luminaries like Göring and Speer of course. But
even the Parisians enjoyed the show and up to 80,000 French people attended the
exhibition, a fact that French authorities prefer not to mention in the current
controversy about recent Breker's exhibition in Germany.
|Arno Breker here in his 60s
after WW2 continued to
enjoy relative fame and
wealth until his death in
1991 even if International
Books of Art never dared to
mention his works until a
very recent date
|The catalogue of the exhibition was widely circulated and the whole
show was a huge success largely due to his good connections with
some Vichy regime dignitaries like Marshal Petain himself, Pierre
Laval and Gaston Bruneton. However he was not totally oblivious of
the fate of other artists and going up the hierarchy as far as Hitler
himself, he helped Picasso out of trouble when the Spaniard was
discovered by the Gestapo transferring illegally currency to Spain
and the Soviet Union. Other reports suggest that he sometimes
became a tool of the repressive regime that cherished him, for
example when he refused to help the painter Emil Nolde who fell into
disgrace and was banned for the Great German Exposition Art.
|Those sculptures by artist Karl Abiker, Relay
Runners, were symbolic of the Nazi approved Art.
|Having said that, the Nazis and the Vichy French were
not alone in admiring the works by Breker : Josef
Stalin, the Soviet dictator, was so impressed by his
works shown at the 1937 World Exposition in Paris that
he wanted to engage Breker, an invite that he repeated
in 1946 at a time where Breker was more inclined to
accept. But fortunately or not for him, Breker demured
once more stating not without humour that "one
dictatorship is enough for me."
Furthermore, powerful men like Mussolini, Haile
Selassie, Leopold Sengor (sic), Mohammed V of
Morocco and even the German DDR acquired or
utilized his works.
In 1945, Breker and his wife fled to the Alps in search
of safety and a lot of his works were loaded onto truck
to Bavaria. Summoned by the Americans in the Fall of
1945, he was gently questioned by the CIC and
according to an American journalist, he even casted a
bust of Eisenhower as he was given an atelier by the
Americans. His wife was even given an automobile what
she justified in 1946 by saying that it was for the
purpose of buying and carrying "plaster, clay, stone
samples and tools."
In the end if he went through the denazification process
he was never charged for war crimes as his talented
attorney Werner Windhaus submitted 160 affidavits
about his irreprochable comportment during the war.
Originally charged as a Nutzniesser (category II of the
Liberation Law that defines an opportunist who
benefitted due to connections to the Nazis leaders), he
was eventually placed in category IV, that sets him as a
"fellow traveler" and permitted Breker to work again.
Actually Breker enjoyed the greatest leniency from the
Courts which decided that he was more a victim than a
profiteer of the IIIrd Reich. On Court even stated that
"he managed to resist the National Socialist rule of
Like Leni Riefenstahl, he denied any responsibility in
fashioning a Nazi aesthetic or supporting the regime
and falsely maintained that Art has nothing to do with
Politics. Breker lied about his relationships with the
Nazis, his official positions in the regime and about the
power he wielded. After the war, he became a nice and
gentle artist almost lost on this sea of violence and
privileges that the Nazi regime unleashed onto the
At the end or after the war, most of his works were
destroyed (pic to the right) -sometimes by retreating
SS armies or more often by advancing Soviet armies-
and he complained without any sense of tact to be
forced to live in "a ghetto" in Dusseldorf. In 1961, he
bid through a Swiss art dealer to an auction of his
works in Paris that brought only 76,000 DM. It is
unknown how many pieces Breker was able to withdraw
from this auction.
He proved adroit at surviving and reunited with
architects formerly employed by the GBI for the
reconstruction of German cities. He was commissioned
for executing sculptures for buildings in Dusseldorf,
Cologne, Höxter and eventually he executed busts of
the nouveaux riches of the German economic miracle
of the 50s. But he was not fully rehabilitated and
remained identified with the Nazis, as such he was
In his Memoirs, first published in French, he depicted
himself as unjustly ostracized and discriminated artist
by the Republic of Bonn. However his talent at
rendering the ugliest model acceptable to the eyes of
the beholder drew to him a lot of famous and rich
people too happy to look good and great under the
wonderful hands of this "schmalz" chiseller.
Still in 1970, an article in the Deutsche National Zeitung
described his work as "a spiritual revolt against
nihilism" that could imply that a more abstract art was
not worth its glory and its money. Actually Breker had a
lot of supporters keen on a rehabilitation of their hero
like the Galerie Marco in Bonn that tried its best to
promote exhibitions of some of his works in the 70s,
even circulationg pictures of Breker with Salvador Dali.
works are a renunciation
to the Aryan exaltation of
strength and to the Nazi
ideals. In fact, Breker was
nothing else than a
genius full of talent ready
to execute whatever
could prove his genius
and please his clients.
Had he been born
Russian he would have
served as well the
Masters of the Kremlin
and had he been born
American the occupier of
the White House.
|Arno Berker (above and right)
and Josef Thorak were
multi-talented, working in stone
and metal with themes varying
from the heroic to the nude,
while Klimsch did mainly
female nudes and is less
|In the early 80s he became a focus of controversy
and in 1981 the opening of a Berlin exhibition of
Breker's art attracted huge protests in Germany.
Some of his supporters were not from the extreme
right which added to the confusion. The chocolate
manufacturer and art collector Peter Ludwig
supported him and the attempts to set up exhibitions
of his works. Some, like the wellknown journalist
André Müller, never ceased to vilify him and
conducted extremely hostile interviews of Breker.
The question arose to determine whether Beker and
other artists of the IIIrd Reich were showable. To this
day, it has not been answered as the July 2006
exhibition demonstrated. Breker, one of the greatest
genius of the sculpture world of all times, is still a
taboo in Germany and probably in the rest of the
Most Germans are not ready to renounce a sense
of guilt for the destructions of the war and the horros
of the Holocaust and most of the world is not ready
to let them throw to the garbage of History such a
sense. To the exception maybe of some Iranian tyran
or Hezbollah mollah.
(1) His first wife Demetra Breker died in a car accident in 1956
(2) In The Faustian Bargain by Jonathan Petropoulos
(3) In 1940 a museum director earned no more than RM 14,000
(4) It belonged to Jewish American businesswoman Helena Rubinstein
(5) For more about Breker's life and works visit this interesting site (in French)
(*) Questions to All Experts 20th century
|Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler and Arno Breker all in military
uniforms savouring the Fall of France in June 1940 in front
of the Tour Eiffel. Hitler stayed three hours in Paris and that
was it. On his right Albert Speer and on his left Arno Breker
who were civilians and were given military outfits for the
|Pre-WW2 Breker's sculpture
|This nude "Grazie" (below) by
Breker is currently for sale in
Germany on auction at a starting
bid of Euros 1,200. IMHO it is
|This bust of Jean Cocteau by Breker
adorns the tomb of the French poet
in St Blaise' church near Paris
|Breker and Cocteau were extremely close. It is
sometimes even said that Cocteau dragged his
friend into a Resistance movement in France
whose Cocteau was a member.
|“I am often asked why I use
athletes as models and whether
this is not outmoded. My
answer: That which is good
never becomes obsolete.
Athletes are the best models for
sculpture. It is impossible for a
sculptor like me, who loves the
triad of beauty of the body, spirit
and soul, to overlook either a
male or a female athlete.
Besides, I have always been
interested in athletic
achievement per se, as well as
from an artistic viewpoint.”
|An exhaustive display of Breker's works
can be found on this Russian website.
|Arno Breker finishing up
the bust of Winifred
Wagner, Hitler's protégée,
who managed the
Bayreuth Festival, and who
died aged 83 saying that
she regretted nothing of
her relationship with the
Fuehrer. Winifred Wagner
sits model for the sculptor
Arno Breker in his atelier.
The master has
immortalized in his busts
for the Bayreuth Theater
also Wieland Wagner, the
Wagner, Cosima Wagner
and her father Franz Liszt .
In the background is the
design for a Gobelin
"Judgment of Paris".
|Arno Breker's works laid
unattended in a yard
somewhere in Germany at the
end of the War