The Gallery of Miracles and Madness: Insanity, Modernism, and Hitler’s War on Art by Charlie English

How should art be judged? Does it stand alone, or is the artist’s character essential to an assessment? Take, for instance, Paul Klee and Oskar Herzberg, two German painters who produced similar works during the interwar period. Their background, however, was decidedly different: Klee was an established artist; Herzberg a schizophrenic confined to an asylum.

Adolf Hitler found the similarities in their work disturbing. The insane, he felt, could not, by definition, be artists. The fact that Klee painted like a madman was thus symptomatic of German cultural decline. Expressionist art was “the morbid excrescences of insane and degenerate men”, Hitler proclaimed. The solution was simple: artists like Klee were hounded into exile, while those like Herzberg were murdered.

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