An artist against Hitler

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Aug 12 06:55:55 MDT 2003

Peter Paret. An Artist against the Third Reich: Ernst Barlach,
1933-1938. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xvi
+ 248 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliographic essay, bibliography,
index. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-82138-X.

Reviewed by Laird M. Easton, Department of History, California State
University, Chico.

Published by H-German (July, 2003)

Since the publication of his seminal The Berlin Secession: Modernism and
Its Enemies in Imperial Germany in 1980, Peter Paret has written a
number of elegant studies exploring the relations between art, politics,
and history in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. This book
represents the latest of these volumes, which have established the
author--already known as one of the foremost military historians of his
generation--as the preeminent authority on the political interpretation
and reception of art in modern Germany. Paret brings to the subject a
unique personal perspective. Paul Cassirer, one of the most prominent
modern art dealers in Imperial and Weimar Germany, was Paret's maternal
grandfather. Thus, from an early age, the author was exposed to much of
the art he discusses, including that of the sculptor and graphic artist
Ernst Barlach, who is clearly a personal favorite and part of a pantheon
that would include Max Liebermann, Adolph Menzel and Walter Leistikov,
among others. Consequently Paret's examination of Barlach's sculpture
and drawings as well as of his trials and tribulations in the Third
Reich is more than just scholarly exercise; it is informed by the
insight that comes from a lifelong interest.

As its title suggests, the book concentrates on Barlach's struggle to
continue to make a living as an artist during the Third Reich. Given his
conception of his art as both apolitical and deeply German, Barlach
thought, at first, that the regime would allow him to work unmolested.
But it soon became clear that he had misunderstood both the way in which
his work offended Nazi conceptions of the role of fine art within the
Third Reich and how deeply held these convictions were. Thus this short
study raises much larger questions about the importance of culture,
particularly the fine arts, within Nazi ideology and especially in
Hitler's worldview; the struggles within the higher ranks of the regime
over artistic freedom; and decision-making in general in the Third Reich.



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