'Entartete Kunst'

'Entartete Kunst' (or 'Degenerate Art') was a derogatory term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany. An exhibition entitled 'Entartete Kunst' opened in Munich in 1937 displaying works deemed to be ‘an insult to German feeling’ and went on to tour the country. The 'degenerate' verdict applied to virtually all German modernist art, but works by internationally renowned artists such as Picasso were also seized.

The V&A holds the only known copy of a complete inventory of 'Entartete Kunst' confiscated by the Nazi regime from public institutions in Germany, mostly during 1937 and 1938. The list of more than 16,000 artworks was produced by the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda) in 1942 or thereabouts. It seems that the inventory was compiled as a final record, after the sales and disposals of the confiscated art had been completed in the summer of 1941. The inventory’s two typescript volumes provide crucial information about the provenance, exhibition history and fate of each artwork.

Download the Entartete Kunst inventory

Entartete Kunst inventory, volume 1 (PDF file, 32.8 MB)

Entartete Kunst inventory, volume 2 (PDF file, 31 MB)

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The two volumes of the document. Among other works this page records the sale of a work by Paul Gauguin to ‘R[eichs]. M[arschall]. Goering’. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The two volumes of the document. Among other works this page records the sale of a work by Paul Gauguin to ‘R[eichs]. M[arschall]. Goering’. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Provenance of the document

The inventory was donated to the V&A’s National Art Library by Elfriede Fischer, the widow of Heinrich Robert (Harry) Fischer, in 1996. It forms part of the National Art Library Fischer Collection.

Harry Fischer apparently collected most or all of the material in the Fischer Collection during the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a view to donating it to the V&A. Although it is not yet known how, when and for what purpose Fischer obtained the list, he seems to have possessed it from at least the late 1960s. The inventory’s two volumes appear to have been bound (or re-bound) at around this time, and they are stored in a matching dark grey solander box with the title 'Entartete Kunst' stamped in gold on the spine.

Most of the other books and periodicals in the Fischer Collection are stored in similar boxes, and these also seem to have been made in the late 60s and early 70s. Among other things, the collection includes the catalogue of a major auction held at the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne on 30 June 1939. Although he bears the same surname, Harry Fischer seems to have had no connection with the Galerie Fischer.

'Catalogue of the auction in Lucerne, 30 June 1939. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Catalogue of the auction in Lucerne, 30 June 1939. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Other known copies

Two other copies of an earlier version of Volume 1 (A-G) are known to have survived the War, and these are now held by the German Federal Archives in Berlin (R55/20744, R55/20745). Both copies have the same hand-written title, in black ink: 'Beschlagnahmte Werke/nach Museen geordnet' ('Confiscated works, arranged by museum). Both copies also contain the same typescript list of artworks, arranged by city, institution and artist. One of the Berlin documents (R55/20745) was clearly the working copy, as it also includes additional manuscript information about the fate of individual works. Many of the entries have been annotated with symbols to show that they were destroyed, sold or exchanged.

Although the information varies in detail, it seems likely that the V&A’s inventory was produced from this earlier list or something similar. There was presumably also a master list, in inventory number order.

Until the V&A obtained the complete inventory in 1996, it was thought that all versions of Volume 2 (G-Z) had perished.

Title

The V&A’s copy of the inventory lacks a formal title page. The first page of Volume 1 bears the hand-written title '“ENTARTETE” KUNST', with the word 'Entartete' (or 'Degenerate') in quotation marks. The title was thus added after the document was first created, and may have been written by Harry Fischer himself.

Arrangement of the entries

The inventory consists of 482 pages (including blank pages and a missing page), split into two volumes. The entries are organised alphabetically by city, institution and artist's name. Volume 1 covers the cities Aachen to Görlitz, while Volume 2 covers Göttingen to Zwickau.

Each page gives the name of the city and museum at the top, followed by two groups of columns containing information about each artwork. The first columns provide a running number, the artist’s surname, the inventory number and a short title. The remaining columns provide additional details, and were evidently added later. The contents include information about the medium and the buyer or dealer (if any), a code indicating the exhibition history or fate of the work, and any payments made in foreign currency and/or Reichsmarks. 

Page showing 'Abkürzungen' or 'Abbreviations' shown throughout the list. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Page showing 'Abkürzungen' or 'Abbreviations' shown throughout the list. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Entries for the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Entries for the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Further information

The Freie Universität Berlin provides one of the main online sources of further information about 'Entartete Kunst' and the fate of individual artworks. In particular, the University maintains an extensive database that includes entries for many of the artworks included in the inventory held by the V&A. Although the public database is not yet complete, it is possible to search for works by artist name, EK inventory number, dealer etc.

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