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Degenerate art (from the German: entartete Kunst) is a term that became notorious during the Nazi rule of Germany to refer to any art reflecting values or aesthetics contrary to the Aryan ones. It is therefore somewhat ironic that the concept of degenerate art was first proposed during the late nineteenth century by Max Nordau, the Zionist leader.
Nordau was a follower of Cesare Lombroso, an Italian anthropologist and criminologist, who formulated a theory that criminals displayed traits of atavism and represented a hereditarily degenerate group of humans. Nordau imagined that he found signs of this atavism in many poets, painters, and literary figures of his day, primarily among the followers of Symbolism and Impressionism. He proposed this theory to the public in his 1892 work Degeneration (in German, Entartung).
Lombroso's theory of atavism is not highly regarded today, and without it Nordau's theory collapses. It is fairly obvious, though, why Nordau's theory of hereditary degeneration and atavism appealed to Nazi racial ideologues.
In 1937, Nazi authorities purged German museums of art they considered "degenerate." They then took 650 of the works so condemned, and sent them on tour as a special exhibit of "degenerate art." Expressionism was particularly prominent among the so-condemned works. Artists represented in the collection included:
Artistic movements condemned as degenerate during the Nazi rule of Germany include:
The tour began in Munich and travelled to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. It was the largest and best attended touring art exhibit ever mounted at the time.
Several of the then-living artists whose works were condemned in the exhibition died in the Holocaust.
The Nazi government also pursued a similar campaign against degenerate music.