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Nazis. Adolf Ziegler: favoured painter of Hitler.

Adolf Ziegler
Adolf Ziegler was tasked by the Nazi Party to oversee the purging of "Degenerate art".

Adolf Ziegler (Bremen, 16 October 1892 - Varhnalt, 18 September 1959) was a German painter and politician. He was tasked by the Nazi Party to oversee the purging of "Degenerate art", made by most of the German modern artists. He was the favoured painter of Hitler.


Born to an architect father and a family of architects on his mother’s side, Ziegler was always surrounded by artists. He studied at the Weimar Academy from 1910 under master of technique Max Döerner at the Munich Academy. However, the First World War interrupted his studies when he signed up to become a front-line officer. After the war, he settled in Munich and continued his studies at the Munich Academy in 1919, where he attends classes by art nouveau artist Angelo Jank. He ultimately achieved the position of professor at the Munich Academy of Arts in 1933, when the Nazis came to power. His works fitted the Nazi ideal of "racially pure" art, and, as the President of the Reich Chamber for the Visual Arts, he was entrusted with the task of eliminating avant-garde styles. This he did by expelling Expressionist artists such as Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Writing to Rottluff, he forbade him from any artistic activity "professional or amateur".

Already a member of the Nazi Party in the early 1920’s, he met Hitler in 1925 and became one of his advisors in artistic matters. Hitler commissioned Ziegler to paint a memoriam portrait of his niece, Geli Raubal, who committed suicide. In 1937 he painted the Judgement of Paris, which Hitler personally acquired some time later, hanging it in his residence at Munich - Hitler would later also hang Ziegler's The Four Elements at a residence in Munich. It became an overnight sensation through frequent reproduction. This painting was much liked, judging by the enormous numbers of postcards and reproductions of it sold. The National Socialist celebrations of the human figure without conflict or suffering were immensely popular. By this time, Ziegler had become the foremost official painter of the Third Reich and was awarded the Gold Badge, the highest party member recognition, of the NSDAP.

Not much is known about his early works except that his early style exhibited modernist forms. Exiled museum director de:Alois Schardt noted that Ziegler was "in former times a modern painter… he was one of the most extreme modern painters, but one of inferior rank." Unfortunately, there are no examples of such early works. He gave up the modern style a representational and realistic style in the 1920’s, during which time he had increased contact with Hitler. Ziegler exhibited eleven canvases at the Great German Art Exhibitions at the House of German Art between 1937 and 1943. A technically accomplished painter, Ziegler was known for mainly floral compositions, genre paintings, allegorical paintings inspired by Greek mythology, portraits, and numerous female nudes. His static, pseudo-classical nudes depicted ideal Aryan figures. In an interview with American playwright Barrie Stavis, Ziegler explained that a painting of a beautiful nude German woman encourages the ideal of a perfect body and gives German men the incentive to have many German children. However, the artistic ‘naturalism’ of the racially pure figures left nothing to the imagination, earning him the disparaging nickname of ‘Meister des Deutschen Schamhaares' ("Reich Master of Pubic Hair)."

Role in the Degenerate Art Exhibition

Ziegler occupied several important administrative positions during the Third Reich. He was appointed Senator of the Fine Arts at the Reich Chamber of Culture in 1935. Propaganda Minister Goebbels later appointed him to the Presidential Council, then vice-president of the Reich Chamber of Art. Finally, on December 1, 1936, he succeeded architect Eugen Hönig as president of the Chamber of Art, which then had 45,000 members. Ziegler’s replacement of Hönig as president was a clear signal of the Reich’s growing distaste for nonconformity in the arts.

Ziegler headed a five-man commission that toured state collections in numerous cities, hastily seizing works they deemed degenerate. The works were then rushed to Munich for installation in the narrow rooms of the Hofgarten arcade for display, including some 16,000 examples of expressionist, abstract, cubist and surrealist works of art. The paintings of such "degenerate" artists, including the works of Max Beckmann and Emil Nolde, were confiscated on Ziegler’s orders as head of the sluice commission. Ziegler managed to organize the Exhibition of Degenerate Art in Munich in less than two weeks. On July 19,1937, he opened the exhibition and condemned those museum directors from whose collections the works came and their tolerance of the decadent art.

During the Second World War, Ziegler was temporarily sent to a prison camp after he publicly expressed doubts about the viability of Hitler's campaign. When Hitler was notified of Ziegler’s "defeatist" attitude, he ordered his arrest. Ziegler was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp for six weeks. However, Hitler personally ordered that he be released from Dachau and be allowed to retire.

Because his paintings were so closely associated with National Socialism, Ziegler was unable to successfully revive his career as an artist after the war. He repeatedly petitioned for reappointment to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich from 1955 to 1958, but was denied because the Academy determined that he initially received the position due to Hitler’s personal appointment. There were some reports that Ziegler exhibited works in 1955 at the Ben Uri Gallery in London, but the gallery’s records indicate the artist was an "Adolf Zeigler," a Jewish painter from London, not the German Ziegler. He also penned a response to Paul Ortwin Rave’s first-hand accounts of the Entartete Kunst exhibition in Munich, arguing with Rave’s assertions, but experts like Rave were not ready to analyze his standpoint objectively at that time. Unable to revive his career, Ziegler lived quietly in the town of Varnhalt near Baden-Baden for the last years of his life. He died in September 1959, at the age of sixty-seven.

Letter to Schmitt-Rottluff

  • File NumberBerlin W. 35 II B/M/756/870 Blumenhof 4-6
  • Telephone 21 62 71
  • Postal Account No. 144430
  • Mr. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
  • Berlin W. 30 Bamberger St. 19

In connection with the task, entrusted to me by the Fuehrer, of eradicating the works of degenerate art from our museums, no fewer than 608 paintings of yours had to be seized. A number of these paintings were displayed at the exhibits of Degenerate Art in Munich, Dortmund, and Berlin. This fact could leave no doubt in your mind that your paintings did not contribute to the advancement of German culture in its responsibility toward people and nation. Although you must also have been aware of the policy-setting speech of the Fuehrer at the opening of the Great German Art Exhibit in Munich, the recent paintings of yours which you have now submitted to us indicate that even at this date, you are still far removed from the cultural foundations of the National Socialist state. On the basis of these facts, I am unable to grant that you possess the necessary reliability for belonging to my Chamber. On the basis of Paragraph 10 of the first executive Order implementing the Law Concerning the National Chambers of Culture of November 1, 1933 (Official Gazette, I, 797) I hereby expel you from the National Chamber of Fine Arts and forbid you, effective immediately, any activity - professional or amateur - in the field of graphic arts. MEMBERSHIP BOOK NO. M 756 issued in your name is no longer valid, and you are requested to send it back to me by return mail.


Certified: DOEMLING

(Rubber Stamp: National Chamber of Culture Chamber of Fine Arts)

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