Degenerate art is the English translation of the German phrase Entartete Kunst which is the label the National Socialist (Nazi) party, under its leader Adolph Hitler, applied to art they did not approve of, in an attempt to bring art under their control

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  • Edvard Munch, 'The Sick Child' 1907
    Edvard Munch
    The Sick Child 1907
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1187 x 1210 mm
    frame: 1371 x 1393 x 108 mm
    Presented by Thomas Olsen 1939© Munch Museum/Munch-EllingsendGroup/DACS 2002
  • Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 'Woman with a Bag' 1915
    Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
    Woman with a Bag 1915
    Oil on canvas
    support: 952 x 873 mm
    frame: 1142 x 1062 x 69 mm
    Presented by Dr Rosa Shapire 1950© DACS, 2002
  • Oskar Kokoschka, 'Loreley' 1941-2
    Oskar Kokoschka
    Loreley 1941-2
    Oil on canvas
    support: 635 x 762 mm
    frame: 765 x 892 x 65 mm
    Presented by Mrs Olda Kokoschka, the artist's widow, in honour of the directorship of Sir Alan Bowness 1988© The estate of Oscar Kokoschka

All modern art was considered ‘degenerate’ by the National Socialist (Nazi) party. Expressionism was particularly singled out. In 1937, German museums were purged of modern art by the government, a total of some 15,550 works being removed. A selection of these was then put on show in Munich in an exhibition titled Entartete Kunst. This was carefully staged so as to encourage the public to mock the work. At the same time an exhibition was held of traditionally painted and sculpted work which extolled the Nazi party and Hitler’s view of the virtues of German life: ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’: roughly, family, home and church. Ironically, this official Nazi art was a mirror image of the socialist realism of the hated Communists.

Some of the degenerate art was sold at auction in Switzerland in 1939 and more was disposed of through private dealers. About 5,000 items were secretly burned in Berlin later that year. The Sick Child by Edvard Munch now in the Tate collection, was sold at the 1939 auction.