Art Term

Degenerate art

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

Edvard Munch, ‘The Sick Child’ 1907
Edvard Munch
The Sick Child 1907

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.

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Explore this term


Selected artworks in the collection

Degenerate art at Tate

  • Tate Britain


    Schwitters in Britain

    30 Jan – 12 May 2013
    Spring 2013 Tate Britain presents Schwitters in Britain, the first major exhibition to examine the late work of Kurt Schwitters ...
  • Tate Modern


    Max Beckmann

    13 Feb – 5 May 2003
    Max Beckmann: past Tate Modern exhibition
  • Tate Modern


    The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible

    16 Oct 2013 – 9 Mar 2014
    See the intense and inventive work of the renowned artist Paul Klee at Tate Modern, until 9 March 2014