Nazi Art: “Hitler's Stallions” and Their History


A Berlin museum displays the bronze statues of two horses that Adolf Hitler once commissioned. They were meant to symbolize the strength of the Nazi regime. Now for the “toxic art” debate.

“Stepping Horses” – this example by Josef Thorak is already part of a permanent exhibition in the Spandau Citadel

“Hitler's Stallions” they are called, the three meter high bronze sculptures , tons heavy. In National Socialism they stood in front of Adolf Hitler's Reich Chancellery. Now two of the sculptures are to be shown again for the first time in the Spandau Citadel. 

The “Striding Horses” are a design by the Viennese sculptor Josef Thorak – one of Hitler's favorite artists. That's why they are nicknamed “Thorak horses”.

Hitler had them made for the New Reich Chancellery in central Berlin, where they stood in the garden under the window of his study for several years. In 1943 they were brought to Wriezen in the Oderbruch by the New Reich Chancellery. After the end of the war they fell into the hands of the Red Army.

Arrival at the Spandau Citadel: A restorer unpacks one of the Thorak horses

Jewellery for “Germania”

One of the horses has been in the exhibition at the Berlin Citadel for some time, and a second specimen is now being unveiled and examined by the restorers. According to the museum, on the Open Monument Day on September 10, 2023, it will be permanently presented again for the first time with other problematic works of art. The sculptures should – according to Hitler's vision – decorate the “imperial” capital “Germania” – plans for the new Nazi city were already in place.

The fact that the horses can now be publicly exhibited again is one thing thanks to the internationally most famous art detective: Arthur Brand. He tracked them down. Because the horses had been missing for a long time – they were only rediscovered in 2015.

Why should you exhibit Nazi art?

After a major raid on a dubious art dealer ring that operated in secret in Germany, the horses were discovered in Bad Dürkheim. The police seized the horses, as well as sculptures by Fritz Klimsch and Arno Breker, who were also among Hitler's favorite artists.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Degenerate Art

    Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists described modern works of art whose style, artist or subject they did not like as “degenerate art”. The Nazis confiscated such works of art from German art museums starting in 1937. In a traveling exhibition, “degenerate art” was pilloried in front of an audience. Here Goebbels and Hitler visit the original exhibition in Munich.

  • ” Degenerate art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Hitler and art

    Hitler liked romanticism and 19th-century painting, preferring rural idylls. His private collection included works by Cranach, Tintoretto and Bordone, for example. In his retirement, Hitler wanted to devote himself to an art collection – analogous to his role models Ludwig I of Bavaria and Frederick the Great. It was to be shown in the “Führer Museum” in Linz on the Danube.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis Defamed Art

    The Expropriations

    The National Socialists were not the first to ostracize avant-garde artists, but they went a step further by separating their works from the banned art houses. In 1937, those in power had more than 20,000 works removed from 101 state German museums. Everything that the Nazis did not consider edifying for the German people was taken away.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Hitler's national style

    Abstract art had no place in Hitler's “national style”. This was also made clear by the “Great German Art Exhibition”, which on July 18, 1937 in Munich presented the traditional landscape, history and nude paintings by Fritz Erler, Hermann Gradl and Franz Xaver Stahl, among others. The closer the subject came to the real template, the more beautiful it was in the eyes of the guide.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    What was considered degenerate

    Even among his subordinates there was great uncertainty as to which artists Hitler would accept. The Great German Art Exhibition of 1937 and the simultaneous exhibition “Degenerate Art” in Munich's Hofgarten arcades brought clarity. Modern artists were ostracized, including Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Pechstein.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Degenerate Art on Tour

    The “Degenerate Art” exhibition showed 650 confiscated works of art from 32 German museums. She equated the exhibits with drawings of the mentally handicapped and combined them with photos of crippled people intended to arouse disgust and anxiety in the visitors. Over two million visitors saw the show, which was shown in different cities.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Legal Basis

    The “law on confiscation of products of degenerate art” of May 31, 1938 retrospectively legalized the confiscation of works of art without compensation. The law remained in force after the end of the war; the Allies decided that it merely redistributed state property. In contrast to looted art, works that the Nazis removed from museums as “degenerate art” can still be traded freely today.

  • “Degenerate Art”: Like Hitler and the Nazis Art defamed

    trade in “degenerate art”

    The confiscated works ended up in depots in Berlin and in Schönhausen Palace. Many sales of expropriated works were carried out by Hitler's four art dealers, Bernhard A. Böhmer, Karl Buchholz, Hildebrand Gurlitt and Ferdinand Möller. A stock of approx. 5000 unsold works of art was burned on March 20, 1939 by the Berlin fire brigade in an action described as an exercise.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Turntable Switzerland

    125 works were intended for an auction in Switzerland. A commission set up by Hermann Göring and others to exploit the products of degenerate art estimated the minimum bids and ultimately selected the Fischer Gallery in Lucerne for the auction. This auction took place on June 30, 1939 and attracted great interest from all over the world.

  • “Degenerate Art”: How Hitler and the Nazis defamed art

    Lots of “degenerate art” at Gurlitt

    < p>Over 21,000 works of “degenerate art” were confiscated. There is still disagreement about the number that has been used since then. Depending on the source, there is talk of 6,000 to 10,000 sold works. Others were destroyed or disappeared. Hundreds of works believed lost have reappeared in Cornelius Gurlitt's collection. And have reignited the discussion.

    Author: Julia Hitz

The works should be sold on the black market – because Nazi art is taboo on the official art market. So why is this art exhibited in the citadel?

The aim of the museum is to make it clear to what extent different state powers – from the German Empire to the GDR – tried to shape the Berlin cityscape with their monuments between 1849 and 1986. 

“Evidence of the German history”

“Due to the political upheavals in the 20th century, monuments were repeatedly removed from public space that represented a problematic or even threatening memory or appreciation for the new system,” says the website of the Spandau Citadel. “The museum offers an opportunity to engage with the great symbols of the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, National Socialism and the GDR that should have been buried and forgotten – and now fulfill a new function as testimonies to German history.”

Some people may raise their eyebrows when they hear the keyword “large symbols” – but the museum emphasizes that it would like to develop into a center for research into “toxic” monuments – which are also testimonies to German history. The federal government has also supported the purchase of the “Striding Horses”.

Nazi sculptures in public places

In 2022, another exhibition of Nazi art caused angry protests. At that time the Munich Pinakothek was insulted in an outraged open letter for showing a painting by the Nazi artist Adolf Ziegler. 

At the time, Georg Baselitz, one of the most influential contemporary artists, demanded that the picture be removed. “It's shocking that Nazi propaganda is possible in this dingy way in a Munich museum,” says Baselitz.

It's also a “bad” picture. He found it insulting that Ziegler's work was in the same room as the artists he pursued. “Ziegler destroyed art and artists. He doesn't belong in the hall of his victims,” ​​wrote Baselitz, according to the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”.

Many Nazi propaganda sculptures can still be seen in public spaces, such as in the Berlin Olympic Stadium, which was commissioned by the Nazi regime for the 1936 Olympic Games. In the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, where the Olympic Stadium was one of the venues, some activists called for the statues to be removed. However, the city refused on the grounds that removal would constitute a denial of German history.

Adapted from English: Silke Wünsch.

This is an updated version of an article dated January 13, 2023.