Spoils Of War: Stories Behind The Art Of Nazi Germany

"This isn't the type of information you usually read on a label in the gallery," Jenny McComas says of the Spoils Of War art exhibition.

painting hung on a wall with description next to it.

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Many of the works from the "Entartete Kunst" Exhibition were eventually sold for extremely low prices. Nolde’s painting, for instance, was purchased for only $200.

Event Information

The Spoils Of War

This program aims to educate visitors about the uses of art in Nazi Germany, both in their propaganda and in their looting of cultural and private property.


IU Art Museum, Gallery of the Art of the Western World

On view through December 18, Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm and Sunday, noon-5:00pm

Free and open to the public

IU Art Museum Special Programs

Themester: Making War, Making Peace

The Stories Behind The Art

Jenny McComas, Curator of Western Art After 1800, has been in charge of the Indiana University Art Museum Provenance Project since 2004. The goal of the project was to make sure the museum hadn’t inadvertently acquired pieces of art that may have been looted during World War II.

In the process, she uncovered interesting stories and histories of a number of works. “This isn’t the type of information you usually read on a label in the gallery,” she says. “It’s a reminder that these works haven’t always hung on the walls of our museum.”

The twelve works in the The Spoils of War exhibition are interspersed with other paintings in the gallery. Some of the featured pieces weren’t even moved, while others had never been on display until now. To properly tell the story of art in Nazi Germany, McComas arranged the works according the chronology of the events of the Third Reich, not art history.

Nudes And Eunuch: Keeper Of The Harem

painting hung on a wall with description next to it.

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Many of the works from the "Entartete Kunst" Exhibition were eventually sold for extremely low prices. Nolde’s painting, for instance, was purchased for only $200.

The first painting McComas points out is Nudes and Eunuch: Keeper of the Harem, an oil and canvas painting from 1912 by German expressionist painter Emil Nolde. This painting depicts non-Western figures, which is probably why it ended up in an exhibition designed to show how German art and culture had degenerated.

The painting moved from Germany to Denmark before making its way to the United States:

  • 1925 — Acquired by Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg, Halle, Germany
  • 1937 — Removed from the museum by the Nazi government and it was placed in the “Entartete Kunst” (“Degenerate Art”) Exhibition
  • 1939 — Purchased by Aage Vilstrup, Hellerup, Denmark (Nolde’s brother-in-law)
  • 1976 — Purchase by IU Art Museum from the Collection of Harry C. Nail, Jr.

Portrait Of A Lady

Portrait Of A Lady By Franz Van Lenbach

Photo: Michael Cavanagh and Kevin Montague

"This is the kind of work Hitler would have liked if not for his own collection," says McComas of the painting Portrait Of A Lady.

“I’m not sure that we’ve ever had it on view before,” McComas says of the painting Portrait Of A Lady from 1895 by century German artist Franz Seraph van Lenbach. The identity of the sitter is unknown, but McComas suspects she didn’t like the painting that much, because only six years later it was up for sale at a Munich art gallery.

Its journey to the IU Art Museum involved thirty years of hiding:

  • 1901 — Purchased at Bernheimer Gallery, Munich by Robert Perutz
  • 1901-1941 — Passed down through two generations of the Haurowitz family
  • 1939-1968 — Stored with friends of the Haurowitz family, Antonin and Zdenka Kvĕton, in Prague
  • 1968 — Reclaimed by Felix Haurowitz, Indiana University Chemistry Professor, upon a trip to Prague
  • 1981 — Donated to Indiana Unviersity by Felix and Gina Haurowitz

Flagellation Of Christ

Flagellation of Christ, Attributed to Master of the St. Goar Altar

Photo: Courtesy Of Indiana University

The Flagellation of Christ, Attributed to Master of the St. Goar Altar, is a late-15th century panel painting originally from an alter piece.

In July of 1945, Berlin had just fallen and the city was in shambles. McComas explains that it was fairly common for allied soldiers at the end of the war to steal paintings from museums and ship them home. After the war, museums made concerted efforts to return looted pieces, but many items slipped through the cracks.

This altar section resurfaced in the 1960s in a London art gallery with no identifying marks on it:

  • 1821–1918 — Hung in the Jagdschloss Grunewald, a royal Renaissance hunting lodge near Berlin, as part of the collection of the Prussian royal family
  • 1918–1945 — The Jagdschloss Grunewald is administered as a museum, since 1932
  • 1945 — Stolen from the museum by an allied solider
  • 1967 — Purchased by Herman B. Wells from Gallery Lasson, London
  • 1985 — Donated by Wells to the Indiana University Art Museum
  • 2006 — Returned to the Jagdschloss Grunewald
Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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