Lost art by Adolf Hitler’s favourite sculptor found by builders after 75 years

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The discovery of two lost artworks from Adolf Hitler ’s favourite sculptor is surrounded by mystery.

Building work at a Berlin art gallery has revealed two pieces, one with a potentially very controversial subject, buried beneath the building which once served as a studio for Arno Breker.

In 1937 Arno Breker was named official state sculptor by Hitler, who appreciated his monumental statues of highly-idealised Aryan men and women.

But among his other works is a statue of a young Romany man which was marked as "lost" in Breker’s diaries.

It would certainly not have been seen by the Nazi hierarchy as a suitable subject for the official party sculptor.

The Romany people were one of several groups perceived as "subhuman" in Nazi ideology and as many as one-and-a-half million of them were murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War 2.

But it's a mystery how the piece came to be buried under the Kunsthaus Dahlem gallery, which is housed on the site of Breker's studio.

Dorothea Schöne, director of the gallery, explained how the lost works were uncovered.

She said: “They were found in the sculpture garden behind the building.

“We currently have a construction site there, because we are getting new walkways which are suitable for wheelchair use as well.

“In one specific spot we had to dig a little deeper than usual for a rain pipe to be replaced and this is where we found both sculptures.”

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The work which can be identified has been named as Romanichel, a 1940 sculpture of a young Sinti or Romani whom Breker met in Paris in the 1920s.

It's estimated that the Nazis killed between 220,000 and 500,000 Romani and Sinti people, some estimates put the death toll as high as 1.5 million.

Breker had depicted the young man several times earlier in his career, but it’s not clear why he returned to the subject in the 1940s.

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The sculptor later recalled meeting his subject, writing that “his head fascinated me immediately… I modelled no fewer than seven busts on him”.

Dr Schöne said there was no way of knowing how the sculptor’s Nazi sponsors would have responded to such a piece.

“Stylistically, they fall into the approved form of the time,” she said.

“Thematically, one of them is quite unusual. So it is impossible to say how the patrons would have responded.”

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Romanichel was identified with the help of historical photos.

The other sculpture has not yet been identified, but also depicts a larger-than-life head.

It’s unclear how the works came to be buried in the grounds of the gallery, but the current theory is that it was buried there by US forces during the final days of the war.

“It seems most probable to us at the moment that the Americans buried the partially-damaged pieces,” said Dr Schöne.

“Breker noted that he considered the identified work ‘lost’ in one of his notebooks after 1945," she added, "which he would not have done if he had buried the works himself.

“And for the time after 1946, we have not found notes mentioning the works, but all this is still a matter of ongoing research.”

Breker was named official state sculptor of the Third Reich in 1937, the same year he joined the Nazi Party.

He was photographed with Hitler and Albert Speer, the notorious Nazi architect, in occupied Paris in 1940, and maintained close personal freindships with both men.

His twin sculptures, The Party and The Army, flanked the steps of Speer’s New Reich Chancellery, and he also made two sculptures for the Nazis to use at the 1936 Olympics.

He took commissions from the party from 1933 through to 1942, but later insisted that he had never supported Nazi ideology and had only accepted their patronage.

Nonetheless, his Nazi past meant that his post-war career was a magnet for controversy.

The newly-discovered works will be exhibited at the Kunsthaus Dahlem until January 15, 2021.

  • Adolf Hitler
  • Olympics
  • World War 2

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