Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hermann Goering as Art Collector: German Museum Puts His 4,263-Work Stash Online

A Tiepolo stolen for Goering from the family of Federico Gentili di Guiseppe, now in the Getty Museum
The German Historical Museum in Berlin yesterday put online the art collection of the notorious Hermann Goering, perhaps the most rapacious individual art thief of the Nazi era.    It shows that Goering, who organized the Gestapo and was Hitler's designated successor until the end of World War II, had a whopping 4,263 works.

The collection database -- which is only in German -- is organized into several categories, including artist, title, and previous owner of the work.  Sometimes an entry is illustrated with a black-and-white thumbnail.

Among previous owners are several that have been the subject of recent high-profile restitution cases -- Cassirer, Goudstikker, Gentili -- in addition to such prominent names as Rothschild and Wildenstein.

A cursory glance at the list of artists yields some surprises -- the Nazis considered modernism degenerate but Goering apparently had nine Picassos, three Braques, a Leger, nineteen Matisses, and eight Cezannes in his collection.  He also seemed to have a taste for the erotic, with more than 30 works by Boucher, the 18th-century master of titillation.

Goering was one of the Nazi leaders sentenced to hang as war criminals at Nuremberg.  Albert Speer, who as Hitler's armaments minister was sentenced to twenty years for using slave labor, recounted to Gitta Sereny this anecdote about Goering's collecting from the time of their incarceration before trial:

"One day at lunch, Brandt (Dr. Karl Brandt, executed for conducting medical experiments on prisoners) was talking about the mountains and about how sad he was to have lost their house there.

"'Oh, come on,' said Goering.  'What possible reason can you have to complain when you had so little.  But I who had so much, think what it means to me.  I was sitting back to back with Doenitz (Admiral Karl Doenitz, who received a ten-year sentence), and I heard him murmur to his neighbor, 'Yes, and all stolen.'  He was of course right."
Goering's collection at one of his residences, ca 1943

Photographs:  Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, "Alexander the Great in the Studio of Apelles," from Getty Museum website; view of Goering's collection from the German Historical Museum website

Anecdote from Gitta Sereny, "Albert Speer:  His Battle with Truth," 1995

Text (c) 2012 Laura Gilbert