Originally posted on Madame Guillotine.
A depressingly long time ago, as a fresh faced young undergraduate at the University of Nottingham, I signed up to a module devoted to art in Nazi Germany, which was taught by Dr Fintan Cullen. Fintan and I never really got along all that well (this is a massive understatement – we absolutely loathed each other) but he was, I have to admit, a really impressive and rather floridly verbose teacher who really came into his element when dealing with the robust imagery and political ramifications of Nazi era art.
At the time, WWII had ended just fifty years earlier and it was still highly unusual for a course of this nature to be offered on a university syllabus. It was a very strange experience to be honest, not least because Nazi art is actually pretty terrible – bloody awful in fact. The course didn’t just look at all those ghastly paintings of strident young soldiers and shiny cheeked haus-fraus though, we also looked at the Nazi contempt for ‘degenerate’ art, their predilection for looting (the high ranking members of the party, most notably the repulsively avaricious Göring, had a habit of treated art galleries and museums like free shopping malls, an upmarket IKEA, if you like) and Hitler’s sophisticated use of imagery and art as propaganda. It was certainly a very eye opening experience and one that sprang to mind, even though I haven’t really thought about it for years, when I was reading Angela Lambert’s The Lost Life of Eva Braun.
I was just twenty years old, not that much older than Eva Braun when she first met and fell under the spell of Adolf Hitler, when I found myself sitting in a darkened seminar room, watching the flickering images of Leni Riefenstahl’s chilling, awe inspiring and rather terrifying Triumph of the Will being projected on to a large screen at the back of the room. The often hilariously awful paintings of potent Aryan manhood had left me completely cold and I remember wondering…