Jane Speller, Project Archivist for the Guardian newspaper foreign correspondence cataloguing project, writes:
After the end of World War I, new and highly distinct styles in theatre, literature, music, painting, architecture, design and film sprang up in Germany and Austria. This period of intensive creativity came to an abrupt end after the Machtergreifung (the Nazi seizure of power) in January 1933. All non-traditional art and design was labelled Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) on the grounds that it was un-German, Jewish, or communist in nature. Music which was deemed to be decadent or harmful to the listener was labelled Entartete Musik (degenerate music); this included jazz. All Entartete work was banned or destroyed by the Nazis. Books that were viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism, including those written by Jewish, pacifist, anarchist, socialist and communist authors, were destroyed in a nationwide purge or Säuberung (cleansing) by fire, conducted by the German Student Union throughout 1933.
On 25 May 1933, Manchester Guardian editor W.P. Crozier received a letter from the paper’s foreign correspondent Frederick Voigt, saying, ‘I’m told that amongst the books that are banned or have been burnt in Germany are Spinoza, Lessing and Jack London. An offensive against modern art is also in progress. Jewish pictures naturally, but even pictures by Aryan painters who are modern in manner are being removed from the galleries and exhibited with derisory labels, or are being destroyed (a Chagall was destroyed in Mannheim)’. On 29 Dec 1934, Voigt sends Crozier a photograph of what he describes as, ‘the first piece of Nazi sculpture’. The photograph depicts Toter Krieger (Dead Warrior), a sculpture by German artist Ewald Mataré (1887-1965) which had been commissioned in 1932 by the city of Kleve (Cleves) as a memorial to the dead of World War 1.
Mataré was at the time a professor at the Kunstakademie (Arts Academy) Düsseldorf. As a young man he had been a member of the radical November Group whose goal was the union of art and people. Here he mixed with notable Expressionist and Dada artists of the day such as Max Pechstein, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and Hannah Höch. Toter Krieger was Mataré’s first public commission. Carved from basalt, which has a dark, glassy surface, the huge figure depicts a fallen soldier wrapped in a flag, lying on a cenotaph. The chest of the soldier was said to hold a list of the dead of Kleve. Voigt describes the sculpture as, ‘if not beautiful, at least not hideously crude and vulgar, nor is it altogether commonplace’. After its inauguration in December 1934, the modernist nature of Toter Krieger was the subject of heated debate. Mataré was denounced as a degenerate artist and expelled from his teaching position. On 19 July 1937, an exhibition of degenerate art was organised in Munich by the Nazis with the intention of shaming and deriding the artists. Mataré’s work was represented by ten animal sculptures. In 1938, the Toter Krieger was smashed up by the Nazis and buried on wasteland.
Mataré undertook many commissioned works for public spaces such as the bronze doors of the Köln (Cologne) and Salzburg Cathedrals, and the doors of Church of Peace in Hiroshima. After World War II, he returned to the Düsseldorf Art Academy where his work influenced a whole new generation of artists, most significantly Joseph Beuys. The remains of Toter Krieger were discovered by chance in 1977 and the sculpture was carefully restored. In 1981, it was erected in front of the Collegiate Church, Stiftskirche, Kleve, where it remains today. 2015 sees the 50th anniversary of the death of Mataré, an occasion which is being marked by a major exhibition at the Museum Kurhaus in Kleve, home to an extensive archive of Mataré’s work. As part of this exhibition, sculptor Max Knippert and photo-journalist Ursula Meissner have created ‘BlackBox’, a walk-in installation, which like the data recorder of an aeroplane, brings together the memory of the past (the story of Mataré’s Toter Krieger) with the experience of the present (images of warfare today). The exhibition and installation are open until the end of June 2015.