The Gallery of Miracles and Madness: Insanity, Modernism, and Hitler’s War on Art

Random. Aug. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780525512059. $28. HIST
In this history of Nazi Germany’s persecution of artists with mental illness, English (The Storied City) focuses on artists in a Heidelberg psychiatric hospital starting in the Weimar era, including seamstress Agnes Richter and painter Franz Karl Bühler. Their psychiatrist, Hans Prinzhorn, was tasked with studying and collecting patients’ artworks, like a jacket that Richter made and embroidered with many delicate lines of autobiographical text over her decades of institutionalization. These and other works were included in Prinzhorn’s 1922 book Artistry of the Mentally Ill. English writes that the Weimar art world celebrated Heidelberg’s Prinzhorn Collection and compared the art to the works of Van Gogh, while artists like Paul Klee and Salvador Dalí took inspiration from it. During the Third Reich, the collection attracted the attention of the Nazi Party, who confiscated several works for display and condemnation in the Reich’s 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition. By the early 1940s, the Nazis had murdered approximately 70,000 psychiatric hospital patients, including many artists represented in the Prinzhorn Collection. English sheds light on this often-overlooked aspect of Nazi Germany.
VERDICT A moving account of art and mental illness in Nazi Germany. English’s accessible, inviting writing will draw in readers interested in personal perspectives of the Third Reich as well as aficionados of art history.
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