Arno Breker: influential and enduring sculptor of the German Empire
The visionary sculptor Arno Breker is one of the most influential and enduring sculptors of the last century. Born in Elberfeld in 1900, he was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century in Germany. His artistic work was characterized by monumental sculptures and a strong connection to National Socialist aesthetics. He thus left a lasting impression on German art history.
“I am the sculptor of the human being –
of the triad of beauty
of body, mind and soul”
Arno Breker, Paris 1970
Breker‘s artistic journey began early. After training in Düsseldorf and a short stay in Paris in the 1920s, he returned to Germany and quickly established himself as an up-and-coming sculptor. During the Nazi era, Breker found recognition and support from Adolf Hitler, who appreciated his works as an expression of idealized beauty. Breker’s sculptures, which often depicted heroic figures and athletic bodies, fitted in well with the world view of the time. Today, it shows those who see what the basic ideas of this german world view were. This connection to the political leaders of the German Empire greatly influenced Breker’s reputation later on and shaped the later and confused perception of his art.
He became known for his skills
Breker became known for his ability to create monumental sculptures that were not only artistically impressive, but also conveyed ideological and philosophical messages. His sculptures were predominantly about man. He dealt with the fertility and strength of the ideal human being with a connection to the spiritual soul. His works are characterized by astonishing precision and this is precisely why he became one of the most popular artists in Germany at the beginning of the last century. The palpable love for people and their strength is what always comes through in Breker’s works. Influenced by external circumstances, he also fused thoughts on national pride and resistance in his works. His best-known works include the “Prometheus Group” in front of the German Pavilion at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris. His art was not only popular in exhibitions, but was also presented in public places and buildings. Many international political leaders of the time were interested in Breker’s work. He probably never worked for communists, as he regarded their world view as rather destructive, but did not mind if his students did.
After the Second World War, Breker became increasingly controversial as his links to National Socialism were questioned. He was temporarily interned but later released. In the post-war period, Breker attempted to revive his artistic career, but sadly met with general rejection and criticism. His works were forgotten, while Germany tried to come to terms with the horrors of the past by submitting to them and frowning upon everything that had to do with the spirit of Germany. And as we can still see very clearly today, the subjugation was a complete success.
Josef Breker’s works of art are very unusual. They are strong and spiritual and don’t really fit into the general world view of Germany. Which always makes me think, how can someone create such beautiful things and be a follower of a [barbaric leader]? Whoever wants to see will see! In my works, I always anchor a part of this expression of movement. In the sculptures, as well as in other art forms of the time, this form of expression played a visible and prominent role. They tell of human community, strength, family, spirituality, fertility and nature. But also of sadness, hope, despair and destruction. They often show exciting artistic forms that emphasize the health and strength of the protagonists.
Whether you like it or not, whether you can see the controversial “Nazi character” in it or not, objectively speaking, these art forms seem rather proud and communal. Personally, I don’t understand where you can read aggression and combativeness into his kind of art, as you can read on various blogs that deal with the subject. Subjectivity probably plays a major role here, because after all, Germans in particular have not been reprogrammed in the same way, and it is almost impossible to reverse this. There are still many unanswered questions. One of them is, for example: Why is so much taught about “Nazi Germany”, but when it comes to the unanswered questions on topics such as Rhine meadow camps, for example, you often only get horrified faces and shaking heads. Okay, I get it.
The presumed revaluation of Breker
In recent years, there has been a reassessment of Breker’s life’s work. Some art historians emphasize his technical and artistic mastery. They argue that his art should be viewed in isolation from his political connections, although these have of course also played a role. And as far as I know, Breker never claimed otherwise and never adapted to new narratives. I am absolutely in favor of this idea to suppirt Brekers art, as well as many others like him, being viewed neutrally and without a political background. His artistic legacy is far too valuable. Nowhere else has this killing of artists, as it has taken place in Germany, been enforced as it has in Germany.
Has anyone ever read the book: “Answer from cell seven”? To understand the spirit of some of the eyewitnesses, this book has it all. Well, what do I know? Contemporary art is always a kind of figurehead of the respective basic energy and world view of an epoch. Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding his person remains. The world wears a veil and whether it will ever be lifted is questionable. Objectively speaking, it feels wrong to undermine artistic freedom, especially that of the Germans, in this way.
Arno Breker was undoubtedly one of the most important and enduring sculptors and artists of the last century in Germany. His work reflects not only the artistic trends of his time, but also the philosophical approaches of his era. Despite the controversies, Arno Breker remains a fascinating chapter in German art history whose legacy will continue to stimulate discussions about art, politics and ethics. From my point of view, he is one of the many artists who have been wronged. When I look at society today, I have my thoughts and I keep coming back to the same inner messages that tell me: BELIEVE NOTHING, CHECK EVERYTHING! (artistic freedom)