Living in Peace? Degenerate Art and Czech Modernism in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (summary)

Vojtěch Lahoda (PDF)

The article analyses Czech art life during the Nazi occupation. At the beginning of the annexation and occupation, from 1939 to around 1942, Germany sought to demonstrate that the inhabitants of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were independent of Berlin’s rule. This situation brought liberalism to cultural life, as evidenced by the public display of works by Czech modernists. The main trends of Czech modernism, cubism and surrealism were excluded from public art life.

The exhibition of Pravoslav Kotík (1889–1970), held in Prague in 1941, was the most important exhibition of modernism. His Neo-Cubism or Post-Cubist Realism might have been categorised as ‘degenerate art’. The works of Jan Zrzavý (1890–1977), one of the most important Czech modernists, would have been equally categorised in Germany. However, the works of Zrzavý were not only made public. He was also invited to design scenography for productions at the National Theatre, which were attended by Czechs and Germans.

The status of Zrzavý in the Bohemian Protectorate testifies that the Nazis, for a variety of reasons, were not in a hurry to mechanically transfer the campaign of ‘degenerate art’ to the occupied territories. The real campaign against ‘degenerate art’ in the Protectorate began in 1944. It was initiated not by the Germans but by local collaborators, specifically by Emanuel Moravec, Minister of Culture of the Protectorate. Frustrated that the Czechs were not responding to his constant appeals to cooperate with the Germans, Moravec began to compile lists of inappropriate artists. They even included artists who had died or were imprisoned in concentration camps. Interestingly, all artists, except radical modernists and leftist sympathisers, calmly participated in public art life throughout the occupation, although some were subjected to certain restrictions.

Keywords: Nazi occupation, Prague, Berlin, exhibition