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

Charlie English. Random House, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-51205-9
In this fascinating account, journalist English (Book Smugglers of Timbuktu) unpacks Hitler’s mad campaign against mentally ill artists. As early as 1941, Hitler had ordered the execution of 70,000 people, including a number of “artist-patients” suffering from schizophrenia. English focuses on a group of these artists—including the painter Franz Karl Bühler and seamstress Agnes Richter—who were under the “care” of psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn (1886–1933) at the University of Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic in 1919 and whose art was collected and eventually published in a book Prinzhorn released in 1922. English writes how Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí felt that the work of Prinzhorn’s patients was a “direct expression of the human interior, untainted by bourgeois education and training.” Yet years after the collection’s release, these idiosyncratic artworks triggered Hitler’s concerns about “proper” German art, playing into the “pseudoscientific theories about race, modernism, [and] the concept of ‘degeneracy’” on which he relied. Threatened by the “degenerate” art, Hitler demanded that it be destroyed, along with its creators. In musing on the definition of art, limitations of clinical psychology, and the rise of fascism, English’s story feels strikingly relevant. While shedding new light on this piece of history, English also provides a cautionary tale for the future. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/25/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-0-525-51206-6
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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