How the Brits Refuted Nazi Germany’s ‘Degenerate Art’ Exhibition

Like most European Expressionists, Wassily Kandinsky was entranced by the power of color. His abstract paintings feature a calligraphic style evocative of musical symphonies, further accentuated by violently clashing shades that reveal, in Kandinsky’s own words, “color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

Kandinsky’s embrace of Modernist art landed him a prominent spot in both the Nazis’ 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition, which featured 650 works of art deemed anathema to the regime’s totalitarian values, and a lesser-known 1938 British show, Twentieth Century German Art, staged in direct defiance of Nazi censorship.

London 1938: Defending ‘Degenerate’ German Art, a new exhibition at London’s Wiener Library—a national archive dedicated to the study of the Holocaust and other

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