The Victoria and Albert Museum published a remarkable document online the Nazis’ inventory of “degenerate art” (entartete Kunst). The V&A owns the only known complete copy of the inventory, which was made around 1942 and catalogues more than 16,000 artworks in two books and 482 pages. Now it’s released digital copies of both volumes online under a Creative Commons license, making them freely available for anyone to download and peruse in all their fascinating detail.
The museum offers some explanation of the code, noting that an “X” means an artwork was destroyed, while “V” shows a sale and “T,” an exchange. There’s also a key at the beginning of the first book that explains further abbreviations, some of which I was able to decipher with the help of Google Translate. There are three codes — “E,” “EK,” and “EZ” — that indicate a work was shown in the Nazis’ infamous Degenerate Art exhibition, while ”EJ” means it was shown in the Wandering Jew exhibition.
“X” marks also appear quite often, and it’s hard to visualize just how much art the Nazis destroyed. As a micro example, a page in the first book shows a list of 34 artworks by Emil Nolde originally housed in Berlin’s National Gallery; 27 were destroyed. The inventory is daunting in length and detail, and it’s challenging to know just what to do with a document that, while it contains a wealth of information, also feels difficult to fully unlock. I couldn’t help wanting to take the story further, to know where all those sold and traded artworks went once they passed out of the Nazis’ hands.Although most of the stolen artworks and antiques were documented, found or recovered by the victorious Allied armies … principally hidden away in salt mines, tunnels, and secluded castles”,many artworks have never been returned to their rightful owners. Art dealers, galleries and museums world-wide have been compelled to research their collection’s providence in order to investigate claims that some of the work was acquired after it had been stolen from its original owners. The “X” still boldly marks the irreplaceable brushstrokes and brilliance of fine art that may never be seen again.