Construction workers have unexpectedly unearthed two 20th-century sculptures at the Kunsthaus Dahlem gallery in Germany. Missing for 75 years, one of the larger-than-life artworks was created by Arno Breker (1900-1991), who was infamously known as “Hitler’s favourite sculptor”.
Each sculpture is almost three feet tall and had been considered lost since 1945. “It was completely a chance discovery,” explained Dorothea Schöne, the director of the Kunsthaus Dahlem. “We were building new paths, and usually you wouldn’t need to dig deeper than 50cm for that. But we decided to replace the gutter at the same time and the sculptures were directly behind the building.”
The Kunsthaus Dahlem opened in 2015 on the former site of Breker’s studio. During World War II Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) had employed Breker to implement his vision to transform Berlin into ‘Germania’, the imagined Nazi world capital inspired by ancient Rome.
Schöne believes the sculptures were probably hidden by US troops when the building served as the office of the US military administration following the fall of the Nazi Party. Troops damaged both the marble heads before burying them because they were associated with Hitler’s dangerous ideology.
One of the lost sculptures, known as ‘Romanichel’, was identified from photographic records and is Breker’s best-known work. Produced in 1940, it depicts a young Sinti or Roma man that the artist met in Paris in the 1920’s. “His head fascinated me immediately,” wrote Breker at the time of their encounter.
“Works by Breker that were made in this manner, that is, that were knocked out of a rough block of marble, often show people who were close to him,” noted Schöne.
But by 1936 the Romani population had become subject to Nazi persecution and genocide alongside millions of other victims, most notably the Jewish community. Thousands of Sinti and Roma people were taken to concentration camps and an estimated 220,000 to 500,000 were murdered.
The collection and display of Breker’s work is still controversial. In 1948 he was denounced as a Nazi supporter and remained largely outlawed for the rest of his life. With the recent removal of several monumental sculptures across Europe and the US, this discovery highlights the longevity of this practice during times of political unrest.