Düsseldorf Academy of Arts
Arno Breker began to study architecture, along with stone-carving and anatomy. At the age of 20 he entered the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts where he concentrated on sculpture, studying under Hubert Netzer and Wilhelm Kreis.
Arno Breker first visited Paris in 1924, shortly before finishing his studies. There he met with Jean Cocteau, Jean Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and Alfred Flechtheim. In 1927 he moved to Paris, which he thereafter considered to be his home, in the same year he had an exhibition with Alf Bayrle. Breker was quickly accepted by the art dealer Alfred Flechtheim. He also established close relationships with important figures in the art world, including Charles Despiau, Isamu Noguchi, Maurice de Vlaminck, and André Dunoyer de Segonzac, all of whom he later portrayed. He traveled to North Africa, producing lithographs which he published under the title "Tunisian Journey." He also visited Aristide Maillol, who was later to describe Breker as "Germany's Michelangelo."
In 1932, he was awarded a prize by the Prussian Ministry of Culture, which allowed him to stay in Rome for a year. In 1934 he returned to Germany on the advice of Max Liebermann. At that time Alfred Rosenberg, editor of the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter, actually denounced some of Breker's work as degenerate art. However, Breker was supported by many Nazi leaders, especially Adolf Hitler. Even Rosenberg later hailed his sculptures as expressions of the "mighty momentum and will power” of Nazi Germany. He took commissions from the Nazis from 1933 through 1942, for example participating in a show of his work in occupied Paris in 1942, where he met Jean Cocteau, who appreciated his work.
Arno Breker maintained personal relationships with Albert Speer and with Hitler. In 1936 he won the commission for two sculptures representing athletic prowess, intended for the 1936 Olympic games, one representing a “Zehnkämpfer” and the other “Die Siegerin.” In 1937 he married Demetra Messala, a Greek model. The same year, Breker joined the Nazi Party and was made "official state sculptor" by Hitler, given a large property and provided a studio with forty-three assistants. Hitler also exempted him from military service. His twin sculptures "The Party" and "The Army" held a prominent position at the entrance to Albert Speer's new Reich Chancellery.
The neoclassical nature of his work, with titles like "Comradeship", "Torchbearer", and "Sacrifice", typified Nazi ideals, and suited the characteristics of Nazi architecture. On closer inspection, though, the proportions of his figures, the highly coloristic treatment of his surfaces, and the melodramatic tension of their musculatures perhaps invites comparison with the Italian Mannerist sculptors of the 16th century. That Mannerist tendency to Breker's neoclassicism may suggest closer affinities to concurrent expressionist tendencies in German Modernism than is acknowledged.
Until the fall of the Third Reich, Breker was a professor of visual arts in Berlin. While nearly all of his sculptures survived World War II, more than 90% of his public work was destroyed by the allies after the war. In 1946, Breker was offered a commission by Joseph Stalin but he refused and stated "One dictatorship is sufficient for me." In 1948 Breker was designated as a "fellow traveler" of the Nazis and fined, upon which he returned to Düsseldorf. The latter city remained his base, with periods of residence in Paris.
During that time he worked as an architect. However, he continued to receive commissions for sculptures, producing a number of works in his familiar classical style, working for businesses and individual patrons. He also produced many portrait sculptures. In 1970 he was commissioned by the king of Morocco to produce work for the United Nations Building in Casablanca, but the work was destroyed. Many other works followed, including portraits of Anwar Sadat and Konrad Adenauer. Breker's rehabilitation continued, culminating in plans for the creation of a Breker museum, funded by the Bodenstein family, who set aside Schloss Nörvenich for the purpose. The Arno Breker Museum was inaugurated in 1985.
Breker's rehabilitation led to backlashes from anti-Nazi activists, including controversy in Paris when some of his works were exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1981. In the same year anti-Breker demonstrations accompanied an exhibition in Berlin. Breker's admirers insisted that he had never been a supporter of Nazi ideology (despite being a member of the Nazi Party), but had simply accepted their patronage. Breker's last major work was a monumental sculpture of Alexander the Great intended to be located in Greece. The artist died on February 13, 1991 in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Breker joined the Nazi Party and was made "official state sculptor" by Hitler.
Breker was a sculptor of undoubted talent with the tendency to backward-looking rhetoric and sentimentality.
Quotes from others about the person
The collaboration with Breker was flawless. He was intelligent, always had an idea, and a big expert in the field. Arno understood the structural and architectural opportunities at first glance. Often, he had to persuade other artists why sculptures must be part of the architecture.
Arno Breker was married twice. His first wife, Demetra Messala, was a Greek model. She died in 1956 in a car accident. He remarried in 1958 to Charlotte Kluge. They had two children, Gerhart and Carola. Breker remained married to Kluge until his death in 1991.