The Gallery of Miracles and Madness: Insanity, Art and Hitler’s first Mass-Murder Programme

By Charlie English

‘A riveting tale, brilliantly told’ Philippe Sands

The little-known story of Hitler’s war on modern art and the mentally ill.

In the first years of the Weimar Republic, the German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn gathered a remarkable collection of works by schizophrenic patients that would astonish and delight the world.

The Prinzhorn collection, as it was called, inspired a new generation of artists, including Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. What the doctor could not have known, however, was that these works would later be used to prepare the ground for mass-murder.

Soon after his rise to power, Hitler—a failed artist of the old school—declared war on modern art. The Nazis staged giant ‘Degenerate Art’ shows to ridicule the avant-garde, and seized and destroyed the cream of Germany’s modern art collections. This action was mere preparation, however, for the even more sinister campaign Hitler would later wage against so-called “degenerate” people, and Prinzhorn’s artists were caught up in both. 

Bringing together inspirational art history, genius and madness, and the wanton cruelty of the fanatical “artist-Führer”, this astonishing story lays bare the culture war that paved the way for Hitler’s first extermination programme, the psychiatric Holocaust.

Format: Hardback
Release Date: 05 Aug 2021
Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-0-00-829962-0
Charlie English is the former head of international news at the Guardian. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he is the author of The Snow Tourist and the widely acclaimed The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu. He lives in London.

‘A superbly told story of worlds colliding …There’s so much that’s wonderful about this book; it’s hard to know where to start heaping praise. It is by turns intriguing, tragic, horrifying and occasionally funny’The Times -

‘English has written a terrific book, taut and thematic … As beautiful as it is bleak’Guardian -

‘Engrossing …The work of these artists, much of which miraculously survived the war, lives on as testament to the variety of human experience, and of ways to communicate what it feels like to be alive’Economist -

‘Compelling … The twin strands of Hitler’s thinking on art and racial purity draw remorselessly together … Memorable’Literary Review -

‘A riveting tale, brilliantly told'Philippe Sands -

‘A fascinating new book’Daily Mail -

‘Fascinating … Journalist English unpacks Hitler’s mad campaign against mentally ill artists … English’s story feels strikingly relevant. While shedding new light on this piece of history, English also provides a cautionary tale for the future’Publishers Weekly -

‘An extraordinary, deeply researched work which is a testament to the Prinzhorn artists’The Tablet -

‘Perhaps only in 1920s Weimar Germany where expressionism and dadaism were exploring the dark sides of sex and fantasy could the art of the mentally ill first get its due. And perhaps only in Germany could the story Charlie English tells so well have ended in such horror. English takes us through uncharted artistic waters in a narrative of great humanity: a gripping journey into art, madness and modern history’Jonathan Jones, author of Sensations -

”'Dazzling … This poignant narrative centres on the complicated psychiatrist Hans Prizhorn and the eccentric patient artists whose work helped usher in a new epoch of the modernist avant-garde only to become fodder for Hitler's hateful ideology of 'degeneration” - . Richly wrought, and deeply researched’Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire