The term "Entartung" (degenerate) is a 19th century medical term and refers to a pathological degeneration. The term was subsequently used to describe general degeneration, and later became part of National Socialist terminology. Based on racial ideology, modern art was referred to as "degenerate art". In this context, the Nazis also made an analogy between art and mental illness. This had been initiated by Paul Schultze-Naumburg (1869-1949) and his book "Art and Race" (1928). In the book, he showed works by modern artists such as Amedeo Modigliani or Karl Schmidt-Rottluff alongside photographs of physically disabled people.
The "Degenerate Art" exhibition, which was first shown in the Hofgarten Arkaden in Munich in 1937, and later in other cities, was preceded by a campaign of seizures of art works from German museums. This "cleansing" was subsequently legitimised by the "Law on the Confiscation of Products of Degenerate Art" in 1938. In the "Degenerate Art" exhibition, selected works were presented in a humiliating way. Artists branded as "degenerate" included Ernst Barlach, Marc Chagall, Lovis Corinth, Otto Dix, Georg Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, August Macke, Franz Marc, Emil Nolde and Kurt Schwitters. Many of these artists were banned from working and some emigrated. Following the "Degenerate Art" exhibition, in 1939, a number of the art works were auctioned off in the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne, in order to generate foreign currency. Other works were publicly burnt in Berlin.