Description: RIEFENSTAHL, Leni. Schoenheit im olympischen Kampf. Berlin: Deutschen Verlag, 1937.
Quarto, 281 pp.
First edition of one of the most famous of all photographic books, images mostly extracted from Riefenstahl’s film documentation of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
Location of Origin: Europe
Primary Classification: Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Maps : Documents
Expertise: An extraordinary and horrifying association copy, inscribed by Riefenstahl to Heirich Himmler, “Herrn Reichsfuehrer Himmler hertzlich gewidmet. Dez. 1937 Leni Riefenstahl.” Internally near fine, the publisher’s orange cloth-covered boards show some general wear and soiling, with a small circular indentation to the front panel near the spine and loss of gilt to part of a few letters of the title on the upper board. In a very good, supplied, copy of the beautiful pictorial dust jacket. The relationship to Nazism, obscure though it seems to have been, has always plagued the reception of Riefenstahl’s work, lauded though it has often been for its powerful aesthetic qualities. She certainly had a close and friendly relationship with Hitler, though up until her detention at the end of the war as a possible criminal collaborator, she claims, she had no knowledge of the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. In fact, Hitler’s own relationship to the activities in the camps is obscure by comparison with Himmler’s. It was the latter who engineered the systematic destruction of the Jewish people and who first spoke of the program in a public speech and who sought to produce a race of Nordic Aryans in Germany, applying his rudimentary knowledge of animal breeding to the purpose. Of course, the Himmler of the present inscription hadn’t yet perpetrated the horrors with which his name is today associated, and Riefenstahl’s cordial inscription doesn’t therefore ally her with practices of which she professed ignorance in 1945 and toward which she always professed revulsion. Nevertheless, a disturbing encapsulation of one of the most problematic relationships of an artist to a political regime in modern history, and a hideous reminder that art doesn’t necessarily exist for art alone regardless of the artist’s view of the matter.