Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to take down two paintings by Emil Nolde from her office walls has touched off a heated German debate as an exhibition on the Expressionist painter and his links to the Nazis opened in Berlin.

Organisers of the show “Emil Nolde, a German Legend: The Artist During National Socialism,” had asked Merkel for one of two paintings on loan to her. But she decided to send both — a 1915 painting of flowers in a garden and the 1936 work “Breakers,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

No explanation was given for the decision. Neither was an official reason offered as to why Merkel would not want them back when the exhibition closes in September 2019.

But the move was quickly interpreted by German media as a belated rejection by Merkel of the artist over his antisemitic views and entanglement with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Amid the controversy, Seibert said Merkel had been offered two other paintings by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

But after historians quickly pointed out that the concerned artist, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, was also known for his antisemitic comments, Merkel simply decided to put off the decorating for a while.

“The chancellor decided not to borrow any other pictures from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation for her office,” a spokesman said.

Nolde was long cast in the post-war years as a victim of Hitler’s regime because his art was condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate” and removed from museums. But research has shown he was a vocal antisemite and fervent supporter of the Third Reich.

At the exhibition of Nolde’s works which opened at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof museum, curators Aya Soika and Bernhard Fulda sought to dispel the myths surrounding Nolde’s persona, putting on full display his anti-Jewish views alongside his works.