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Minneapolis museum spotlights art rescued by "Monuments Men."

Posted by: Mary Abbe under Art, Culture, Movies, Museums Updated: January 30, 2014 - 1:02 PM

Purchased last year by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the 1505  terracotta bust of Saint John the Baptist  (above) by Benedetto da Rovezzano was rescued by the "Monuments Men" in 1945 after having been looted by the Nazis.

It is among nine artworks in the museum's collection that will be spotlit in a self-guided "Monuments Men" tour of the museum's collection available Feb. 3. The tour coincides with the February 7 release of the Monuments Men film about a team of art historians, conservators and museum directors whom President Franklin Roosevelt sent into Germany to find and safeguard thousands of paintings, sculpture and priceless artifacts that the Nazis had confiscated from museums and private collections. Many of the artworks were destined for a grandiose museum that Hitler intended to build in celebration of his conquests. Hidden in caves, saltmines, churches, castles and other repositories throughout German-held territories, the art was in danger of theft, bombardments and further looting as the Nazi regime collapsed. 

The film, starring George Clooney as George Stout and Matt Damon as James Rorimer,  is based on Robert M Edsel's terrific book about the intellectuals and aesthetes who risked their lives to save European culture and return priceless objects to their rightful owners.

Cate Blanchett plays Rose Valland, a clever, multi-lingual French woman who worked quietly at the Jeu de Paume, the Paris museum from which the Nazi's dispatched stolen and confiscated artworks to Germany. Risking her own life, she clandestinely copied the Nazi's art-transport records and gave them to the French resistance which eventually got them to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, as the Monuments Men were officially known.

Clooney's character, George Stout, was in reality an art conservator who later directed the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. After the war, Damon's character, James Rorimer, returned to New York where he headed the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1955 until his death in 1966.

Other artworks on the Minneapolis museum's tour include paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Johannes Lingelbach, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Lyonel Feininger, Willem de Poorter, and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon; a statue by Adam Lenckhardt, and a dreidel "with a remarkable story of survival."

Two former Monuments Men served on the Minneapolis museum's staff: Richard Davis (1917-1985)  was a curator at the museum from 1946 - 1956, and director from '56 to 1959. A passionate collector, Davis is remembered for boosting the museum's collection of 20th century and contemporary art and, more controversially, for selling-off art that was not then fashionable in order to pay for the new purchases. As a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves during WWII he was first a diplomatic courier for the Department of State and later was posted to Japan where he helped track down and return art that the Japanese had looted from occupied countries.

The MIA's second "Monuments Man" was Harry Dobson Miller Grier (1914-1972), an architect-archeologist who had worked at the Met in New York prior to WWII. Taking leave from the museum he enlisted in the U.S. Army, participated in the Normandy invasion, and was acting chief of the Berlin bureau of the Monuments Men from 1945 - 46. He was assistant director of the MIA from 1946 to 1951 when he returned to New York to work at the Frick Collection, serving as director there from 1964 until his death in 1972.


 

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