Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Monuments Men

National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

In the fall of 1997, Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art held an impressive exhibition which included more than 150 works of the Austrian Expressionist artist Egon Schiele, on loan from the Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria. At the close of the show in January 1998, mere hours before the work was to be prepared to return to Vienna, the museum received a subpoena that stated two paintings (Portrait of Wally, 1912, and Dead City III, 1911) were stolen by the Nazi's in the 1930's, and that a criminal investigation would determine rightful claim to the art. Eventually, Dead City III was returned to the Leopold because its former owner had no heirs, but Portrait of Wally, was stored in a warehouse in Queens, New York where it awaits a pending trial and ruling.

The destruction of WWII included the massive looting of art, antiques and cultural artifacts. Allied forces created a task force comprised of a few hundred men and women, curators and archivists, artists and art historians from 13 nations to find, and ultimately preserve the stolen great art of Europe. The Monuments Men, by Robert M. Edsel, explores this unusual but significant WWII history.

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