The Monuments Men, The Movie

A Rembrandt self-portrait recovered at a German salt mine

A Rembrandt self-portrait recovered at a German salt mine

The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, or MFAA. Most had expertise as museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists. Their job description was simple: to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat.

The team members, initially 30 men who were largely civilian art experts, crisscrossed Europe, often alone and under fire, chasing after fabled works from great museums, gold and silver heirlooms from Holocaust victims, even brass and iron bells from ancient church towers. Among the masterpieces they rescued were the Ghent Altarpiece (1432), the Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo (1504) and Vermeer’s “The Astronomer” (1668), all intended for a colossal museum envisioned by Hitler. Their exploits were chronicled in a 2009 book by Robert M. Edsel, “The Monuments Men,” which has now been adapted into a movie by that name. . . from George Clooney. NYTimes



Edith A. Standen, left, and Rose Valland in 1946.

Edith A. Standen, left, and Rose Valland in 1946

The New York Times published an article showing that “Not All Monuments Men Were Men.”

Rose Valland, whose role is depicted briefly by Cate Blanchett in the film, was a French Resistance operative who spied on the Nazis and showed herself able to shoot and drink with the boys. Edith A. Standen was a captain in the Women’s Army Corps who went on to a career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And Ms. Hall was a Smith College graduate who came to the task from a career focused on the study of Asian art. SEE MORE


The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in HistoryThe Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.

Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

Watch the video interview by PBS with Robert Edsel, the author of The Monuments Men, the book which the film is based upon. 

During World War II, the Nazis systematically looted art works from all over Europe, while combat and aerial bombing unintentionally destroyed major landmarks. The story of the quest to protect, rescue and restore Europe’s cultural treasures is told in a new movie, “The Monuments Men.” Robert Edsel, author of the book that inspired the new film, joins Jeffrey Brown for a conversation.

The Monuments Men and the National Gallery of Art
February 11–September 1, 2014, Washington D.C.

An exhibition provides a look at the legacy and history of the real ‘Monuments Men’ Behind the History, an archival display featuring World War II-era photographs, documents, and memorabilia, many never before exhibited.

Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization. . . . in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.

It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols whenever possible.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, General, US Army, May 26, 1944


monuments-men photoWashington, DC—The officers who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program rescued masterpieces from Nazi thieves during the chaos of liberation. Prior to the war, six of these officers were associated with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and in later years three held important positions at the museum. Perhaps more important, even before the MFAA operation was established, the Gallery was the center of lobbying efforts to create such a program and later, in association with the Roberts Commission, worked tirelessly to support MFAA activities in the field.

“The Gallery is proud to have played such an integral role in the story of these real-life Monuments Men, ” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “These men—and women—worked to protect Europe’s cultural heritage at the height of World War II, ensuring its safety in the aftermath and returning works, when possible, to their rightful owners once peace and security were restored.”

From February 11 to September 1, 2014, the Gallery will showcase The Monuments Men and the National Gallery of Art: Behind the History, an archival display featuring World War II-era photographs, documents, and memorabilia, many never before exhibited. On view in the West Building Art Information Room, the display will demonstrate the seminal role the National Gallery of Art played in the creation of the MFAA, the Roberts Commission, and the experiences of real-life MFAA officers.

monuments men-001The successful activities of these few men is out of all proportion to their number and their position within the military machine. The task was nothing less than to preserve as much as they could of man’s creative past.

During World War II, American art historians, museum and art professionals, and archivists were deployed as military officers to protect historical monuments, art, and archives in war theaters throughout western Europe. These “monuments men” were part of the military’s Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program. The National Gallery of Art played a seminal role in its creation.

This display describes the creation of the government commission that instigated and supported the MFAA and explores the experiences of a few of the real-life monuments men. The photographs and documents shown here can only suggest the enormous achievements of the program.

CLICK THE LINKS below to see the different categories of documentation from The Monuments Men and the National Gallery of Art: Behind the History


I. Behind the Monuments Men

II. Destruction and Recovery in Italy

III. D-Day and France

IV. Loot and Treasure

V. Sanctuaries for Art

VI. Restitution and Closure

The Monuments Men at the Met: Treasures Saved During World War II

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has set up an itinerary of 11 works of art which narrowly escaped destruction and they indicate that without the foresight of The Monuments Men, these important paintings would not be in the Met’s collection today. The quote excerpted below is from the Met site.



The Monuments Men were 345 men and women, representing thirteen nations, who volunteered for service in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, or MFAA, during World War II. James Rorimer, a Monuments Man who eventually became the Met’s director, played a pivotal role in the MFAA’s efforts.

In a race against time, and under mandate from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, this group of unlikely heroes—museum directors, curators, art scholars, educators, artists, architects, and archivists—risked their lives on the front lines and worked tirelessly to protect Europe’s monuments and greatest cultural treasures from both the destruction of the war and seizure by Hitler and the Nazis. Without vehicles, typewriters, or full authority, they managed to track, locate, and return more than five million looted cultural items. Their role in preserving these treasures stands without precedent.

Use the following itinerary, complemented by writings from Monuments Men historians and James Rorimer himself, to discover eleven works of art that narrowly escaped destruction and were restituted to their rightful owners. Without the courage, determination, and foresight of the Monuments Men, these important paintings would not be in the Met’s collection today.

This itinerary was produced in conjunction with the February 2014 release of the feature film The Monuments Men.

One of the paintings on the Met’s Itinerary is as follows:

Jean Siméon Chardin, Soap Bubbles

In a special meeting held at the Met in 1941, the Fogg Art Museum’s associate director Paul Sachs addressed the war and its impact on the arts community: “If, in time of peace, our museums and art galleries are important to the community, in time of war they are doubly valuable. For then, when the petty and the trivial fall way and we are face to face with final and lasting values, we…must summon to our defense all our intellectual and spiritual resources. We must guard jealously all we have inherited from a long past, all we are capable of creating in a trying present, and all we are determined to preserve in a foreseeable future. Art is the imperishable and dynamic expression of these aims. It is, and always has been, the visible evidence of the activity of free minds.”

“Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Association of Museum Directors on the Problems of Protection and Defense held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” pp. 134–135, RG 7, Box 77, Publications, Metropolitan Museum, Conservation of Cultural Resources, Defense, Gallery Archives, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men: Traces from the Archives at the Metropolitan Museum

From the “Now at the Met” Blog:

Melissa Bowling, Associate Archivist, Museum Archives; and James Moske, Managing Archivist, Museum Archives

Posted: Friday, January 31, 2014

Several of the Monuments Men either were Metropolitan Museum staff members or joined the Museum after the war; they include Theodore Heinrich, Theodore Rousseau, Edith Standen, and Harry D. Grier. Perhaps the most prominent among them was James J. Rorimer, a Harvard-educated medieval art specialist first hired by the Metropolitan in 1927. Rorimer steadily rose through the curatorial ranks and was appointed curator of medieval art in 1934. He played a central role in the development of The Cloisters museum and gardens, the branch of the Museum located in upper Manhattan. In 1943, Rorimer left the Museum to join the United States Army, where he eventually became an officer in the MFAA. Between 1943 and 1946, Rorimer covered a broad territory between northern France and Germany in his pursuit of art treasures confiscated and hidden by the Nazis.

See more about the history and documentation.

Related Installation:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives celebrates the achievements of the Monuments Men with a special installation of historical photographs, documents, and publications in the Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Library from January 31 through March 13, 2014.

Learn more!

Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany 1937 Neue Gallerie March 13-June 30, NYC

The term “degenerate” was adopted by the National Socialist regime as part of its campaign against modern art. Many works branded as such by the Nazis were seized from museums and private collections.

Following the showing of these works in a three-year traveling exhibition that criss- crossed Germany and Austria, most were sold, lost, or presumed destroyed. In this light, the recent discovery in Munich of the Gurlitt trove of such artwork has attracted considerable attention. The film “The Monuments Men,” directed by George Clooney which opened in February 2014, suggests the level of popular interest in the subject.

Paul Klee, Twittering Machine, watercolor 1922

Paul Klee, Twittering Machine, watercolor 1922

Highlights of the show include a number of works shown in Munich in the summer of 1937.

Works from the original exhibition include: Max Beckmann’s Cattle in a Barn (1933); George Grosz’s Portrait of the Writer Max Hermann-Neisse (1925); Erich Heckel’s Barbershop (1913); Ernst Luwig Kirchner’s Winter Landscape in Moonlight (1919), The Painters of the Brücke (1925/26); Paul Klee’s The Angler (1921), The Twittering Machine (1922), and Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version) (1925); Oskar Kokoschka’s The Duchess of Montesquiou-Fezensac (1910); Ewald Mataré’s Lurking Cat (1928); Karel Niestrath’s Hungry Girl (1925); Emil Nolde’s Still-Life with Carved Wooden Figure (1911), Red-Haired Girl (1919), and Milk Cows (1913); Christian Rohlf’s The Towers of Soest (ca. 1916) and Acrobats (ca. 1916); Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s Pharisees (1912); and Lasar Segall’s Eternal Wanderers (1919), among others.

The Neue Galerie exhibition comes on the heels of the recent discovery of a trove of Nazi-looted art in Munich. It will open just a month after the premiere of The Monuments Men, a feature film starring and directed by George Clooney that tells the story of the U.S. military officials charged with protecting cultural heritage during World War II.


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Winter Landscape in Moonlight, 1919

The Neue Galerie’s big spring show, “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” has been nearly three years in the making, yet it seems particularly prescient after the discovery last month of what may well be the biggest trove of missing 20th-century European art — about 1,400 works suspected of being traded or looted during the Nazis’ reign, including paintings by Matisse, Chagall, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso and a host of other masters.

Some disappeared in the late 1930s, around the time the Nazis raided German museums and public collections, confiscating works they called degenerate because Hitler deemed them un-German or Jewish in nature.



Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany 1937 by Olaf Peters (Editor)

Neue Gallery, Degenerate ArThis book accompanies the first major museum exhibition devoted to a reconstruction of the infamous Nazi display of modern art since the presentation originated by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1991. During the Nazi regime in Germany, “degenerate art” was the official term for much of the most important modern art of the day. “Degenerate art” was defined by the Nazi regime as artwork that was not in line with the National Socialists’ ideas of beauty.

Their condemnation extended to works in nearly every major art movement: Expressionism, Dada, New Objectivity, Surrealism, Cubism, and Fauvism. Banned artists included Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, and Oskar Kokoschka.

Richly illustrated, Degenerate Art elucidates the historical and intellectual context of the notorious exhibition in Munich in 1937, which spurred the attack on modern art.

The book contains reflections on the genesis and evolution of the term “degenerate art” and details of the National Socialist policy on art. Art works from the exhibition Degenerate Art are compared to works of art from The Great German Art Exhibition, which was held at the same time and displayed the works of officially approved artists. The book also presents the after-effects of the attack on modernism that are felt even today.

Resources: The Monument Men

Watch the video interview by PBS with Robert Edsel, the author of The Monuments Men, the book which the film is based upon.

The Magazine, The True Story Behind ‘The Monuments Men’ By Julian Smith Feb 2014 Read more:

Resources: Degenerate Art

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