Showing posts with label Robert Edsel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert Edsel. Show all posts

February 5, 2014

Monuments Men Feature Film: George Clooney's new movie involves Nazi-looted art and seeing it is strictly professional

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog

Two more days until the new George Clooney movie on the Monuments Men. There are serious preparations to be done -- re-watch "The Rape of Europa" on Netflix; finish reading Robert E. Edsel's book on The Monuments Men (available in print, on audible, and in iBooks); peruse Lynn Nicholas' book The Rape of Europa (paperback and iBooks); and then watch tonight's show featuring ARCA founder Noah Charney on National Geographic, "Hunting Hitler's Treasures Stolen Treasures: the Monuments Men".

Nicholas' The Rape of Europa provides an overall view of the Nazi efforts to dominate and claim culture for the Third Reich, including the confiscation of "degenerate art" from German museums; theft from Jewish private collections; and the attempted obliteration of Slavic and Russian culture. Robert E. Edsel co-produced the film on Nichols' book and wrote Rescuing Da Vinci, a photographic essay on the Nazis' attempt to steal Europe's art.

Here's a link to an article published in the Harvard Gazette, "A monument to saved art: Harvard-trained conservators were key players in tracking, rescuing priceless works in World War II (written by Edward Mason, Harvard Correspondent)". The article, which covers a panel with Edsel and a Skype call from actor Matt Damon, points out that Clooney plays a fictional character.
The “Monuments Men” belonged to the U.S. Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. Their ranks included Lincoln Kirstein ’30, the founder of the New York City Ballet; Paul Sachs, Class of 1900, a member of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, which recruited many of the team’s members; and Stout. Born in 1897, Stout was a tall, dashing man with a pencil-thin mustache ­— not unlike actor George Clooney, who in the film plays the Stout-like team leader, Frank Stokes. Clooney also produced and directed the movie and co-wrote the screenplay. Stout helped pioneer the field of art conservation while a graduate assistant at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum. Long before World War II, he had the vision to see the risk aerial bombing and firebombing posed to art, Edsel said. Stout had spent the early ’40s pushing for a national art conservation plan. The Allies and Stout knew that bombs were hardly the only danger to art. The Nazis engaged in “premeditated, organized looting never before seen in war,” Edsel said. The hunger their leaders displayed for European art put Western treasures at risk.
Other articles to read while you wait for the George Clooney movie on Nazi-looted art and the team of middle-aged art professionals who tried to save Europe's culture:

Anna Goldenberg interviews MM's Harry Ettlinger in The Jewish Daily Forward.

"Monuments Men" is a popular phrase for the MFAA section, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives, which did include women as this article by Tom Mashberg points out here in The New York Times.

December 23, 2013

Ilaria Dagnini Brey's "The Venus Fixers" and Robert Edsel's "Saving Italy" Reviewed in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Associate Editor Marc Balcells reviewed Ilaria Dagnini Brey's The Venus Fixers and Robert Edsel's Saving Italy in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Of The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009) by Ilaria Dagnini Brey, Balcells wrote:
Following in the steps of many other books depicting the loss of cultural heritage during World War II (whose examples include Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa or Harclerode and Pittaway's The Lost Masters, among others), Ilaria Dagnini Brey's book traces the fate of Italian works of art that suffered during the armed conflict. An Italian journalist herself, Mrs. Dagnini Brey traces, with a complete array of documentation, the history and the impact of World War II in Italy, especially in its cities, filled with monuments, museums, historical buildings and archives. The book covers only particular cities: of course writing a book with the vast amount of information on cultural heritage in every corner of Italy would be a work fit for an encyclopedia, and not just a single volume. 
One of the assets of the book is its establishment of a very solid base setting the scene: path of Italy's entrance to the war is clearly delineated. But instead of giving only a historical account of the events, the author establishes, from the very beginning, the links to cultural heritage and the policies taken to prevent the possible damage. In order to do so, the main characters are carefully introduced, and the main cities that configure the book's landscape are clearly laid from the very beginning (Padua, Rome, Florence...). Out of these characters, for the reader who has previous knowledge of the subject, the Allied Monuments Men will echo from others (mostly Edsel's two previous books, Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men). However, without downplaying their role, the book also abounds with Italian characters who have been mostly unacknowledged, and are fully explored in it.
Of Robert M. Edsel's Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis (W.W. Norton & Company, May 2013), Balcells wrote:
Followers of Robert Edsel's previous books can rejoice, as a new one has appeared on the market: after Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men, Saving Italy follows his previous books related to World War II and the destruction of cultural heritage, and the task that the Monuments Men conducted in order to save, in this case, Italy's cultural heritage. 
This book relates much to its predecessor, The Monuments Men (Rescuing Da Vinci follows a mostly illustrated, coffee table book format), as it traces the work of the Allied officers from England and the United States into Italy, as the German forces retreated. The book follows a chronological order in four parts: the inception, struggle, victory and aftermath of the Monuments Men.
Marc Balcells is the Associate Editor of The Journal of Art Crime. A Spanish criminologist, he holds degrees in Law, Criminology and Human Services, and masters both in Criminal Law, and the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. A Fulbright scholar, he is currently completing his PhD in Criminal Justice at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His research revolves around criminological aspects of archaeological looting, though he has also written about other forms of art crime. He has taught both Criminal Law and Criminology courses as an associate at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Spain) and is a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Political Science department at John Jay College. He is also a criminal defense attorney whose practice is located in Barcelona.

You may finish reading this book review in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney. Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

November 24, 2013

Robert M. Edsel's Talk at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Launched "Saving Italy" and the Archives Program

by Tanya K. Lervik

Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis Best-selling author, Robert M. Edsel addressed a packed audience in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium this week. The event on November 19th publicized the launch of his newest book, Saving Italy, which celebrates the achievements of two members of the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program.

Deane Keller and Fred Hartt risked their lives and put academic careers at Yale on hold to join the race to save Italy's masterpieces. As they traveled with Allied troops, their original mission working to minimize damage and stabilizing threatened works evolved as the scope of Nazi looting became clear. Many priceless artworks from the great museums of Naples and Florence were unceremoniously bundled off with the retreating German forces and used as a pawn by General Karl Wolff, commander of the SS forces in Italy. Without Hitler's knowledge, Wolff secretly negotiated the Nazi surrender with American OSS spymaster, Allen Dulles. Meanwhile, the "Monuments Men" worked tirelessly to retrieve the hostage art and prepare for its eventual triumphant return.

Edsel also spoke about his other efforts to increase public awareness of the legacy of the Monuments Men. The recently publicized discovery of the Gurlitt hoard in Munich highlights the fact that many lost artworks may still be discovered. Edsel hopes that the February 7th film release of "The Monuments Men" which dramatizes his first book will inspire people to consider the importance of preserving art and culture in times of war, and possibly to look more deeply into the history of objects they may have inherited. 

The combined star power of a cast including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, and John Goodman promises to shine a powerful light on the issue. Edsel hopes to focus that raised interest through his Monuments Men Foundation by asking the public to approach the foundation with tips and questions about objects they may have at home. He pointed out that many of the larger lost artworks are likely to be either lost or to have been confiscated by the retreating Soviet Army, so his aim is to concentrate on smaller, more portable items that may lie the obscurity of personal collections. In this way, Edsel hopes to expand efforts to repatriate looted art. 

Related links: 

See a brief documentary on the wartime exploits of the Monuments Men:

Watch the trailer for the upcoming film version of Edsel’s book: 

View archived Monuments Men documents from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art:

Watch Robert Edsel speak about "Saving Italy" on Book TV:

October 29, 2013

Tonality and the Delay of George Clooney's film on The Monuments Men

by Fern Smiley, Art Researcher and Consultant on Holocaust Era Cultural Property

George Clooney recently announced that that release of his film, The Monuments Men, will be delayed until 2014. Sharon Waxman, editor of The Wrap and author of LOOT: The Battle Over The Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World (Henry Holt & Company, 2008), ascertains that the cause of the delay is because George Clooney is struggling with the tone of ‘Monuments Men’: “He’d been grappling with balancing the movie’s comic elements with the serious subject matter of World War II and the Nazis’ theft of Europe’s most valuable art.”

Except Clooney has since denied that the delay had anything to do with tonality, insisting that it's all about timing, mostly getting the visual effects right. Even so, Waxman had published on October 23 that a person close to the film claimed, “The hard-to-nail tone was more the issue than the visual effects”.

Context is everything except in Hollywood

The 1964 thriller, The Train starring Burt Lancaster, was inspired by the true story of train No. 40,044 “liberated” outside Paris in 1944 by members of the French Resistance who prevented the train from crossing the border into Germany at the war’s end. In 1964, the year that John Frankenheimer released the film, Hollywood did not acknowledge that the content of the train, priceless artwork, was, in reality, confiscated from Jewish dealers and collectors throughout France and Belgium, but the “Monuments Men” knew.

Lynn Nicolas’ Rape of Europa, the 1995 book which became the benchmark for the subject of Nazi art looting and restitution, reveals the ironic fact that the Jewish American soldier who commandeered the actual train was the son of Paul Rosenberg, the venerated Parisian art dealer. Lt. Alexandre Rosenberg liberated hundreds of French impressionists pictures (many which he recognized that had hung in his parents’ home). Before fleeing France, Paul Rosenberg had tried to safeguard his possessions in a bank in Libourne and a rented chateau in Floirac but both were purloined by Nazi agents.

Robert Edsel’s book of the same name and upon which George Clooney based his film details the recovery starting in 1944 of an astonishing number of works of art stored in salt mines and repositories throughout Europe. For six more years the Monuments Men uncovered deposits; protected, documented, and eventually returned what could be traced to the country of origin to be restituted to the rightful owners.

The meticulously detailed German records of confiscation of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) aided the officers in the recovery. Nancy Yeide, curator of the National Gallery of Art, once commented on the system of ERR plunder: "The very people they were eradicating, they were taking their art and keeping track of whom they take the art from”… except in the case of the M-Aktion, of course, where owners were unidentifiable, since the art and furnishings seized were from abandoned Jewish lodgings, constituting a rich haul of significant and not-so-significant works and objects.

Despite the remarkable recovery work of the "Monuments Men", the whereabouts of tens of thousands of works remained unknown. Meanwhile, according to Marc Masurovsky, founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, the art trade suddenly flourished, and an unprecedented boom in sales occurred throughout a newly infused international art market, ready to embrace stolen property.

Especially in North America

Collections assembled and museums opened during and after the WWII era are still coming to grips with the identification of ‘Holocaust Looted Art’. “The Monuments Men” returned to the US and Canada and Britain after WWII. Some found senior positions in the countries’ museums. Others were academics in the nations’ colleges and universities However, in at least one uncomfortable case, the estate of an ex-Monuments officer contained many seventeen and eighteenth century European works which, because of their unknown provenance, made their ultimate disposition difficult.

American museums have identified 16,000 objects in their possession that may have been seized by the Nazis. Chapter 6 of the 1972 catalogue of The National Gallery of Canada 1938-1955: “Great Years of Collecting” raises eyebrows. This April, Canada’s federal government announced the funding of $200,000 to support the research efforts in six Canadian museums to help establish the provenance of works of art. “It is an important initiative for researchers and heirs around the world who are trying to identify and locate artworks and other cultural artifacts displaced during the Holocaust” said Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, at the Ottawa’s Carleton University conference examining “If not now, when? Responsibility and Memory after the Holocaust.”

It is 2013. George Clooney has a challenge. Waiting a bit longer for a movie, which “means something” according to him, will necessitate a considered approach to the topic. (In the meantime, one could do well by reading the non-fiction book, the above mentioned, Rape of Europa.)

One simply cannot speak about Nazi art looting without referencing the Holocaust. There is international cooperation, legal papers, institutes and conferences examining Nazi art looting and restitution as a component of the Holocaust. News stories run weekly describing successes and failures of claimants, a popularized one, being Elizabeth Taylor’s 2007 pre-emptive lawsuit to keep her Van Gogh from the heirs of Mrs. Margaret Mauthner.

Even in Italy, even by Italians

In Italy, after the first Fascist Racial Laws took hold in the fall of 1938, seizure of works of art from Jews began even without any Nazi presence. Circular n. 43, issued by the Ministry of Education on 4th of March 1939, called upon Royal Customs Offices, responsible for granting export licenses for art and antiquities, to create difficulties and discourage exports of all Jewish emigrants. This was in response to an earlier measure, of the 7th of December 1938, ordering the actual expulsion of all foreign born Jews living on Italian soil, giving them six months to leave the country. According to the Italian scholar Dr. Ilaria Pavan, many of their possessions languished in crates at ports like Genoa. In 1947, the owner of such a crate, containing 558 works of art applied for removal of her property, according to archival material in the Superintendency in Liguria, but then returned them in 1948, their poor condition being in direct relation to the unsuitability of the storage space in which they had been held.

“Sequestrations” in Italian towns and cities took place in earnest, facilitated by the arrest and deportation of its Jewish citizens in 1943/44. A report dated 7 July 1944 from the Superintendency of Florence, Pistoia and Prato concerning removal of all property owned by Jews noted that “lesser objects be sold at Materazzi’s” with added commentary that translates, “it is better to leave as few traces as possible, either of receipts or of the stuff taken from Jews”. In this case sequestration of art was actually undertaken by the Italian local Fascist authorities, not the Nazis.

In the northeast where the German occupying forces carried out confiscations and deportations, records of the Pollitzer, Luzzato, Jesurum, Lescovitch and Morpurgo families, had their art given to local museums that is, after the Nazis skimmed off the best. Musei Civico Trieste and Udine were enriched according to OMGUS post-war documents of Preparations and Restitution Branch, Office of the Military Government (US).

Set in Italy, during this moment of genocide, “Monuments Men, the movie”, cannot sidestep the full historical record. George Clooney, thankfully, is exquisitely placed to increase understanding of Nazi art looting. As lives were threatened or lost by deportation to death camps, stolen private and communal Jewish cultural property shifted from one place to another. At the Italians’ pleading, shipments from museum deposits at risk from bombing were transported by the Germans to the Vatican for safety. Perhaps even the Vatican may have safeguarded objects of Jewish origin, which it still possesses. With the new Pope promising transparency and access to archives, that question may just get answered.

Now that would be a movie.

Ms. Smiley, a former arts volunteer and weblog editor, has advised the Canadian Jewish Congress on their file for Holocaust era art restitution and attended ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in 2011. 


Interministerial Commission for Works of Art
In October 1995, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities established this commission to research missing artwork plundered by the Nazis during World War II

The Commissione Anselmi did not carry out a detailed research in state and private museum in order to verify the presence of works of art taken from Jews. The  Interministerial Commission for the recovery of art works assured that no such instance is documented in its records.

Research carried out by the Historical Archive of the Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea. Examples of Material Losses suffered by the Jews in the period 1938-1945.

Series: Records Relating to Monuments. Museums, Libraries, Archives and Fine Arts of the Cultural Affairs Branch, OMGUS, 1946-49 and FA. NARA, RG 260.
Category: JI Allied Commission- Italy. 65 pp, 

Doctor Ilaria Pavan, Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa)
The Italian Experience. Paper delivered at Christie’s and International Union of Lawyers  “Holocaust Art Looting & Restitution Symposium”.
Milan, Italy. Thursday, June 23, 2011

L’Opera di Ritrovare. Sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry for the Cultural and Environmental Heritage. Italian State Publishing House, 1995.