Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘Art’ Category


April 1st, 2011 | 10:18 am

General Eisenhower Talking at Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 2, 1946 about the importance of saving art and culture during World War II.

An amazing discovery of historical significance was recently found, an audio recording from April 2, 1946 that has General Eisenhower specifically talking about his decision to safeguard the world’s cultural treasures during World War II. Eisenhower gave this speech at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was honored with a life fellowship. His words reiterate both his actions during the war and America’s actions after the war in dealing with cultural items, both domestically and internationally. It is a unique occurrence to hear Eisenhower speak only on the topic of art.

The Associate Press wrote an article that explaining the finding and its significance that is running on Yahoo! News. Click the link to read the article.

You can listen to Eisenhower’s entire speech on the newly redesigned Monuments Men Foundation website,

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D-Magazine Feature: The Nazi Treasure Hunter

February 24th, 2011 | 1:53 pm

The Nazi Treasure Hunter

D Magazine March 2011

There are those who believe that two of the world’s most high-profile missing artifacts are hidden somewhere in the Dallas area. It’s an intersting coincidence, given that the man leading the search for them and other cultural treasures lost since World War II happens to live right here.

D-Magazine – Robert Edsel is the Nazi Treasure Hunter – March 2011


Ms. Maria Altmann Passes Away at 94

February 8th, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Mr. Robert M. Edsel and Ms. Maria Altmann

On February 7th, 2011, Ms. Maria Altmann passed away at the age of 94. She escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna and returned to Austria in 1998 to wage a triumphant fight to recover Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer, an iconic portrait of her remarkable aunt.

To watch a short video to learn more about her remarkable story, please click the link:

To learn more about her remarkable story, please click the link:,0,493390,full.story

We will write more about this woman’s remarkable life in the coming days.

Ms. Maria Altmann in front of her aunt's portrait "Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer" by Gustav Klimt

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Book Giveaway Contest Starts Today!

October 20th, 2010 | 2:55 pm

Dear Supporters,

To continue celebrating the release of The Monuments Men paperback edition, we are having a book giveaway contest. Here is how you enter to win your free copy of The Monuments Men:

1. Go to our blog

2. Under the comment section leave your favorite Monuments Men story or your favorite WWII story. One story will win every day for the next two weeks!

It is that simple. Please share your stories with us for a chance to win.


Robert Edsel



July 2nd, 2010 | 2:05 pm

James N. Wood, long time director of the Art Institute of Chicago (1980-2004) and more recently President and CEO of the Getty Trust, died recently.  I met Jim Wood more than 3 years ago at the memorial service for one of his great mentors, Monuments Man S. Lane Faison, Jr, his college professor of art history at Williams College.  Jim was one of a group of prominent students who went on to lead some of our nation’s greatest museums including Rusty Powell (Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.), Jack Lane (former Director of the Dallas Museum of Art), and Kirk Varnadoe Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.

I remember well the moving story Jim Wood told about Lane visiting the Art Institute for a tour of some of the great works and the dramatic moment that brought Lane to his feet when standing before a great work of art.  The esteem and affection this once student felt for his old teacher was still evident after all those years.  Everyone was brought to tears as the telling of this story came alive.

Jim Wood leaves a lengthy and worthy legacy of scholarship and contribution to the arts at these two and other institutions.  His connection to the Monuments Men was considerable as many of his peers once served the MFAA; others studied and worked for men and women who were Monuments officers.  These first line connections to this great part of our history are something to cherish while we still have them.  They underscore the urgency with which we continue to gather all aspects of the story of the Monuments Men.

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June 30th, 2010 | 2:31 pm

Rembrandt van Rijn, Nightwatch (Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq), 1642. Oil on canvas, 3.6 x 4.4m (10 ft 10 in x 14ft 4 in).

On June 30, 1945, Rembrandt van Rijn’s masterpiece, Nightwatch (Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq), was formally unrolled at the Rijksmuseum after having been returned to Amsterdam by the Dutch canal system on a special boat.

Photo Courtesy of NARA.

The painting had spent the last six years in hiding, in no fewer than four different repositories. It traveled from Castricum, to Heemskerk, to St. Pietersberg, and finally to a specially constructed bombproof shelter at Paaslo.

Photo Courtesy of NARA.

After the painting was unrolled, it was reattached to its stretcher and carefully examined by Rijksmuseum officials, as seen in the photo above. From left to right: Professors Reuling and Wolter of the Committee of Amsterdam; Dr. C. Lindeman, a director of the Rijksmuseum; D.C. Roell, general director of the Rijksmuseum; and (second from right) the Dutch painter Ruter, also a member of the Committee of Amsterdam.

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June 25th, 2010 | 2:12 pm

Tomorrow marks the passing of a truly remarkable man and a key figure for the Monuments Men, Monuments Officer Charles Parkhurst. His contribution to the Monuments Men and to the cultural heritage to America cannot be measured. Below is the blog we posted the day of his death in 2008 and here is a link to his biography on the website.

Lieutenant Charles Parkhurst, 1913-2008. Photo Courtesy of Charles Parkhurst Collection.

One of the greats, Charles Parkhurst, has died. He was 95 years of age.  Charles had an incredibly distinguished career as a museum director, curator, and art historian which spanned more than 50 years.  During those years he worked at the National Gallery of Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, the Albright-Knox AA Gallery in Buffalo, and the Princeton University Art Museum, among others.  He was also an outstanding educator of art with teaching positions at Oberlin College and Williams College.

But we will forever remember and honor Chuck for his service not just to our nation as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War ll, but his critically important work as a Monuments Officer.  Beginning in May 1945 Parkhurst served as the Deputy Chief of the Seventh Army MFAA section of the U.S. Military Government in Germany. He helped coordinate the numerous tasks of the Monuments Men in post-war Germany centered on restitutions of the hundreds of thousand of stolen works of art and other cultural belongings stolen by Hitler and the Nazis and located by the Monuments Men.

But Charles Parkhurst’s service was much greater. In addition to standing with his fellow Monuments Men on the principle that no works of art should be removed from Germany,  in the face of great controversy, he also played a key role in jump-starting cultural life in Germany after the war by creating exhibitions which allowed local citizens to see works of art even though German museums were closed due to damage during the war.

For his wartime efforts as a Monuments Officer, Charles was named a Chevalier, Legion of Honor by France.

Photo taken on my visit with Charles Parkhurst in 2006. Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.

Charles was so fortunate to have a magnificent lady and art scholar in her own right, for his wife, Carol, and a wonderful family.  It was one of the personal highlights of my work these past 7 years having the opportunity to meet Chuck and Carol two years ago at their charming home in Amherst.  Knowing he was ill, and of course the age of all the Monuments Men and women, underscored the sense of urgency to our effort to seek Senate and the House of Representatives support for our Resolution honoring the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives section.

We will miss Charles Parkhurst, and all he stood for in the education, appreciation and protection of art and culture, enormously.  Our condolences go out to his family and numerous close friends.

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June 15th, 2010 | 5:07 pm

Today is Monuments Man Mark Sponenburgh’s 94th birthday. He is one of only nine Monuments Men and women who are still with us, so needless to say this is a day worth celebrating. Mark is a great man I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past few years. You can read more about his accomplished life in his biography below.

Mark Ritter Sponenburgh (b. 1916)

A sculptor, historian, and educator, Mark Sponenburgh began his service with the MFAA in late 1945. He was previously enlisted in the Corps of Engineers as part of the 9th Engineers Command. Sponenburgh worked with the cartography section dictating and reproducing maps as the command prepared for D-Day and then crossed France, Holland, Belgium, and the Rhineland. After joining the MFAA, he was initially stationed at the Wiesbaden Collecting Point where he saw the famed Bust of Nefertiti, among other treasures, and was then assigned to the Alt Aussee mine. While at Alt Aussee, Sponenburgh supervised the transportation and packing of artworks and led the first armed convoy to the Munich Collecting Point, driven through the snowy, narrow roads of the Alps.

Prior to World War II, he was graduated from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1940 and then began working as a sculptor. When he completed his military service, Sponenburgh attended the Ecôle des Beaux Arts in Paris. He later received an AM from the University of Cairo in 1952 and his Master’s from the University of London in 1957. In 1970, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the National Council of Arts.

As a sculptor, Sponenburgh focuses the subjects of his works on the relationships of nature to art, in particular those of animals, the sea, and natural phenomena. Found objects and natural materials of the northwest also repeatedly appear in his sculptures. One of his earliest works, Madonna in Walnut, received an award in 1941 at the annual exhibition of Michigan artists, and may now be seen at the Detroit Institute of Art. Sponenburgh’s career has continued for many decades; Eternus, a bronze relief sculpture of waves, was installed in 1985 at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Oregon, and he is currently working on a marble portrait and as well as designing his garden, which celebrates the sea.

Sponenburgh also had a remarkable career as an educator. From 1946 to 1956 he was a professor at the University of Oregon and then spent the next year as a visiting professor at the Royal College of Arts in London. In 1958, Sponenburgh received a Fulbright research fellowship and taught in Egypt and Pakistan, then taught for two more years at the National College of Arts, Pakistan. He returned to Oregon in 1961 and embarked on a lengthy career at Oregon State University, where he was named Professor Emeritus in 1984. A colleague at OSU referred to him as a “superb lecturer and teacher, and most highly respected by undergraduate and graduate students alike.” Today, the university maintains the Sponenburgh Travel Award, which is awarded to an advanced graduate student every year and endowed by Dr. Sponenburgh. In 1990, Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh donated their art collection to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon . The collection consists of over 250 Ancient, European, Middle Eastern, and Asian art objects. Dr. Sponenburgh currently resides in Seal Rock, Oregon.

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June 7th, 2010 | 5:29 pm

Lt. James Rorimer (kneeling, at left) and Louvre curator Germain Bazin pose in front of Goya’s painting Time, which had been successfully protected during the war at the Château de Sourches in France. Photo Courtesy of NARA.

While tens of thousands of Allied troops were flooding the beaches of Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), the Monuments Men were impatiently waiting to cross the English Channel for their chance to contribute. For Monuments Man James Rorimer, and future director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the gravity of the situation gripped him that day:

“We are told that the invasion of Western Europe by overwhelming forces is underway…Now I am thinking of the combat troops and the task which is theirs. We older men are anxious on the one hand to help deal the death blow to tyranny, and on the other we think of our families at home and the obligations which we have as husbands, fathers, sons, and members of the peace-time community.”
-James Rorimer Letter to his Family, June 6, 1944

While conducting research for my books (The Monuments Men and Rescuing Da Vinci) and reading the hundreds of letters the Monuments Men wrote to their families, one of the first things that struck me was the extent to which the thoughts and feelings conveyed in these letters reflected their age and maturity. The Monuments Men had an average age of 40; a few had even fought in World War I. For the most part, these heroes were not the fearless young men who went to war before their adult lives had really begun. In contrast, these men had accomplished careers, they had wives and children, they had learned lessons from life’s experiences, and they had everything to lose. Rereading their letters always reminds me about their commitment to saving the cultural world and its great artistic treasures we all cherish, and the courage of their convictions in volunteering to serve.

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Princeton Alumni Weekly – When Art Historians Went to War

June 3rd, 2010 | 2:41 pm


When art historians went to war

Alumni were key in efforts to save Europe’s art treasures

By W. Barksdale Maynard ’88
Published in the June 2, 2010, issue

"Monuments Men” examine relics of the Holy Roman regalia upon their return to Vienna in 1946. Lt. Ernest DeWald *14 *16 is at far right, and Lt. Perry Cott ’29 *37 is third from left. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.

Late in World War II, the Allies prepared for their bloody ­invasion of Fortress Europe. Many observers expected to see heartrending destruction of art and architectural treasures as bombs rained from the sky and soldiers ransacked and looted. Culture had suffered grievously in countless wars of the past; why should this, the most horrific conflict in all human history, be any different?  

But it was different: The Allies took remarkable measures to protect threatened art. “Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization,” Gen. Dwight Eisenhower told his commanders just before D-Day in a historic message signaling an enlightened new attitude. “Inevitably, 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” — and so he ordered his commanders to safeguard those treasures as their armies swept violently forward. It was a first in military history.  

Key to this noble effort were art historians serving in the ranks of the American, British, and Canadian forces, including more than a dozen young Princetonians. As described in a new book by Robert Edsel, a former Texas oilman who recently set up the Monuments Men Foundation to honor their memory, and co-author Bret Witter, these soldiers volunteered for the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Service (MFAA). They tagged along with the advancing troops, warning them of art landmarks to avoid and performing emergency restorations as needed to paintings, sculpture, and architecture. After the Third Reich collapsed, MFAA officers undertook the daunting task of finding lost art, which the enemy had scattered for safekeeping across more than a thousand secret locations in Germany alone — including deep underground in salt mines. Assembling this jumbled material at “collecting points,” they began the tedious process of repatriating 5 million objects, a herculean task that took until 1951 to complete.  

Monuments Man Sgt. Kenneth C. Lindsay and the bust of Queen Nefertiti, now housed at the Neues Museum in Berlin. Photo courtesy of the Kenneth C. Lindsay Collection.

Edsel calls their efforts “a completely overlooked part of history,” so little public attention have they received. But 60 years later, the records MFAA kept are still used regularly by museum professionals like Nancy Yeide of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., who researches the ownership history of paintings — their “provenance.” The contribution of MFAA was, she says, “absolutely inestimable. It should be a source of pride to Americans. Especially when you consider there were a lot of things the U.S. military had on its plate, like feeding and clothing Europe.”  

It seems especially admirable when compared to the actions of the Soviet Union, which dispatched a Trophy Commission in 1945 to steal 2.5 million art objects in reparation against Germany, including the famous gold artifacts excavated by Schliemann at Troy (which didn’t surface again until the 1990s). Berlin’s Museum Island was systematically ransacked. Russia still refuses to return many of these looted items. By contrast, the 350 or so members of MFAA were selfless and disinterested in their efforts to return art to its proper owners, including those in the former Reich — even though the U.S. government didn’t always follow MFAA’s lead.

Princetonians figured prominently in MFAA. The Univer­sity’s Department of Art and Archaeology was nearly 60 years old when the war began and was rivaled only by Harvard’s as the finest in the nation. Many professionals had trained in McCormick Hall and the Art Museum, including the innovative director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Alfred Barr ’22. He became the first American to warn of the threat to art by Nazi “sons-of-bitches,” as he called them after witnessing a Stuttgart rally in 1933 — the Nazis routinely burned paintings they considered “degenerate” and looted Europe’s treasures for their personal aggrandizement. Hitler, a frustrated artist himself, planned a megalomaniacal museum for Linz, Austria. In assembling his trove, the Führer competed against Washington’s National Gallery of Art (opened in 1941) and other world museums — but he had persuasive powers of acquisition they lacked. At his death he owned an astonishing 8,000 paintings, double the number the National Gallery has been able to amass over the past 70 years.  

When the war ended, MFAA established a collecting point in bomb-cratered Wiesbaden, Germany, in a building that had served as a state museum before the war and later housed Luftwaffe headquarters. Conditions were grim in the building, where every window was shattered and doors had been blown off their hinges. A ring of U.S. Army tanks kept looters away. As crates arrived daily in trucks, Capt. Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47 and fellow officers were staggered to find that they contained some of the greatest masterpieces in art history, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. For Kelleher, it was like returning to the McCormick Hall classroom where he had studied these very works as a master’s-degree student just before enlisting.

Nestled in one box was a glittering treasure: St. Stephen’s Crown, a talisman held sacred by the Hungarian people for 700 years. Kelleher seized the opportunity to study the seldom-seen crown up close, and later he wrote his Princeton dissertation on it. The U.S. government refused to send the crown back to Communist Hungary, so it languished at Fort Knox until being repatriated in 1978 — after Kelleher, by then retired as director of the Princeton University Art Museum, had been invited to examine it one more time.  

Boyish and high-spirited, Kelleher liked to needle Capt. Walter Farmer, the brusque and jumpy director of the Wiesbaden collecting point. At Christmas 1945, Farmer went out of town, leaving strict orders that no more crates should be opened — the German museum curators had packed the artworks carefully before hiding them in the salt mines, and Farmer wanted them to remain undamaged. But Kelleher invited fellow art lovers for a bibulous dinner party and, with great fanfare, pried open a lid to extract the most famous of all Egyptian sculptures, the bust of Nefertiti. Delighted to find her unbroken, they raised their glasses to a woman whose beauty was undimmed after 3,300 years.  

When Farmer found out, he fulminated about this “outrageous act of disobedience by a fellow officer.” He knew that the ravishing Nefertiti was dogged by controversy already: She had been whisked to Berlin within months of her discovery by archaeologists in 1912, and now the Egyptian government was clamoring for her return. Nefertiti remains a sore point even today: Over strident objections from Cairo, the bust has just become the centerpiece of Berlin’s Neues Museum, gutted by bombs during World War II and not reopened until last year.  

Given MFAA’s mission to return all artwork to its rightful owners, Farmer was incensed when top generals ordered him to pack up 202 of the very best paintings for shipment to the National Gallery of Art for safekeeping, including 15 Rembrandts. Would they ever be returned to the German museums that formerly housed them? he wondered. Kelleher and other MFAA officers grimly assembled “The 202” for shipment, but not before 32 of them signed the “Wiesbaden Manifesto” on Farmer’s desk Nov. 7, 1945. This letter of complaint to the military higher-ups warned that the German people would see this as “a prize of war” confiscation: No other act “will rankle so long, or be the cause of so much justified bitterness.”  

Author of the Wiesbaden Manifesto was feisty Capt. Everett “Bill” Lesley *37, later an art history professor at Old Dominion University. A seasoned MFAA veteran, he had followed the advancing armies after the Normandy invasion and reported on the condition of art-rich places along the way: Chartres was mercifully intact, he found, but La Gleize Cathedral in Belgium had been pulverized. Other Princeton signers of the manifesto included Kelleher, Lt. Charles Parkhurst *41, and 1st Lt. Robert Koch *54, the last familiar to many alumni from his long career teaching art history at Princeton. “We believed first of all that the language was the same the Nazis had used when they looted, which was ‘protective custody,’” Parkhurst later said in explaining why he signed the manifesto. “We thought that was a bad omen.”

Art historians in the United States were unhappy about “The 202” confiscation as well. Truman’s secretary of state received a stern letter from Rensselaer Lee ’20 *26 on behalf of the College Art Association, a professional organization representing artists and academics. Lee had advised President Franklin Roosevelt on cultural treasures in the theater of war and later became an esteemed professor at Princeton. But despite all objections, “The 202” were delivered to America as ordered, where nearly a million visitors saw them on display at the National Gallery in the first “blockbuster” show in history, military police sternly standing guard. Lee and others were gratified when all the paintings finally were returned to Germany in 1948, a positive outcome that the Wiesbaden Manifesto perhaps helped ensure.

MFAA officers at the Munich collecting point, including Lt. Craig Hugh Smyth ’38 *56, second from left, and Lt. Charles Parkhurst *41, second from right. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives.

Among the young curators at the National Gallery of Art was serious-minded Craig Hugh Smyth ’38 *56, who supervised the wartime removal of that museum’s contents to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. As a naval lieutenant, he went on to establish an MFAA collecting point in Munich just a month after the city fell to the Allies, housing it in former Nazi administration buildings still draped in green fishnet camouflage. (Nearby museums had been destroyed by bombing.) Smyth held conferences in the room where hapless Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Accord that promised “peace for our time.” He found framed portraits of Hitler heaped in the basement, along with booby-trap explosives that blew one workman to bits.  

Trucks constantly rumbled across the courtyard, bringing art found deep in Austrian salt mines. Smyth was joyous at the arrival of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and Jan van Eyck’s “Ghent Altarpiece,” among thousands of works the Nazis had intended to destroy to prevent their capture by the Allies at war’s end — but time suddenly ran out. Not every shipment was greeted with delight, however. One day a box arrived filled with gold teeth and children’s orthodontic braces, discovered at Dachau.

Recent years have brought heightened interest in the problem of looted art from the Holocaust era. Major museums, including Princeton’s, have reinvestigated their collections to be certain they do not contain stolen works. To assist in this global effort, the National Gallery’s Yeide has assembled a catalog of the collection of top Nazi Hermann Goering. His nefarious trove included 2,000 paintings, Yeide has proven — not 1,300 as previously thought. She could not have completed her work without the diligent records of Smyth and his Munich collecting point. “They did a fantastic job, a monumental job,” she says, “especially if you think about the situation they were dealing with” amid the devastation of a bombed-out city. Smyth’s distinguished career was only beginning: In later years he served as director of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.  

MFAA in Italy was headed by another Tiger, Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald *14 *16. Genteel and effortlessly polylingual, he had attended Rutgers before coming to Princeton for his Ph.D. After service in World War I he considered a career as a singer, but Dean Andrew Fleming West 1874 convinced him to enter academia instead, so he joined the Department of Art and Archaeology in 1925. Starting in 1943, he worked with MFAA in North Africa, identifying what ought to be preserved in the coming invasion of Italy. Then he moved north with the conquering armies through Sicily and the Italian mainland, overseeing emergency repairs to damaged buildings and finding museum art hidden in the countryside. Ready with expert assistance was his Princeton departmental colleague Charles Rufus Morey, founder of the Princeton-based Index of Christian Art (now the world’s largest archive of medieval art), who was serving as a cultural attaché in Rome.  

DeWald’s pocket diary, little-noticed today in Firestone Library, records the excitement and danger of these tumultuous times. Air-raid sirens howled as he reconnoitered medieval towns for endangered art. DeWald often came upon Army engineering units bulldozing fallen buildings out of roadways, using the debris to patch holes in blown-up bridges — until he frantically waved them to stop, pointing out fragments of historic sculpture, fresco, and manuscripts mingled with the rubble. “It’s amazing what Italian experts can piece together from what appears to be just a pile of smashed rock,” he told PAW in a wartime letter.  

DeWald decried needless Allied bombing, including an attack on the ruins of Pompeii. But American transgressions paled beside the destructiveness of the Wehrmacht, he repeatedly said. He was horrified by their dynamiting of venerable campanile towers and thousands of bridges, all across Italy. As curators watched helplessly, they had poured benzene and sulfur on the historic state archives of Naples and lit a match. He blamed them too for the burning of the huge Roman ships recently excavated from the bed of Lake Nemi, south of Rome. Of these priceless nautical remains that Mussolini had drained the lake in order to salvage, nothing was left now but heaps of blackened nails. The Germans also had wreaked havoc on the elegant Palazzo Ruspoli nearby, where, DeWald told his diary, “every stick of furniture remaining was hacked to pieces and the pictures slashed to ribbons.”

DeWald was proud of his record in tracking down lost art, including Titian’s “Danae” and Pieter Bruegel’s “Blind Leading the Blind,” both filched from storage at Monte Cassino abbey (later pounded to dust by American bombs) as gifts for Goering and eventually found in the bowels of the Austrian salt mines. To forestall looting and vandalism by Allied troops, DeWald wrote the Soldier’s Guide to Rome, which fresh-faced GIs carried through the Forum as they gawked at historic ruins. Subsequently, he was transferred to Austria, where he helped sort out Hitler’s artwork, working with yet another Princeton-trained expert — S. Lane Faison *32 of the OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit. Later a legendary professor at Williams, the pistol-carrying Faison interrogated shady dealers who had rounded up art for the Führer. Some swallowed cyanide rather than be questioned by this mild-mannered academic.

Back at his desk in McCormick Hall, DeWald wrote the introduction for the 1946 book Lost Treasures of Europe, a photographic catalog of the continent-wide destruction wrought by six years of pillaging and bombs. “The loss or destruction of these prized heritages of the past becomes in fact a personal loss comparable to that of a friend,” he said mournfully. Appointed as director of the Princeton University Art Museum in 1947, he bought an ancient sculpture of a goat’s head — “Princeton Billy,” the students called it — that turned out, ironically, to have been snitched from a collection in Rome during the war. DeWald promptly returned it, though Italy soon gave it to Princeton as a gesture of friendship.  

After his service with the Monuments Men, Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47 served as director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1960 to 1972. Photo courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum; Naomi Savage, American, 1927–2005; “Patrick J. Kelleher” 1975; Gift of Naomi Savage; © 1975, Naomi Savage; Photo: Bruce M. White

After his service with the Monuments Men, Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47 served as director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1960 to 1972.

In 1950, the Austrian government honored his personal contributions to MFAA in their country by briefly exhibiting Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting” at the Art Museum.   Perhaps the greatest of the 34 works surviving by that legendary Dutch artist, it had been purchased by Hitler himself with proceeds from Mein Kampf. Rescued by American troops from the salt mines at Altaussee, Austria, it ultimately was repatriated to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna — not to the aristocrat who had sold it to Hitler, Jaromir Czernin, who complained bitterly. Today, Czernin’s descendants are demanding to have the painting back, saying that he only parted with it under threat. The Austrian government hopes to avoid giving up its beloved Vermeer, which may now be worth a quarter-billion dollars. It is still smarting from the loss of five Gustav Klimt paintings in 2006: Stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family and displayed in a Vienna museum for decades, they finally were repatriated by court order to a California woman after lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg ’88 successfully pleaded her case.

Many MFAA men — Princetonians and others — later became museum directors, including Charles Parkhurst, who headed the Baltimore Museum of Art. Joe Kelleher replaced DeWald as director of the Princeton Art Museum (his esteemed predecessor later dropped dead from a heart attack in Palmer Stadium parking lot at the 1968 Columbia game). Working with Barr and other experts, Kelleher selected the artists for the Putnam Collection of modernist sculpture scattered across campus and wrote the guidebook Living With Modern Sculpture.  

Today, the World War II generation is fast exiting the scene, with nearly 6,000 U.S. veterans dying every week. The loss of Faison and Smyth in 2006 and Parkhurst in 2008 leaves just one living Princeton MFAA man, Robert Koch, now 90 and unable to be interviewed because of failing health. Many Tigers fondly recall Koch’s courses on Northern Renaissance art, which he taught for 42 years. Koch grew up in academe as the son of drama professor Frederick Koch of the University of North Carolina, whose Carolina Playmakers pioneered the American “folk play” and whose star student was Thomas Wolfe. The younger Koch earned a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina before enlisting in 1942. Years later in conversations with undergraduates, he sometimes mentioned, in his modest Southern way, his MFAA service and how those unspeakable Nazis had intended to blow up the salt mines, incinerating the “Ghent Altarpiece” and so much else.

But now, two decades after he retired, his stories largely have been forgotten. Current Princeton faculty recall almost nothing about his wartime service — “I didn’t really know Bob Koch and certainly never heard him mention that subject,” says one professor who passed him in the hall daily for several years. “He talked a lot about retrieving stuff from the salt mines outside Salzburg, I think,” a former student says with the vagueness typical of all who were asked. “That’s disheartening, but it doesn’t surprise me,” says Robert Edsel of the Monuments Men Foundation. He has interviewed the few remaining veterans of MFAA — just nine of the 350 survive — and he travels the country giving talks about their unsung achievements, which the soldiers were usually too humble to brag about themselves.   “Sometimes their own families didn’t know what they had done,” says Yeide.  

The general amnesia about Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives seems unfortunate, especially among art historians, whose livelihood comes from studying and interpreting the works their predecessors bravely rescued (two Monuments Men were killed in combat). We all owe them a great debt, Edsel believes — “for saving these great cultural treasures that people now travel the world to go see” and then for coming home and helping America go from “cultural backwater to cultural epicenter” in the 1950s. That trajectory continues today, when the students of MFAA men occupy key positions in scores of museums and universities nationwide. In 1945, amid widespread destruction and horror, a few khaki-clad lovers of art lit a small flame of humanity amid the ashes by helping to safeguard great masterpieces. That’s a proud legacy well worth recalling. 

W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 wrote his senior thesis under MFAA veteran Robert Koch *54 and subsequently taught art history at Delaware, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton.

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