Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘Art’ Category

Was Kimbell Statue Hiding a Sordid History?

July 7th, 2011 | 11:22 am

Museum historian Nancy Edwards, left, and author Robert Edsel were both instrumental in determining the history of a bust of Isabella d’Este at the Kimbell Art Museum. The bust was found among articles collected by Adolf Hitler.  Star-Telegram / Ron T. Ennis

Robert Edsel, Nancy Edwards and the Kimbell Museum were instrumental in determining the provenance history behind a bust that is on display at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.  The article that appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram explains how Robert became aware that this bust was in a salt mine at Alt Aussee during and after World War II due to Adolf Hitler’s desire to own it and its incredible travels from auction houses in Europe and America and eventually settle in Fort Worth.

To read the full article as it appeared in the newspaper, click here: Fort Worth Star Telegram – Mystery Woman

To read the full article as it appears on their website, click here: – Was Kimbell Statue Hiding a Sordid Sales History?

Please forward this article to all your family and friends.



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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