Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘Monuments Men Library Program’ Category

THE VISIONARY GIFT

March 17th, 2010 | 10:54 am

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National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Images)

When visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington, it’s hard to believe it is only 69 years old.  Its majestic appearance and rich collections suggest a museum many centuries in age.  How could all these artistic treasures be assembled so late in history?  Who had the vision to suggest that the United States finally have a national collection for the people such as those in nearly all European countries?

National Gallery of Art West Side of Building (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Images)

National Gallery of Art West Side in the 1940s (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Images)

In fact, hard as it is to believe, much of the success of the National Gallery of Art is due to the generosity of one man:  Andrew W. Mellon. Mellon was a successful financier before serving as the Secretary of the Treasury from 1921-1932 and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1932-1933. He began collecting art, mostly old master painters and sculpture, during World War l.  By the late 1920s he had developed a vision that would become the National Gallery of Art, a collection of the world’s greatest works of art for the benefit of its citizens.   However, while he continued to add to his extraordinary collection, his plans for the museum and the donations he would make that would assure its construction were kept secret.

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Andrew Mellon (Image Courtesy of National Gallery of Art)

In 1930, with the world firmly in the grip of the Depression, Mellon seized on one of the greatest buying opportunities in the history of collecting: a series of purchases from Russia’s greatest museum, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, a once in a lifetime event driven by orders from Soviet Premier Stalin to museum officials to raise cash by selling art. This despicable decision by Stalin was received with shock by museum officials, but fear of the repercussions outweighed any alternative.  In the course of a year Mellon purchased 21 paintings, the likes of which would never have been available but for these extraordinary circumstances, including Raphael’s Alba Madonna and Jan van Eyck’s The Annunciation.  It was the coup of Mellon’s collecting career.

The Opening Ceremony at the National Gallery of Art persided by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Opening Ceremony at the National Gallery of Art presided by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Image Courtesy of National Gallery of Art)

In 1936 Mellon wrote President Roosevelt and formally offered to build the National Gallery of Art building and donate his collection to the nation.  Ultimately 121 paintings and 21 pieces of sculpture from Mellon’s collection were gifted.  Not only did he provide $15 million to build the building, but he also stipulated that it would not bear his name.  This was not only an extraordinary act of selflessness but also a strategically wise decision because Mellon knew he had to enlist the support of his peers to also promise their respective collections to the National Gallery of Art.  Putting his name on the building was something he understood would make that task difficult if not impossible. By excluding his name from the building Mellon was empowered to persuade others, including Samuel H. Kress, Chester Dale, and Joseph P. Widener, to donate or commit their collections to the nation.  In the coming years these great collectors and many others made gifts of collections and funds, a tradition that continues to this day.

"Ginevra de Benci", Leonardo da Vinci, 38.8 cm × 36.7 cm (15.3 in × 14.4 in), oil on wood, 1476 (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Images)

Leonardo da Vinci, "Ginevra de Benci", 1476, Oil on Wood, 38.8 cm × 36.7 cm (15.3 in × 14.4 in) (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Images)

Mellon also established a trust, donating $10 million, to fund the Gallery during those early years.  This was just the beginning of almost a century of philanthropy by the Mellon family as Mellon’s son, Paul, and daughter, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, continued their father’s support with generous financial donations as well as works of art.  In fact, the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in an American collection, Ginevra de’ Benci, is at the National Gallery of Art, made possible by the Ailsa Mellon Bruce fund.

Robert M. Edsel speaking at The National Gallery of Art in January 2010. (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection)

Robert M. Edsel speaking at The National Gallery of Art in January 2010. (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection)

The National Gallery of Art is one of our nation’s greatest cultural centers and is full of visitors every day of the year but for the two it is closed. The facilities are state of the art and beautiful to admire. Anyone wanting to see one of the world’s great collections of art need not travel further than Washington, D.C. For those seeking a great example of selfless giving, study Andrew Mellon and his role in making this once lofty vision a reality.

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WWW.MONUMENTSMEN.COM LAUNCHED!!!

August 11th, 2009 | 2:16 pm

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I am very excited to announce the launch of our new website as we prepare for the release of my new book entitled The Monuments Men:  Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.  This site has been designed to provide visitors with an overview of the Monuments Men story and a sense of the excitement and heroism they experienced during their efforts to save the greatest and most beloved works of art and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II and from theft by Hitler and the Nazis.  It also provides an insight into just how big this story is becoming with links to our speaking engagement site and related activities.  We’ve included a fantastic one minute and a half promotional video about the book which shares the excitement of this unknown and hugely important story about World War II.

As a compliment to the incredible letters and documents included in my new book, this website provides visitors with many additional letters and documents from the Monuments Men and women, many never before seen since they were written in 1944 and 1945, oftentimes during combat.  Also included are additional authentic copies of Nazi documents and letters including orders issued by Hitler and Goering.  We have added a great collection of photos as well.

A complete list of all the 350 or so Monuments Men from 13 nations is included with those biographies we have assembled and photos of each man and women where we have them.  This is an important part of our ongoing story:  to gather and make publicly available a complete summary with photo of each of these heroes of civilization.  It is just one example of how the public can play a key role and make a significant difference by helping us write the final chapter of this story.

We have provided a number of links to related parts of this story and components that might be of further interest, such as Rescuing Da Vinci, a photographic telling of the Monuments Men story, Nancy Yeide’s recently released book about the collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering entitled Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection, and the 9 hour, 3 disc The Rape of Europa: Collector’s Edition.  We also have details on The Greatest Theft in History Educational Program. These are all unique and important resources to further the telling of this amazing story which we hope you will visit and share with others.

Today also marks my resumption of blog entries after quite a hiatus due to work on finishing the writing of The Monuments Men book.  OUR BLOG NOW ALLOWS FOR READERS TO PROVIDE THEIR COMMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS, OR TO SHARE SOME CONNECTION THEY HAVE TO THIS GREAT STORY.  We want to hear from you often.  The blog has been incorporated into our new web design to make it easy to read and participate in this story and all the events that continue to unfold each day, especially as we march towards the launch of the new book.  We have created a Facebook Fan page for those that follow Facebook with a prominent link to make it easy to participate….and Twitter for those that are connected to this new and rapidly unfolding medium.  New entries and content from me, every day, and lots of photos as I travel and continue with research for my next book!

So please visit and motor your way around.  We’re excited to present to you this historic and currently unfolding story using all the modern tools of communication available to us!!!  And don’t forget…we want your participation and involvement so please share your comments and reactions with us.

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TEACHERS, STUDENTS, AND PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL: WELCOME!

November 24th, 2008 | 3:01 pm

Tonight PBS will broadcast to the nation our documentary film, The Rape of Europa. This wonderful film will be seen by millions of people unfamiliar with the subject of Hitler and the Nazis’ premeditated looting of Europe and their use of art as a weapon of propaganda to promote their racial theories. Making any film is a challenge. Making a great film, one good enough that PBS would allocate such a prominent slot for its airing during “sweeps” week, is a rare achievement which speaks to the importance of the subject matter. While this is a significant milestone, it is only the first of several that will follow.

We are very excited about providing that PBS audience, and of course people everywhere, the opportunity to learn more about this important story…about the heroes who saved so much of the art, the Monuments Men…about the behind the scenes stories we filmed…about the lessons learned, and those that were ignored…about how the events of World War II should have prepared us for the events that unfolded after the looting of the Iraq National Museum in 2003. These stories couldn’t be told in just two hours and for that reason, and for that reason we created The Rape of Europa Collector’s Edition which contains almost 7 additional hours of interviews, archival footage, and in-depth analysis of key events that were only briefly covered in the two hour film. One example of this extended content is our interview with Corine Wegener, a retired Army major who served in Iraq working to repair the damage to not only their national museum, but our country’s image. This unique DVD is only available on Amazon and is being offered at a special introductory price for a limited time. You can link to order that DVD by clicking on http://www.rapeofeuropa.com.

Of far greater importance is our educational program which is named The Greatest Theft in History Educational Program! This Educational Program is innovative and comprehensive providing a resource not currently available to educators and students. It provides on-line lesson plans customized for classroom instruction by our nationally acclaimed group of educators under the supervision of our Educational Advisory Board members. (To see the names of our team of educators and Educational Advisory Board and their CV’s, please click on the following links: http://www.greatesttheft.com/advisoryboard and http://www.greatesttheft.com/writingteam). This program will enable teachers to concentrate their time on teaching, not on looking for materials to teach. By making clips from our Educational DVD and other material we will be continually adding to the website along with other unique features, we have constructed a “one-stop does all” destination for anyone interested in learning more about the protection of cultural resources during armed conflict, the events of World War II and how critical a factor art was to Hitler and the Nazis’ plans, and of course the heroes of the story, the Monuments Men. Our hours of extended interviews and other materials will allow students and interested parties of all ages to participate in the writing of this final chapter to World War II. The students of today will be the ones assisting us in solving the remaining riddles and mysteries of this amazing chapter of the war including developing clues as to the whereabouts of so much of the still missing art and other cultural treasures stolen during the war.

We have constructed this Educational Program with affordability in mind by pricing the entire program at $35/ program which includes the almost 9 hour Educational DVD and access to the custom designed website which contains lesson plans and other teaching resources making it accessible for people of all ages and interests. Already the responses from teachers and other organizations has been gratifying and rewarding…but it is just the beginning.

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