Robert Edsel's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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.


Monuments Men Newsletter for May 2010, 21st Edition

May 12th, 2010 | 11:38 am

This month’s Monuments Men Newsletter focuses on the efforts of Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding his victory in Europe and protecting cultural property. We also highlight the role of Germany in this last chapter of World War II. Please click on the link to read the newsletter.

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March 17th, 2010 | 10:54 am


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.


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.



January 5th, 2010 | 4:41 pm


Today, The Monuments Men Year-End Newsletter for 2009 was released to the general public. Inside this newsletter, you can read about the various creative content we have produce, our ongoing engagement with the public through the media to bring much need attention to the Monuments Men, the various honors bestowed upon the Monuments Men Foundation, and all the incredible memories bringing this story to life.  Many thanks to all that have worked on this project through the years.

Please take a minute to read the The Monuments Men Year-End Newsletter.

If you would like to sign up for future newsletters, please click here (fill out form on the right side to submit).

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December 15th, 2009 | 3:41 pm

I’ve written often about the role “shared sacrifice” played in the building of our great nation, especially through the trauma of two World Wars.  So rather than reiterate my previous thoughts, I’ll let the genius of artist Barry Blitt, courtesy of one of our country’s great newspapers, the New York Times, make my point. Think about it, please.


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November 2nd, 2009 | 5:11 pm

Yesterday was Rose Valland’s birthday. She was born in the tiny town of Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs, France on November 1, 1898. She had a modest upbringing, and went on to pursue numerous fine arts degrees and eventually got a job at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris as an unpaid volunteer. No one could have guessed that she would be the one to save thousands of works of art stolen from France by the Nazis.


Rose Valland risked her life countless times while working in the “snake pit” of the Jeu de Paume, which had become the headquarters for the ERR, the primary Nazi looting organization during World War II. For four years she kept track of paintings and other treasures stolen from private Jewish collections in France that were brought to the museum before being sent to Germany. She watched as Hermann Göring and Alfred Rosenberg came in and drank champagne while making their selections, then secretly told Jacques Jaujard, director of the French National Museums, all that had transpired. After the war, it was her records that led the Monuments Men directly to the Nazi repositories so that they were able to rescue and restitute the cultural heritage of France.


But despite all this, Rose Valland remains a relatively unknown heroine of World War II. Not just in the United States but in France as well. When she is written about, she is often described as “homely” or “timid” or “unassuming”. While this may be partially true, I believe she was also an incredibly strong woman, who had more courage than most of us can dream of. She was patriotic and brave, and had a “ferocious determination”. And most importantly, she deserves to be remembered and honored for her heroic actions during World War II.  It is my hope that The Monuments Men not only shares her story with a broad audience for the first time, but also helps people understand what a remarkable woman Rose Valland really was.



September 10th, 2009 | 11:07 am


I’ve been in New York City all week for the launch of The Monuments Men. The big event of the week is our launch party tomorrow evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today I have been giving television and radio interviews across the country from a studio in Manhattan. Chris Evert, an acquaintance from my days playing tennis and working for Lamar Hunt’s World Championship Tennis tour, is in the studio next door taping a program.

It is very gratifying to hear the reaction of others to reading these heroes’ story.  Still, this is a process, a marathon race, not a sprint.  “Miles to go before I sleep…”, but we’re off to a good start!



August 24th, 2009 | 11:57 am

Headline from "Victory Extra", Boston Massachusetts (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Headline from "Victory Extra", Boston Massachusetts (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Headlines around the world trumpeted the news 65 years ago as the German Commander of Paris, Major General Dietrich von Choltitz, surrendered the occupying forces that had controlled the city for more than four years.  Despite orders from Hitler to lay waste to the city, Choltitz departed from his history of destruction and chose instead to surrender.  He would later say, “It is always my lot to defend the rear of the German Army.  And each time it happens I am ordered to destroy each city as I leave it.”

The Cathedayl of Notre Dame was not damaged, but fighting took place directly in front of the church. This burned-out truck was abandoned by German troops fleeing the city. (Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.)

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was not damaged, but fighting took place directly in front of the church. This burned-out truck was abandoned by German troops fleeing the city. (Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).)

On August 26th, the day after the German surrender, French General de Gaulle led a victory parade down the Champs-Elysees.  Three days later the United States 28th Infantry Division followed the same parade route to celebrate the reclaiming of the city.

American soldiers look upon the Eiffel Tower after Paris was liberated. (Photo Courtesy of NARA.)

American soldiers look upon the Eiffel Tower after Paris was liberated. (Photo Courtesy of NARA.)

Almost one year would pass before French museum officials were prepared to escort back to Paris its most famous “citizen”, the Mona Lisa. In the weeks that followed other treasures from the Louvre began their journey home from the chateaux and other hiding places where they sat out the war.

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August 21st, 2009 | 9:16 am


General Eisenhower Statue at Grosvenor Square in Hyde Park

Because I like to go running, I stay near Hyde Park when in London. Nearby Grosvenor Square is where I stretch, and on temperate days, often sit outdoors to read or enjoy a beautiful day. The Embassy of the United States, constructed in 1960, is located on the west side of Grosvenor Square. In fact, Grosvenor Square has been an outpost for the United States since 1785. John Adams, the first United States Minister to the Court of St. James’s and the second President of the United States, lived in a home located on the northeast side of the Square from 1785 to 1788.

Of greatest interest to me is the connection of Grosvenor Square to my hero, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who for brief period located his military headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square. In 1989, on the northwest side of the Square, a life-size statue of General Eisenhower was positioned, paid for by the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri. On its stone foundation it says simply, “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon a great crusade…the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” (Order of the Day, June 6, 1944).

I walk by Ike’s statue every day I’m in London. I sit on the stone bench in front of it and think about how fortunate we are to be free and bask in the shadow of this great leader, a man who defined for all time integrity, magnanimity, and decency.

Eisenhower Statue in UK

General Eisenhower Statue at Grosvenor Square in Hyde Park at Night (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection)

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August 14th, 2009 | 4:55 pm

Waterloo Daily Courier, August 14, 1945

Waterloo Daily Courier, August 14, 1945. (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Sixty-four years ago this was but one of the newspaper headlines as the world awoke to read about the end of World War II. Victory in Japan, “V-J” Day, August 15, 1945.

Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration calling for their unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945 (August 14 in the United States) marked the end of World War II, three years, eight months, and seven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the official signing of the surrender took place on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, victory was celebrated in the United States, Britain, and Australia with a two day holiday beginning on August 15. Soldiers and civilians alike rejoiced in the streets of cities across the United States and Europe. When the announcement came at 3 a.m. in Hawaii, every ship in Pearl Harbor set off its store of rockets.

President Truman informs reporters of Japan's surrender at a press conference in the Oval Office. August 14, 1945. (Photo Courtesy of Time Life)

President Truman informs reporters of Japan's surrender at a press conference in the Oval Office. August 14, 1945. (Photo Courtesy of Time Life)

Amidst the celebrations, the gravity of the situation was not to be forgotten. King George VI addressed the British people from Buckingham Palace, saying:

“Our hearts are full to overflowing, as are your own. Yet there is not one of us who has experienced this terrible war who does not realize that we shall feel its inevitable consequences long after we have all forgotten our rejoicing today.”

These consequences are still felt today. Of the almost 300,000 American combat deaths during World War II, more than one-third occurred in the Asia-Pacific Theater. This “Victory in Japan” Day should serve not only as a day to remember the final Allied victory, but also as a day to remember those who so nobly lost their lives fighting and winning the war in the Pacific Theater.

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