Lieutenant, United States Naval Reserve (USNR), Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer
In terms of his military service, Smyth is best known as the director of the Munich Central Collecting Point. Under his leadership, the collecting point became an organized and efficient institution that received thousands of artworks and objects discovered by Allied Forces in various German repositories. Smyth and his colleagues worked to identify, care for, and restitute these works to their rightful owners. Like his fellow MFAA men, he objected the removal of German-owned artworks to the United States, expressing his disapproval in a letter similar to the Wiesbaden Manifesto. For his efforts to recover and restitute looted artworks during and after World War II, Smyth received the U.S. Army Commendation Medal, the Chevalier, French Legion of Honor, and the Netherlands Medal for Service to the States.
Smyth earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees (A.B., 1938, M.F.A., 1941, Ph.D., 1956) at Princeton University. Prior to the war, he was a researcher at the National Gallery of Art in Washington where he assisted in the evacuation of artworks to the Biltmore Estates in January 1942. After his return in 1946, Smyth began his long academic career which included positions at the Frick Collection in New York, the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU, and Harvard University. He was director of Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s prestigious Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence. Prior to retirement, Smyth was the Samuel H. Kress Professor at the Center for Advanced study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
In 1988, he published Repatriation of Art from the Collection Point in Munich After World War II, an excellent description of events at the Munich Central Collecting Point. The Craig Hugh Smyth Papers, including photographs and documents about his MFAA service, are conserved in the Gallery Archives, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Update from The New York Times, January 1, 2007
Craig Hugh Smyth, 91, Dies; Renaissance Art Historian
By ROJA HEYDARPOUR
Craig Hugh Smyth, an art historian who drew attention to the importance of conservation and the recovery of purloined art and cultural objects, died on Dec. 22 in Englewood, N.J. He was 91 and lived in Cresskill, N.J.
The cause was a heart attack, his daughter, Alexandra, said.
Mr. Smyth led the first academic program in conservation in the United States in 1960 as the director of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.
Long before he began his academic career, he worked in the recovery of stolen art. After the defeat of Germany in World War II, Mr. Smyth was made director of the Munich Central Collecting Point, set up by the Allies for works that they retrieved. There, he received art and cultural relics confiscated by the Nazis, cared for them and tried to return them to their owners or their countries of origin. He served as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve during the war, and the art job was part of his military service. Upon returning from Germany in 1946, he lectured at the Frick Collection and, in 1949, was awarded a Fulbright research fellowship, which took him to Florence, Italy.
It was in Florence, a city full of art-loving tourists whose presence could be hard on the works they loved, that his interest in conservation was piqued, said Mariët Westermann, the director of the Institute of Fine Arts. He concentrated on the late-Renaissance drawings of Bronzino, best known as a Mannerist painter. While working on his own research, he took photographs of many other drawings of the 16th century.
“He put Mannerist art back on the map,” Ms. Westermann said.
Mr. Smyth received his Ph.D. in art history from Princeton in 1956, six years after he became a professor at the Institute of Fine Arts. He wrote many scholarly articles and books, including, “Mannerism and Maniera” and “Repatriation of Art From the Collecting Point in Munich After World War II.”
Mr. Smyth was an honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was the director of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence. He was also chairman of the advisory committee of the J. Paul Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities.
Mr. Smyth is survived by his wife, Barbara Linforth Smyth of Cresskill; two children, Alexandra, of New York City, and Ned, of Sag Harbor, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.