College Art Association

CAA News Today

CAA and the Monuments Men

posted by Linda Downs — Feb 06, 2014

The American Council of Learned Societies held a premiere showing of George Clooney’s Monuments Men, the Hollywood film based on Robert Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The film demonstrates the contributions of art historians who investigated the thousands of art works and archival manuscripts looted by the Nazis and secretly stored in mines around Germany during the WWII. Members of ACLS initiated the interest in saving European monuments during WWII and many CAA members participated.

Former CAA President (1952-1955), Professor Lane Faison who chaired the Art History Department at Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts from 1940-1969 that, during his time, graduated so many students who became museum directors (Thomas Kerns, Glenn Lowry, Roger Mandle, Earl Powell) served in the Office of Strategic Services (later to become the CIA) in 1945 assigned to a group called the Art Looting Investigation Unit to find out what the Nazi’s had done with the art that they had stolen. He was one of three art historian officers including James S. Plaut and Theodore Rousseau who collected evidence for the Nuremburg Trials. The Monuments Men relied on these extensive lists to track down the stolen work.

Jack Hyland, CAA’s Treasurer, investment banker, media advisor and author (see www.jackwhyland.com) of a thriller The Moses Virus: A Novel and Evangelism’s First Modern Media Star: Reverend Bill Stidger (a biography of his grandfather who was the model for Elmer Gantry) interviewed Lane Faison on his 90th birthday for the July 1998 CAA News article: “People of the Eye” [http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/LaneFaisonInterview.pdf]. The article covers, in part, CAA President Faison’s recollections of being a Monuments Man.

What a thrill it was to see at last a Hollywood film where art historians are portrayed as heroes on the silver screen –granted a bit past their prime but able to screw up their courage to capture a sniper, lose their lives in defense of Michaelangelo’s Bruge Madonna, and retrieve the entire Ghent Alterpiece just ahead of the looting Russians. The film is complete with patriotic music and outstanding images of the original works of art instead of the typical reproductions. The major facts are adhered to and the reality is driven home that many people died in the effort to retrieve the art important to world heritage with little support from the military, Congress and the White House.

Filed under: Film