The Monuments Men

Yesterday Portland received a mid-winter treat; snow! Portland proper really doesn’t get a lot of snow, as we are basically at sea level.  So when we do get snow, the whole city pretty much freaks out and shuts down. But seeing as The Monuments Men came out today, Patrick and I braved the snow covered city to go to the movies.

When I was in college I took a World War II course.  For one essay, we were told to access the Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers (FRUS) and select a topic within it to write an essay about, using FRUS as our key source of information.  In scanning through the FRUS documents that covered WWII, I came upon a letter written by Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone to President Roosevelt.  Stone was not only a Chief Justice, but also the Chairman Ex-officio of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art, and it was with this role that he chose to write his letter to the president.  Stone expressed concern over works of art and monuments in Europe that were being damaged, stolen, and/or destroyed by the Axis and suggested a group be created to halt such actions and repair damages and return works of art.  Eventually the American Commission for the Preservation and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, also known as the Roberts Commission, was created, and eventually led to the creating of a special branch within the military known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Organization, nicknamed The Monuments Men.  These men, and a few women, worked on tracking down what the Nazis had systematically stolen, as well as attempt to alleviate the damage that was being done to historic buildings, and return stolen works.  My essay lead me to a few books on the subject, and I recalled upon and rewatched a documentary titled The Rape of Europa, and became enthralled with the work this group was doing, as well as the reasons behind the Nazis’ actions (fact: Hitler wanted to be an artist!).  As I worked on my essay, I began to wonder why this had not been made into a film, and now finally, it has, starring favorite actors such as George Clooney and French dreamboat Jean Dujardin.

While I am thrilled that there is now a film covering the exploits of the Monuments Men, it does fall short in many ways.  The film makes it out to seem that the Monuments Men were a ragtag group made up of but a few men, when this isn’t true (there were over 300), but we all know things need to be pared down for the sake of simplicity and storytelling.  The film also shows the destruction of some items that we do not actually know the fate of, such as Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man”.  Some paintings may have been painted over, or sold on the black market. But, despite these issues, I’m happy that this subject, one that was glossed over in every US and European history class (or art history class for that matter!) I’ve ever taken, is finally being showcased in the main stream and I hope that it brings to light what great lengths people went to to protect some of the most meaningful works of art in the world as well as call attention to the still missing works of art.

To learn more about the Monuments Men, and the astounding trials that the Louvre went through to protect its works, I beg that you watch The Rape of Europa (which is currently available to watch instantly on Netflix), and if that isn’t enough, read the books that both films are based upon, which are under the same titles, The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa, and also check out The Spoils of War.  You can also learn loads on The Monuments Men website.

Fur Cape & Ostrich Purse: Found by my dad
Green Sweater Set & Heart Earrings: Antique Alley, Portland
Belt: Red Light, Portland
Stockings: Coffee Seams, What Katie Did
Fur Overshoes: Woo Vintage, Vancouver, BC
Shoes (that you can’t see because they are in the overshoes): Buffalo Exchange, Portland
Gloves: ???
Snood: April’s Bag
Army Man Brooch: Expo

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