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The Best Artistic Response To “Monuments Men”

MM_StJohnBaptist-213x300“The Monuments Men,” George Clooney’s movie supposedly based on Robert Edsel’s book (see this previous post for the real story-teller), is not doing well in the eyes of critics. The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott pretty much eviscerated it. Metacritic figured that, all told, movie critics rates it 52 out of 100.

But of course, even before the movie made its debut, museums tried to figure out how to capitalize on the publicity it would get. Nothing wrong with that. Of those I’ve seen, I like what the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is doing best of all. MIA has created a self-guided tour of the nine objects in its collection that were rescued by the Monument Men and Women. According to the release:

The tour begins on the third floor with the rare Renaissance bust of St. John the Baptist [below, right, today, and in recovery, at left] acquired by the MIA last year, which was looted by the Nazis and rescued by the Monuments Men in 1945. Other artworks on the tour include paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Johannes Lingelbach, Ernest Ludwing Kirchner, Lyonel Feininger, Willem de Poorter, and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, as well as a statue by Adam Lenckhardt and a dreidel with a remarkable story of survival. 

St_JohntheBaptist-283x300The tour also highlights two Monuments Men who came to work at the MIA after the war: Richard S. Davis, who served as senior curator from 1946 to 1956 and as director from 1956 to 1958, and Harry Grier, who served as assistant director from 1946 to 1951.

Why I like it best is obvious — it focuses attention on the art, and it draws people into the permanent collection galleries. The MIA is also blogging about the Monuments Men tour (first installment), with the stories behind each art work.

What’s up at other museums?

Those are a few  of the many, probably.

In an ideal world, the MIA and the others would have done this when The Rape of Europa documentary was released years ago, telling the real story. But then, of course, fewer people might have paid attention. The way of the world.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of the MIA


  1. Like yourself, I like it for obvious reasons too “it focuses attention on the art, and it draws people into the permanent collection galleries.” I also agree with the film critics who note that it lacks depth, but it is not a horrible film and it is a wonderful story with wonderful actors. I left feeling excited about their work, and my own as an arts professional. Thank you for this listing of museums that are seizing the opportunity to share this wonderful story about how arts professionals saved culture from the Nazis.

  2. Traditionalist says:

    You were so gracious to credit Lynn H. Nicholas in your previous post, the serious scholar who compiled the material used in the hobbyist Edsel’s book, and ultimately the basis for Clooney’s Hollywood extravaganza. In all of the media hooplah, she isn’t getting the credit she deserves. Let’s use every opportunity to mention her name!

  3. To add to your list: The Metropolitan Museum has installed a small exhibition of archival material, focusing in part on James Rorimer, a MFAA member and later Director of the Met, in the Thomas J. Watson Library. See Archives’ detailed blog post, here, with a link to an itinerary of eleven pictures saved or recovered by the Monuments Men. Provenance information and links to additional reference sources can be found at the website entry for each painting.

  4. Sarah Berman says:

    Another addition to the list: both the Seattle Art Museum ( and Cleveland Museum of Art ( have seized this opportunity to celebrate shared Monuments Man Sherman Lee.
    The movie has given us all a chance to tell this part of our histories, to a freshly interested audience. And more people interested in more art- and museum-related topics is a great thing.

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