Monday, March 10, 2014

"Monuments Men" in Our Backyard

Photo courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art

Nearly two decades before the larger-than-life Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop painting called the Cleveland Museum of Art home, Diana and Her Nymphs Departing for the Hunt was a prisoner of war during World War II. 
Nazis stole the Baroque piece along with the rest of Edouard Rothschild and Baroness de Rothschild's collection in 1940. From there, Diana traveled to places only the canvas knows. The hunt to ensure her survival was on, but her mythological nymphs weren't the ones coming to her aid.
The monuments men, a section of the Allied forces known for rescuing not only Diana in 1948 but also many other pieces of art and architecture, are finally receiving some recognition after almost 70 years in the shadows if history. George Clooney’s recently released film Monuments Men portrays some of the elaborate plots this group had to execute to fulfill. Even though it’s set in Europe, Northeast Ohio has many more ties to this group than Diana.
Former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art Sherman Lee served as a Monuments Man in Japan from 1946 to 1948, and the experience was an invaluable contribution to his legacy. Dr. Noelle Giuffrida, an art history professor at Case Western Reserve University who is currently writing a book about Lee, says, “The contacts he made with art dealers and historians [in Japan] gave him access to collections that were otherwise hard-to-reach.”
The future director would take extensive trips throughout Japan to catalogue and research Japanese and Chinese art. He spent most of his time in the field, according to Giuffrida, introducing him to many of the art dealers he would later do business with through the museum to create one of the top Asian collections in the United States.
The Asian division of the Fine Art, Monuments and Archives section of the Allied forces isn’t featured in the Hollywood film. But it did include not only Lee, but also famous East Asian art historian/curator Howard Hollis and Laurence Sickman, the former curator and director of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum. Their experiences were not only unique to each involved, but also helped jumpstart their careers.

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