Repatriation of Art from the Collecting Point in Munich after World War II. Background and Beginnings, with Reference especially to the Netherlands: The Third Horst Gerson Lecture, held on March 13, 1986


Craig Hugh Smyth


The Third Gerson Lecture held in memory of Horst Gerson (1907-1978) in the aula of the University of Groningen on the 13th of March 1986.

Within weeks after the United States entered World War II in December 1941, a group of American museum curators, art historians and conservators met to find ways of dealing with the wartime threat to art works. Their efforts led to the appointment of Advisers on Fine Arts attached to the fighting units of the American and British armed forces. These officers of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Services (MFA&A) did whatever lay in their power to protect what General Eisenhower called the 'historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.' 

After the defeat of Germany, the MFA&A was charged with locating the German repositories of art and archives, protecting them from loss and detoriation, and returning looted objects to the countries from which they had been removed. Under great pressure of time, a number of Allied collecting points were established, of which the largest was the Central Art Collecting Point in Munich. The author, then a young naval lieutenant, was given the task of setting up and administrating this vast and sensitive operation. 

Repatriation of Art deals with the background and beginnings of the Central Collecting Point. The account is bases partly on the author's own memory and papers, but also on documents he found in the National Archives in Washington. The text of the documents, published in the appendix, provides fascinating reading as well as important new material for understanding a unique chapter in the history of art, warfare and civilization.

Craig Hugh Smyth is former director of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (I Tatti), Florence, and Kress Professor at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Cover illustration: the author supervising the shipment of the Ghent Altarpiece from the Central Collecting Point to Belgium, 21 August 1945.



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July 26, 2018


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