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The Monuments Men and the Value of Artwork March 13, 2014

Posted by heidi skarie in Movie reveiew.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11174399_detThe Monuments Men didn’t get great reviews, but I went to see it anyway because I’m an artist and interested in the history of art and because this was a part of World War II I didn’t know anything about.  The film is based on a true story.  Near the end of the war with Germany, the Reich was falling and seven American men (who were museum directors, curators and art historians) were assembled as a platoon to rescue artwork stolen by the Nazis and return it to it’s rightful owners.  There were about five million pieces of artwork stolen, covering a thousand years of history.   Many of these pieces had been taken from the home of Jewish people.   Hitler had plans to build a huge museum to display the artwork, but lost the war before he could.

The film assembled a group of well-known actors including George Clooney (who also directs it), Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett and many others.  Unfortunately, with so many characters I found it hard to feel close to any of them.  However, the movie held my attention because it was like a mystery.  The platoon had to figure out where the pieces had been hidden.  It was also a race against time.  Could they find and save the art before it was destroyed?

The mission seemed impossible as the artwork was hidden behind enemy lines and Hitler had ordered it to be destroyed.  The platoon was set down in Normandy, and then separated into groups as they set off to find, save, and even defend the artwork.

One thing that made the film interesting to me was seeing all the painting and sculptures.  In one scene you see an entire mansion full of amazing sculptures, in another a cave full of paining, in yet another pieces that are part of a church altar.  We also see a cave full of paintings torched.  It’s hard to imagine anyone burning these priceless pieces.

Here is a link to the preview of the film.

After seeing the film my husband came across an article that told about the recent recovery of 1,500 pieces of the artwork in Germany. They were by such master as Picasso, Renoir, and Chagall and thought to be lost during the firebombing of Dresden in 1945.  Cornelius Gurlitt has had them for nearly seventy years.  He is the son of Hildebrandt Gurlitt, a well-known Germany art dealer. Hildebrandt bought many of the paintings for a pittance from Jews fleeing Germany and had control of the Degenerate Art exhibition.  He passed the artwork to his son when he died.

One thing the movie didn’t mention was that Hitler only liked classical art and regarded the Impressionist, Cubist, and Modernist pieces as degenerate.   He held the Degenerate Art exhibition to show people what not to like.

To me it was interesting that all this artwork was found by chance after all these years at the same time as The Monuments Men was at theaters.

Here is a link to the article.


The film and recently discovered Masterpieces raises some interesting questions like: Is artwork worth dying for?  How much is lost when a society loses their artwork?    What is the value of art?  Clooney’s character says the art inspires and defines a society.  Do you agree or disagree?



1. sunny - March 20, 2014

Although the movie was uneven, with some scenes far more powerful and commanding than others, I found myself (like you) fascinated by the attempt to save great art, and grateful that those men saved so much! It’s an amazing story about courage and the power of art .
Thanks for writing about it here.

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