While researching various aspects of World War II, I came across a 2006 documentary called The Rape of Europa which was based on Lynn H. Nicholas’s book, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, published in 1995.
The documentary and the book sparked my interest in the Monuments Men and I read everything I could find on the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. This group, established in 1943, was tasked with protecting artwork, historic structures, and cultural monuments from theft and damage plus the recovery of stolen treasures.
My main resource was The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edel (published in 2009). I was so fascinated by the stories of these heroic men that the hero of my first published novel, Where Treasure Hides, joins the Monuments Unit toward the end of the war.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when The Monuments Men movie starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and other well-known actors came to theaters the year after my novel was released.
All that initial research occurred over a decade ago. However, I've been intrigued by art thefts, whether by the Nazis or criminals or even do-gooders (anyone else a Leverage* fan?) ever since.
Over the next few months, I’ll share more about the Monuments Men and their quest to protect Europe’s art amidst the chaos of war, about French art historian Rose Valland who worked with the French Resistance to secretly record the paintings the Nazis took from the Jeu de Paume Art Museum, and about such historic heists as the thirteen paintings stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.
Though paintings such as The Mona Lisa (stolen in 1911) and The Scream (stolen in 2004) have been recovered, the whereabouts of the stolen Gardner paintings remain a mystery. Numerous works of art stolen during World War II have never been found. One of the most famous of these is Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man which was stolen from the Princes Czartoryski Museum, located in Krakow, Poland, in 1939.
Here’s a bit of interesting trivia I found about the most often stolen piece of art as quoted from “Who is the Most Stolen Artist of All Time?” on the Live Science website (October 2012).
“The title for the most frequently stolen single major artwork seems to be contested. Guinness World Records gives it to Rembrandt's 'Jacob de Gheyn III,' which was stolen four times since 1966, surfacing once in a left-luggage office, once on the back of a bicycle, once under a graveyard bench and once in a taxi.
The other candidate, the Ghent Altarpiece, or ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,’ which was the joint work of the Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, was stolen seven times over six centuries, according to art historian Noah Charney's website. One of those times was during WWII when it was placed in an Austrian salt mine along with thousands of other stolen art and cultural treasures."
|This image depicts the back of the Altarpiece when the panels are closed.|
If there’s a particular art heist or aspect of stolen/lost art that you’d like me to write about, please let me know. I’ll add your topic to my list and do my best to write about it in the coming months.
Johnnie imagines inspiring stories in multiple genres. A fan of classic movies, stacks of books, and road trips, she shares a life of quiet adventure with Griff, her happy-go-lucky collie, and Rugby, her raccoon-treeing papillon. Visit her at johnnie-alexander.com.
About Where Treasure Hides:
~~CBA Best Seller
~~ACFW Genesis Winner