‘Illustrious Yet Unknown’ documentary charts war time art recovery

Hollywood has already told the story of the small, but significant team who came together to save and salvage historical works of art from the hands of the Nazis during World War Two, in the 2014 movie ‘The Monuments Men’.

Now, however, a French documentary called ‘Illustrious Yet Unknown’ is to air on various networks around the world to tell the story of Jacques Jaujard, deputy head of the Louvre during the Second World War. Before war broke out, Jaujard had suspicions that the Nazis would not be sympathetic to France’s art, since he had prior experience rescuing Spanish works of art during the Spanish Civil War. He helped to secure priceless works of art from being destroyed or lost forever and getting them transported out of the country.So thinking ahead with great tenacity, he closed the Louvre museum, as Europe edged closer to war, and engaged hundreds of employees to pack away and secure the Louvre’s treasures from the Nazis, including the Mona Lisa.

Categorised and recorded, the treasures were transported and hidden throughout various locations in France. Many of the artworks required constant care and specific conditions, so throughout the war Jaujard made sure the environments the art was stored in were right for their preservation, including sending electric heaters to keep the temperature consistent.

One particular employee, Rose Valland, was depicted in the Hollywood version of events and showed just how much care and love the Louvre employees had for their art. Valland kept her own record of all the paintings and artworks taken by the Nazis throughout the entire length of the war. Her records alone ensured that more than 45,000 pieces were reunited with their original owners or returned to their country of origin once the war was over, The Guardian reports.

When the Nazis did eventually come knocking at the Louvre, they found it empty, with no way of tracing the thousands of art pieces scattered around France. To Jaujard’s credit, all of the Louvre’s art remained in hiding until after the war. When peace was declared and life in Paris began to return to normal, so too did the art gradually return to the Louvre, where it remains to this day thanks to Jacques Jaujard.

Check local TV listings for when the documentary will air in your country or area.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE