Monuments Men Saved Art During WWII

Sherman Lee
Sherman Lee

Men and women who were part of the Monuments Men during the Second World War had already established their careers as curators, museum administrators, conservationists, and painters when they joined. When the group returned to the United States, they resumed their former professions which turned into distinguished careers. Some of these folks include:

Lt. George Stout – Art conservationist at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum, Stout was played by George Clooney in the film. Stout was the main figure for the creation of the Monument Men. At the end of the war, he had a lengthy career in museum conservation. Stout was the director of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston from 1955 until 1970. He died eight years later.

Lt. James Rorimer – Matt Damon portrayed Rorimer in the film. Rorimer was already the curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when he became a member of the Monuments Men. He was a specialist in Medieval art and helped create the Cloisters—a branch of the Metropolitan that holds the medieval art collection. Rorimer was located in Paris for a large portion of the war. Here, he worked closely with Captain Rose Valland at the Jeu de Paume Museum during the German occupation to trace the art the Nazi’s stole. Rorimer went back to the Met once the war was over and became the director in 1955.  There, he was an important figure within the museum world and he acted as an adviser to Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum of Art. In 1966, he died of a heart attack.

Maj. Laurence Sickman – Sickman had an important role in art preservation in the Pacific theater of WWII. He had been an Oriental art curator at the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City. When the war had ended, he was an advisor for art preservation in General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Japan. When he returned to the Nelson Gallery after the war, Sickman was appointed as director in 1953 and he is credited for amassing the Asian art collection that the museum is known for. He retired in 1977 and later died in 1988.

Lt. Sherman Lee – Another Asian art scholar, Lee served in the Navy in the Pcific and helped to preserve art as a Monuments Man. He was honored with several medals of recognition from the Japanese government and was also awarded France’s Legion of Honor after the war. Lee went on to teach at the University of Washington between 1949 and 1952. Here he was associate director at the Seattle Art Museum. He then went on to have a long career as the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. He then retired to North Caroline where he taught art history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Duke University.

The State also reports that Sherman Lee was an important adviser to UNC-Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum; as well as to the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California near Fresno. Lee died in 2008.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE