Today, George Clooney’s latest film The Monuments Men opens in theaters. The film depicts an unusual WWII platoon made up of museum directors, curators, and art historians who were tasked with rescuing artistic masterpieces that had been stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their rightful owners.
One of the platoon members was Thomas Carr Howe, Jr., who at the time was the Director of the Legion of Honor Museum. Howe’s character is not portrayed in Clooney’s film but during his years of service as a “Monument Man”, he helped rescue and preserve countless artworks stolen by the Nazis, including Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child (1501) and Jan Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (1432).
During World War II, Howe joined the U.S. army and served from 1945 to 1946 in Germany and Austria. He began as a naval lieutenant but was soon assigned to serve in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) section. Howe reported to Lieutenant Commander George Stout at Wiesbaden, and was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander and Deputy Chief of the MFAA at Frankfurt.
During his service as one of the “Monuments Men” Howe located hidden and recovered large repositories of cultural objects and works of art stolen by the Nazis. He also helped with the restitution effort. At the Altaussee salt mines in Austria, Howe helped salvage a large cache of stolen artwork that included Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child and the Ghent Altarpiece or The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Vermeer’s The Artists Studio, and the Rothschild family jewels. Howe later described his wartime work in his book Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art (1946). [Archives of American Art]
Today at 12noon, the Legion of Honor is hosting a lecture about Howe and the real life story of the Monuments Men. The talk features presentations from UC Berkeley, The Frick Collection Art Reference Library, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, and the American Institute for Conservation Oral History Project.
To watch the art talk online, follow the Legion of Honor on Google+ and then tune into the broadcast.
You can also watch at the Koret Auditorium at the de Young or at the Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor. Museum admission is required.
Thomas Carr Howe, Jr.’s papers are stored at the Archives of American Art, which includes a great gallery of images from his time with the platoon. A few are shown below but more can be seen here.
For his wartime service as a Monuments Men, Howe was honored with the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and the Officier of the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau in 1946. After completing his service, Howe resumed his place as Director at the Legion of Honor, a position he held until his retirement in 1968.
And you can see the new Monuments Men movie starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and George Clooney at the Balboa Theater, starting tonight.
Stephen Kovalyak, George Stout and Thomas Carr Howe transporting Michelangelo’s sculpture Madonna
and child, 1945 July 9. [Archives of American Art]
Herr Sicher, George Stout and Thomas Carr Howe inspecting paintings, 1945 July 9 [Archives of American Art]
4:45 am | Posted under Art
| 2 comments