Stunning German porcelain collection found by Monuments Men sells for £ 10million


The Monuments Men is the nickname given to members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program of the Allied Forces during World War II.

This small body of mostly middle-aged men and a few women was made up of historians, architects, professors, and museum curators who took their careers off to help recover works of art stolen by the Nazis.

During the Third Reich, agents working for the Nazi Party engaged in the organized looting of museums and private collections in occupied countries.

In Germany and elsewhere, the looting of Jewish property was part of the Holocaust.

In addition to gold, silver and currency, items of cultural significance were stolen, including paintings, ceramics, books and religious treasures.

While many artifacts remain nowhere to be found despite international efforts, the majority were recovered immediately after the war by the Monuments Men.

The “men” often operated on their own with limited resources, making packing materials for their priceless finds from whatever they had available, including sheepskin coats and gas masks.

The biggest batch of stolen goods was recovered at Altaussee, a network of tunnels where Hitler stored the works destined for the Fuhrermuseum in Linz, Austria, an unrealized project where he planned to display the stolen works.

Members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program transport Michelangelo’s Madonna out of the tunnel network at Altaussee in July 1945

At Altaussee, the deepest tunnels were over a mile and a half inside the mountain – the perfect place to protect them from both detection and enemy bombs.

Floors, walls, shelves, and even a workshop were built into the rooms, which saw a constant flow of treasures carried through the tunnels from 1943 to 1945.

It was there that the Monuments Men discovered Michelangelo’s Madonna and the priceless works of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

One of the members of the unit recounted the content based on Nazi files noting some 6,577 paintings, 2,300 drawings or watercolors, 954 prints, 137 pieces of sculpture, 129 pieces of weapons and armor, 79 baskets of objects, 484 boxes of objects considered as archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries, 1,200 to 1,700 boxes apparently books or similar, and 283 boxes of completely unknown content.

Plans for the demolition of the storage facility were also uncovered, revealing that the invaluable work was in danger of being lost forever in an attempt to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

However, local miners and Nazi officials, believing the district chief had misinterpreted Hitler’s instructions, hastened the planned demolition.

The logistical difficulties that followed the immediate end of the war meant that removing the art from mining was a rushed affair plagued by impossible deadlines and a lack of packaging materials.

A US soldier is pictured among loot stolen from Jewish Holocaust victims stored in a church in Ellingen, Germany, in April 1945. Looted items include packages, pieces of cloth and crate paintings

A US soldier is pictured among loot stolen from Jewish Holocaust victims stored in a church in Ellingen, Germany, in April 1945. Looted items include packages, pieces of cloth and crate paintings

The team initially estimated that the withdrawal would take around a year, but they were given less than two months as the area was intended for Soviet control.

Fearing that some of Europe’s greatest works of art might disappear in the Soviet Union, whose “trophy brigades” are said to have stolen millions of objects, the team worked 16 hours a day to try to remove everything in time.

Eventually, the Monuments Men had to leave, having removed 80 trucks, 1,850 paintings, 1,441 cases of paintings and sculptures, 11 sculptures, 30 pieces of furniture and 34 large bundles of textiles from the mine.

The work of this special unit had been largely forgotten by the general public until academic Lynn H. Nicholas published her book The Rape of Europa in 1995.

Nicholas was inspired to research the unit after reading the obituary of a Frenchwoman who single-handedly saved 60,000 works of art after spending years spying on the Nazi plundering operation.

In 2009, American businessman and author Robert M. Edsel published his best-selling book The Monuments Men, bringing the story to a wider audience and inspiring a 2014 film of the same name. with George Clooney and Matt Damon.

Source: The Smithsonian

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