Legacy of ‘The Monuments Men’

Sam Epstein, George Clooney, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Matt Damon in The Monuments Men

Sam Epstein, George Clooney, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Matt Damon in The Monuments Men


The newly-released film The Monuments Men , starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, tells the story of a specialist unit sent by the Allied forces to Germany at end of the second World War to find the vast quantity of art that had been looted by the Nazis.

Some of the art found by the monuments men was returned to private collectors almost immediately after the war and now occasionally turns up at auction.

In 1940, the Nazis in occupied France seized many works of art from the wealthy Rothschild banking family including two paintings by 18th-century French artist Jean Baptiste Pater.

The pair of oils titled La Cueillette Des Roses and Le Musicien was confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a Nazi party unit headed up by Alfred Rosenberg and established to “expropriate” cultural property from Jewish owners. The paintings ended up in Germany in the home of Hermann Goering, one of the chief Nazi leaders.

They were found in Bavaria by the monuments men in 1945, shipped to Paris and thereafter restituted to the Rothschild family who eventually sold them decades later.

Last month in New York, the pair of paintings appeared at a Sotheby’s auction in New York and sold for $581,000 (€425,000).

Seventy years after the second World War, the work begun by the monuments men is still far from complete. Painstaking research is continuing worldwide in an effort to identify and return paintings to the heirs of the original owners.

The restitution project is enormously complicated because much of the stolen art had come from Jewish private collections and many of the owners were murdered in the Holocaust.

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