L’exode des musées, histoire des œuvres d’art sous l’Occupation
A few years ago, a rather touching Spanish documentary , Las cajas españolas by Alberto Porlan, told of the epic destiny of the paintings of the Prado, in exile over the roads of Europe during the Civil War. An amateur (in the noble sens of the word) historian spent twenty years of his life digging up the same theme in all the archives available, to show the wanderings of the works of art (mostly form the musées de France but not all of them) in the years from 1939-1945. Putting them in security in dozens of different hiding places (often in abbeys such as Loc-Dieu or castles like Chambord, Sully-sur-Loire, Valençay which received for example the Victory of Samothrace) is a titanic job orchestrated by Jacques Jaujard, sub-director of the national museums. It was not always enough to fool the greed of the invader: the Mystic painting des by the Van Eyck brothers, that was entrusted by the Belgian authorities and deposited in the free zone, in Pau, was thus picked up by the Germans. As for the tapestry of Bayeux, it escaped Himmler’s appetite by sheer luck. The book is presented in a chronologic form: a presentation that does not help one have a little distance but that does create a certain tension as to the looting that went on during the war by pointing out some heroic characters, such as Rose Valland, the assistant of the director of the Jeu de paume, to whom we owe the survival of an invaluable patrimony.
• L’exode des musées, histoire des œuvres d’art sous l’Occupation par Michel Rayssac, Payot, 2007, 1008 p., ISBN : 978-2-228-90172-7, 35 €.
Review published in the newsletter #51 - from 14 June 2007 to 21 June 2007