Four who helped save priceless art during WWII

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 6, 2014 

— The men and women who were part of the Monuments Men during World War II were already established in their careers as art curators, museum administrators, conservationists and painters when they joined up.

Upon returning to the states, they quietly resumed their professions and many went onto distinguished careers. Among them were:

Lt. George Stout – An art conservationist at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum, Stout, played by George Clooney in the film, was, at 47, a central figure in the creation of the Monuments Men. Following the war, he had a lengthy career in museum conservation. Stout was director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston from 1955 until 1970. He died in 1978.

Lt. James Rorimer – The character played by Matt Damon was already a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when he became a Monuments Man. He was a specialist in medieval art and helped found the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan that houses its medieval art collection. Rorimer was based in Paris for much of the war, where he worked closely with Capt. Rose Valland at the Jeu de Paume museum during the German occupation to trace the looted Nazi art. Rorimer returned to the Met after the war and became director in 1955. He was an important figure in the museum world and an adviser to Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum of Art. He died of a heart attack in 1966.

Maj. Laurence Sickman – Sickman played a vital role in arts preservation in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He had been an Oriental art curator at the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City. By the end of the war, he was an art preservation adviser in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Japan. When he returned to the Nelson after the war, Sickman became its director in 1953 and built up the Asian art collection for which the museum, now known as the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is known. He retired in 1977 and died in 1988.

Lt. Sherman Lee – Lee was also an Asian art scholar who served in the Navy in the Pacific and helped preserve art as a Monuments Man based in Japan. He was honored with several prizes of recognition from the Japanese government and was awarded France’s Legion of Honor after the war. Lee taught at the University of Washington from 1948 to 1952 and was associate director at the Seattle Art Museum. He went on to have a long career as director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, then retired to North Carolina, where he taught art history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and at Duke University.

He 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, Calif., near Fresno. He died in 2008.

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