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George Clooney’s Monuments Men in Real Life Featured at The Met

George Clooney in the movie 'Monuments Men' and James J. Rorimer (inset), a real life Monuments Man during World War II.

George Clooney in the movie ‘Monuments Men’ and James J. Rorimer (inset), a real life Monuments Man during World War II.

James J. Rorimer, one of the art experts portrayed in George Clooney’s film “The Monuments Men,” will be featured in a new Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, highlighting his historic role saving priceless artworks during World War II.

Rorimer became director of the Museum after the war.

A new gallery itinerary, display, blog post and Sunday at the Met lecture will focus on the Monuments Men’s heroic work recovering art works plundered by the Nazis as they swept across Europe.

The Met’s Monuments Men

James J.Rorimer was one of several museum staff members who served as Monuments Men. Here are the others.

Harry D. M. Grier (1914-1972): Served as lecturer and assistant to the Museum’s dean of education from 1938 to 1946, and later as director of the Frick Collection.
Theodore Heinrich (1910-1981): Associate Curator of Paintings and Curator in Charge of drawings from 1953 to 1955 before leaving to become director of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto
Theodore Rousseau (1912-1973): Began working at the Met in 1946 and eventually became Vice Director and chief curator of European art.
Edith Standen (1905-1998): a distinguished curator, lecturer and author on textiles. After her retirement in 1970, she worked daily in the Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Library until her death in 1998 at the age of 93.

The film, starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman,, is about seven museum directors, curators and art historians who were part of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA) under the U.S. Army’s Civil Affairs and Military Government Section.

The unit, established in 1943 in advance of the allied invasion, was comprised of 345 men and women, representing 13 nations. All were volunteers.

Working under difficult conditions and short of resources, they, nonetheless, recovered five million looted cultural items.

Rorimer, a Harvard-educated medieval art specialist, initially joined the Met in 1927 and was appointed curator of medieval art in 1934. He joined the army in 1943 and was put in charge of the MFAA.

He scoured Europe during the war, from Normandy in France into Germany, discovering and preserving art treasures hidden by the Nazis. He received several military decorations including the Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre, according to the Museum.

He returned to the Met in 1946 and served as director from 1955 until 1966, the year he died.

In that role, he secured Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer” and Robert Campin’s “Merode Altarpiece” among other works.

His memoir, “Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War” (Abelard Press, Inc., 1950), details his wartime exploits.

The exhibit, “In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men: Traces from the Metropolitan Museum’s Archives,” featuring the Monuments Men’s work, will be on view at the Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Library through March 1.

Among the items featured are 11 selected paintings saved and returned to rightful owners. They’re on view in the Museum’s European Paintings Galleries and Nineteenth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture Galleries.

A Sunday at the Met lecture event, “Monuments Men: Fact and Fiction,” will explore how the Monuments Men recovered stolen art. For more information check the Met’s Web Site.

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