Mediation: a device retraces the exceptional career of Rose Valland

French Culture Ministry 12 April 2024

Friday, April 12, Rachida Dati, Minister of Culture, unveiled in the Tuileries Garden a mediation device highlighting the decisive role of Rose Valland in the safeguarding and recovery of private artistic heritage.

«This is where Rose Valland (1898-1980), conservation attaché at the museum [of the Jeu de Paume], documented every day in perilous conditions the operations carried out by the occupier, discreetly and meticulously recording the arrived works, their storage and shipment, on the order of Jacques Jaujard, director of the national museums ".

These are the words that can be discovered on one of the three «totems», an innovative mediation device installed by the Louvre Museum on the Rose Valland Terrace, in the Tuileries Garden. The goal? Retrace in situ, near the Jeu de Paume, the decisive work of Rose Valland, who led alone, or almost, during the Occupation, a clandestine struggle against the companies of spoliation of works of art belonging mainly to the Jews, led by the Nazis.

Friday, April 12, Rachida Dati, Minister of Culture, inaugurated this device, a sign of the importance given to this extraordinary personality, who participated in the preservation, in heroic conditions, of the private French artistic heritage. It is also a sign of the decisive importance of the process of recovery and restitution of the stolen goods of which it was the initiator. “ Inspired by the example of Rose Valland, France affirms that the love of art cannot be conceived without the love of justice ", the Minister assured.

The rediscovery of an exceptional personality

Although she herself published the account of this experience (The Art Front: defence of French collections, 1939-1945, Plon, 1961) and that James Rorimer, an American officer and one of the principal «Monuments Men» who was later director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, testified of his work in a book in 1950, Rose Valland remained unknown to the general public until the early 2000s. We remember in particular the The Monuments Men, adaptation in 2014 of a book written in 2009, where Cate Blanchett played a character very freely inspired by the curator.

Since then, the interest in Rose Valland, the knowledge and memory of her exceptional commitment, have continued to progress. In particular, in 2019, the beautiful exhibition of the Dauphinois museum, in Grenoble. Since then, signs of recognition have not ceased, whether they emanate from civil society – the name of the class of 2012 of the National Institute of Heritage, a Rose Valland passage in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, a street in Grenoble, a statue in Marcq-en-Bareuil – or the cultural and media sphere – a play, a comic book series, an animated film on Arte, a podcast series on France Culture and a broadcast on France Inter… and even the appearance of his character in the video game Save the Louvre !

From the database «Rose Valland» to the podcasts «A la trace»

This true craze for the destiny of Rose Valland also finds its source in the approach of the Ministry of Culture in favor of the restitution of cultural property stolen by the Nazis. Starting with the name of the database that exhaustively lists the MNR works and draws up, as completely as possible, their history, within the limits of the information available. The Rose Valland Base is freely accessible to all. Today, this work is continued, amplified and systematized by the Mission to search for and restore cultural property stolen between 1933 and 1945 of the Ministry of Culture, which coordinates, mobilizes and raises awareness, since its creation in 2019, the scientific teams in museums and libraries and the art market on these issues of spoliation.

The Mission for the Research and Restitution of Cultural Property Looted between 1933 and 1945 is also behind a series of innovative podcasts, “On the trail” , which retrace, in the manner of a real investigation, the often long and always difficult path of research undertaken to return works to their rightful owner or beneficiaries. An exciting series, including the last episode was about a work by the artist Chana Orloff, «L'Enfant Didi» , was acclaimed by the public.

Rose Valland: a resistant curator turned "Capitaine Beaux-Arts"

The Jeu de Paume had the sad privilege of providing a logistical service to the looting of collections belonging to Jews and political opponents of the Nazi regime. The looted works, once listed and sorted, were sent to different destinations in Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe.

Encouraged and supported by Jacques Jaujard (director of the National Museums since 1940, who was responsible for moving and securing works of art from the Louvre in the province), Rose Valland, for more than four years, discreetly and as accurately as possible, all the data concerning the movements of the works that passed through the Jeu de Paume museum, going so far as to decipher German carbon papers thrown in the garbage of the museum, and listen quietly to the conversations of the Nazi officials. It was thanks to his information that the Allies knew the names of the German and Austrian depots (Altaussee, Buxheim, Neuschwanstein, Füssen, Nikolsburg, etc.), were able to secure them and facilitate the recovery of the stored works.

At the Liberation, she was appointed captain of the 1st Army and head of the Service de remise en place des œuvres d'art (SROA), she was in residence in Berlin from where she went to the four occupation zones of Germany. In the immediate post-war period, it played a central role in the recovery of 60,000 works, about 45,000 of which were quickly returned to their rightful owners.
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