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'The Berlin Masterpieces in America: Paintings, Politics, and the Monuments Men'

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The Berlin Masterpieces in America: Paintings, Politics, and the Monuments Men


Peter Jonathan Bell and Kristi A. Nelson


April 2020



As the Allies advanced into Germany in April 1945, General Patton’s Third Army discovered the collections of the Berlin State Museums hidden in a salt mine 2,100 feet underground. Placed in the care of the “Monuments Men,” the collections were sent to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, directed by Captain Walter I. Farmer of Cincinnati. In November 1945, the US military government in Germany ordered that 202 “works of art of greatest importance” from German public collections be sent to Washington for safekeeping. After two years in storage, they were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in 1948, before some were sent on a whistle-stop tour of 13 US cities, despite furious opposition from museum directors, gallery  staff, the public, government officials, and a resolution from 98  leading art authorities demanding the immediate return of the works to  Germany. All the paintings, examples of Flemish, Dutch, German, French,  English, and Italian Schools, were from museums in Berlin. This book features 22 artworks that were in the original NGA  exhibition, including four paintings on loan from Berlin, augmented by  others from Cincinnati Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Getty Museum, Miami University (Oxford, OH), and the Taft Museum.

'The Berlin Masterpieces in America: Paintings, Politics, and the Monuments Men' tells the story of how, and why, some of the world’s most iconic artworks toured the USA in what became the first blockbuster show. This fully illustrated volume is the first to examine the entire journey of the “202” and its historical-political implications – from the salt mines to the Wiesbaden CCP to their sensational tour and return to a very different Germany at the onset of the Cold War. It offers insights into Farmer and his fellow Monuments Men’s protest of the transfer, the “Wiesbaden Manifesto;” the logistics of the US tour and popular reactions to the unprecedented exhibition in post-war America. This history is framed by essays on the fate of artworks in Nazi Germany and during the war, and on the significance of modern efforts to research the history of ownership of works of art. Augmenting the essays are an exhibition catalogue, interviews with the people closest to Walter Farmer in his later life, and a complete illustrated checklist of the “202.”

'The Berlin Masterpieces in America' is a significant contribution to the growing interest in re-evaluating the policy of using art as political propaganda, and with the enduring problems of provenance and restitution.

The accompanying exhibition Paintings, Politics and the Monuments Men: The Berlin Masterpieces in America will be on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum, July 9 – October 3, 2021.

Peter Jonathan Bell and Kristi A. Nelson
With contributions by Tanja Bernsau, Kathryn Griffith, Neville Rowley, and Nancy Yeide

About the Authors

Peter Jonathan Bell, PhD, is curator of European Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Kristi A. Nelson, PhD, is executive vice president, provost and professor emeritus, University of Cincinnati.

Tanja Bernsau, PhD, is an art historian with a special interest in provenance research and the protection of cultural heritage.

Kathryn Griffith is Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Neville Rowley, PhD, is curator, Early Italian Art, Gemäldegalerie and Bode-Museum, Berlin.

Nancy Yeide was head of the Department of Curatorial Records at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, from 1990-2017. She is a specialist in World War Two-era provenance research.

Table of Contents

1. Foreword

2. Introduction

3. Sold and Stolen: The Use and Abuse of Paintings during World War II by Peter Bell

4. Map: The Movements of the “202”

5. Walter Farmer and the Central Collecting Point in Wiesbaden by Tanja Bernsau

6. Making Art History: The Masterpieces’ Postwar Tour by Kristi Nelson

7. The Road (Back) to Berlin: The Endless Journey of the “202” by Neville Rowley

8. Walter Ings Farmer: Memories of a Life

9. What’s Past is Prologue: Provenance Research in American Museums by Nancy Yeide

10. Catalogue: Art and Injustice under Nazi Rule
The Berlin “202”
Walter Ings Farmer and the Cincinnati Art Museum

11. Appendix: Paintings from the Berlin Museums:Travel Schedule
Related Documents

12. Bibliography

13. Photo Credits

14. Index

Order your copy here:
£29.96 (25% of RRP UK price of £39.95 valid until 19 October 2020)

Published by D. Giles Ltd, UK.

  • ISBN-10 : 1911282638
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1911282631
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