Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In the World of Great Art, a Heroine...

Some of you may have read my blog on Varian Fry, whom History has called "the artists' Schindler." Fry altered the course of the history of art by way of his saving many of the great artists and writers in Occupied and Vichy France before Hitler could lay his hands on them.
Well, there was a woman in Paris whom we may call a female incarnation of Varian Fry, and, sadly, like Fry is not generally remembered today.
Her name - Rose Valland.
At the time of the Nazi occupation of Paris, Valland was a curator at the Louvre, where her principal task was that of curator of Jeu de Paume, the small museum housing the Impressionist paintings.
The Nazis decided to utilize this small museum as a center for the collection of the looted works of art prior to their being sent off to Germany.
Unknown to the Nazis, Valland had total knowledge of the German language, let alone, fortunately, a photographic memory. She secretly obtained almost perfectly complete information of the looted masterpieces housed in the museum as well as the ultimate German destination of these works, and conveyed this information to the Resistance, which she was a member of; all this done, over a period of years, at great personal risk, to be sure.
More than once, she informed the Resistance of a particular train loaded with masterpieces heading for Germany, which resulted in the Resistance making sure that the train involved would not be blown up. The result was wonderful, as countless pieces of treasured art could be retrieved from Germany after the war, and safely returned either to the Louvre or to the surviving families who happened to be the private owners of some of these masterpieces.
All this done by a rather mousy, nondescript little lady with small spectacles and her hair in a bun.
One of very few non-Americans receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, let alone a bevy of other awards of great distinction.
To encapsulate: between the activities of Fry and Valland, the world of Art owes much to these two; actually, this duo had much to do with the swerving of the direction modern art took in the 20th century.

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