Back to imamuseum.org

A Monuments Man from Indiana

Today's guest blogger is Annette Schlagenhauff, Associate Curator for Research at the IMA. She is in charge of researching the provenance, or history of ownership, of European paintings in the IMA’s collection.

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

On February 7, all eyes will turn to a movie called The Monuments Men, a much anticipated film directed by George Clooney and featuring a star-studded cast. It tells the story of several brave World War II soldiers who were tasked, against all odds, with preserving monuments in the paths of advancing Allied armies in the final months of the war. Once the war had ended, their mission was to find and safeguard treasures of European art stolen by the Nazis. Until now, their story was largely unknown to the general public, although art museums and provenance researchers had long been amazed by the valiant efforts of the men and women in the Monuments, Fine Art & Archives section of the military. They put their lives on the line in an effort to guarantee that Europe’s finest cultural treasures were preserved for future generations.

As it goes with many Hollywood movies, the broad outlines of the story are true, but names and circumstances have been changed to fit a two-hour narrative structure. So if you are expecting a documentary, you might be disappointed and should watch The Rape of Europa instead, a film released in 2008 which is based on the ground-breaking book of the same title by the historian Lynn Nicholas. But The Monuments Men is to be commended for its ability to focus our attention on the hardships and tragedies as well as the successes of these cultural soldiers, most of whom were older than the average GI and elected to leave careers as artists, architects, archivists, conservators and other museum professionals in order to bring their particular expertise to bear in the Allied war effort.

One of the real-life Monuments Men was Thomas Carr Howe Jr., a native of Indiana. Born in 1904 in Kokomo, Howe was raised in Indianapolis before he left for the east coast to attend university. (If the name sounds familiar to Indianapolis residents or Butler University alumni and students, it’s because his father taught at Butler and then served as its president from 1907 to 1920.) The younger Howe chose to pursue an art museum career and, in 1931, he was appointed assistant director at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, becoming that museum’s director in 1939. During WWII, Howe joined the U.S. Navy and served there for two years before being recommended to serve as a Monuments Man.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

When Howe returned to San Francisco in February 1946, the head of Bobbs-Merrill, the Indianapolis-based publishing company, asked him to commit his experiences as a Monument Man to writing. Howe agreed to do so, and later that same year his recollections were published with the title Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art. Here we can learn that Howe was present at the Alt Aussee mine when Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, both looted by the Nazis, were packed up and brought out of the depths of the mine under considerable time pressure due to the advancing Russian armies. He was also present several weeks later when a group of Monuments Men evacuated the art stored at Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Movie goers will recognize these place names, and Howe’s published recollections were no doubt carefully studied by the team that created and produced the movie.

Saltmines and Castles tells yet another interesting story – and one that can be linked to a specific painting currently in the IMA’s collection. Howe’s first solo assignment in Europe – and the Monuments Men often travelled alone rather than as a team — was to retrieve a cache of 81 cases full of art from Grassau, a small town in southeast Bavaria, where Nazi loot had been discovered. In one of these cases was the IMA’s masterpiece by Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Profile of Laval. This painting had been looted, along with many others, from a prominent Jewish collection (the Herzog Collection) by Hungary’s Nazis in 1944. To safeguard their haul from the Russians, it was moved to the small town in Bavaria. Howe’s efforts were almost thwarted by the Hungarian museum curator who was charged with safeguarding the art, but Howe prevailed and he brought the paintings to Munich where the Central Collecting Point was located. Several years later, it was restituted back to Hungary, and then back to the widow of the Herzog heir. She allowed a dealer to sell it, and it had a number of owners before it was acquired by the IMA in 1998. Long story short, a painting now located in Indianapolis was safeguarded by a Monuments Man from Indianapolis!

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers, History, Indiana, Museum Community, The Collection

 

Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 1

Today's guest blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

A portrait (Fig. 1) hanging in the Clowes Library has charmed visitors for decades with its vivid lifelikeness. The energetic curls, the fleshy and youthful cheeks, the breath that hovers upon the parted lips all evoke the presence of a living man before our eyes. It has long been called an early self-portrait by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), which is substantiated by a monogram (Fig. 2) – “RHL”, for “Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden” – in the lower right corner. But scholars have cast doubts upon the identification of the sitter and the attribution to Rembrandt, calling it a workshop copy after an original by Rembrandt, a portrait of Rembrandt by a fellow painter, and even a self-portrait by one of Rembrandt’s students 30 years after his apprenticeship with the master. Factor in the existence of six painted variations of this work, and the possibilities are dizzying! How has the IMA determined that the Clowes painting is authentic?

Comparison with other paintings from the same period is the first step. Connoisseurs have observed similarities in physiognomy to other self-portraits from Rembrandt’s Leiden period (c. 1625-1631) in works found in Amsterdam, Munich, Boston, and Liverpool. Features like the bulbous nose, penetrating eyes, and slightly cleft chin point clearly to Rembrandt as the sitter.

In the early 1980s, IMA curator Anthony F. Janson saw a resemblance in execution between the Clowes panel and the self-portraits in Boston and Liverpool. He observed the use of scoring with the butt end of the paintbrush in the curls of the hair, the short hairs of the beard, and even in the lower lip to articulate volume and texture, a technique visible in the Amsterdam, Munich, and Boston self-portraits. Janson also drew comparisons between the flesh tones in the Boston painting and our panel, as well as in the execution of the scarf.

Figure 2: “RHL” monogram

Figure 2: “RHL” monogram

Further confirmation was offered by the leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst van de Wetering, in 2007. Having studied the monograms on Rembrandt’s early paintings, Van de Wetering observed that the monogram on the Clowes panel corresponds to those found on the artist’s works dating to a very short period, between late 1627 and 1629.

But is this enough information to say with confidence that our panel was executed by Rembrandt? Could it have been done by a very talented student, or perhaps a 19th-century copyist? Stay tuned for Part 2, in which scientific evidence is marshaled in support of the attribution to Rembrandt.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, History, Technology, The Collection

 

How hair helps conserve art

Today's blogger is Laura Mosteller, Conservation Technician II at the IMA.

As the conservation technician at the IMA, one of my responsibilities is keeping an eye on the devices that measure temperature and humidity in the galleries. Why? A major aspect of our mission at the museum and the field of conservation is to preserve artworks for generations, and often these artworks are composed of vulnerable materials. Changes in temperature and humidity can result in stresses of warping, dislocating joins, cracking and lifting of surface layers, breaking fibers, metals corrosion, and cockling of works on paper. Not to mention that mold will thrive at relative humidity levels of 70 percent or higher.

hygro_closedThere are many devices available that enable a real time recording of the gallery environment and we use a variety of these for recording comprehensive data history. What you may be surprised to learn is that one of the devices uses horse or human hair as a very important element for sensing humidity fluctuations. Called a hygrothermograph, it is one of the most common devices used to measure and record temperature and humidity. You’ve likely seen the contraption in many museums and wondered if it was a contemporary work of art.

hygro_openHumidity measuring devices have been around for hundreds of years; in the early days a material that was hygroscopic, or capable of absorbing moisture, was connected to the instrument to act as a humidity sensor.  The substance may have been twine or paper, and it would expand and contract when influenced by the varying levels of the moisture content in the air. These changes in the material could be quantitatively measured to interpret the relative humidity. In the late 1770s, Horace Benedict de Saussure is credited for implementing the sensible hygroscopic material of human hair in his design of the device. It is said that he used the locks of his lovely wife; perhaps the idea came to him after she complained of a bad hair day on a rainy afternoon. In today’s version, hair can be stripped of its oils and gathered in a small bundle providing the perfect humidity detector. So if you’re the type of person who enjoys unusual facts, this one is certain to impress your friends.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers, History, Technology

 

Hunting for a 15th-century man

Author Haohao Lu is the IMA's Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow of European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Portraiture, either painting or photograph, is a paradoxical reminder of both the presence and the absence of a person. When looking at early modern portraiture in particular, we are often struck by a person’s presence intimately unfolding before us and the hollow of identity that has vanished over distance and time. The look of a familiar stranger is disquietingly uneasy. The impulse to identify a portrait is always accompanied by the yearning to overcome that uneasiness. We wish to know more about the person portrayed, even though such wish is not always gratified.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

With an early Netherlandish portrait in the Clowes Collection (fig.1), however, there is good news.

In 1983, Patricia Bennett, a graduate student from Indiana University Bloomington, quoted this painting in her MA thesis on the workshop practice of the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden. Enclosed in her thesis are also a couple of correspondences with Lorne Campbell, a renowned curator from the National Gallery, London. Surprisingly, Campbell mentions that he recalls three versions of this portrait. The second version recently appeared at a 2002 Christie’s sale. The third, only available from a photograph in the Max J. Friedländer archive at the Netherlandish Institute for Art History in The Hague, reveals to us a tantalizing clue to identifying the portrait: a coat of arms which, as research demonstrates, belonged to the Bruges-based Van Themseke family.

An 1851 registry of noble families in Bruges by François van Dycke gives us a matching description of the family crest: “Cette famille porta: d’or, à trois têtes et cols de cheval de sable bridées d’argent. Cimier: une tête et col de cheval de l’écu entre un vol d’or. [This family carries: in gold, three horse heads and necks. Their crest:  one horse head and neck flanked by golden wings.]” An 18th-century registry of epitaphs and coat-of-arms from churches in Bruges—the so-called “Handschrift De Hooghe” — also includes matching images. (An interactive reproduction of the manuscript is available at the Bruges Historical Inheritance website.)

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

The earliest record of the noble family dates to the mid-13th century. Its notable members include a Jan, a knight who fought for Lord of Gruuthuse in 1392. A blazon page from a 15th-century manuscript depicting the troop of Gruuthuse attests a long-term alliance. (See if you can spot the Van Themseke family coat-of-arms in the page digitized by the National Library of France.)

Given the unusual survival of three versions of his portrait, our man of interest might be one of the well-to-do members of the family. On a separate note, an X-ray of the IMA portrait (fig. 2) shows losses of original paint at the top left corner. It is probable that the lost area was, if anything, a coat-of-arms of the Van Themseke family.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, History

 

Recent Flickrs

Julianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your openingJulianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your openingJulianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your openingJulianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your openingJulianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your openingJulianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your opening