During World War II, the Frick Art Reference Library played a pivotal role in the international effort to identify and protect monuments and works of art in Europe from damage and destruction by armed forces. Helen Clay Frick, the founder and Director of the Library, invited the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas to take up residence at the Library from 1943 to 1945. Working alongside art historians and other experts on the Committee, Frick librarians and photographers prepared maps detailing the location of many art treasures and landmarks throughout Europe.
Encouraged by the work of the Committee and other private groups, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe—known as the Roberts Commission—on June 23, 1943. The Roberts Commission created the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives military section, a group of men and women with art expertise, later known as the Monuments Men. The maps and lists of cultural treasures prepared by the Committee were distributed by the Roberts Commission to the Allied forces, including the Monuments Men.
Photograph of Bill Burke, Jane Mull, and Gladys Hamlin preparing a map at the Frick Art Reference Library, ca. 1943-1944. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. Courtesy of the National Archives.
After the war, the Library used its extensive resources to assist in the effort to restore looted art to its rightful owners. Researchers continue to use the Library’s rich collection of photographs, catalogs and monographs for World War II provenance research. A bibliography of these resources is maintained in the Library’s online catalog, FRESCO. Joining in this endeavor, the Archives published finding aids for the Schaeffer Galleries Records and the Bignou Gallery Albums, two galleries which operated during World War II.
In concurrence with the February 7, 2014, release of The Monuments Men, a film directed by George Clooney, the Archives department of the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library prepared an online exhibition presenting maps, correspondence, photographs, and reports documenting the Library’s connection to the Monuments Men.
Additionally, Chief Archivist, Sally Brazil, and Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian, Stephen Bury, participated in Art Talk: Monuments Men on February 7, 2014, joining representatives from the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; University of California, Berkeley; Archives of American Art; and the American Institute for Conservation Oral History Project to present “true stories of the Monuments Men.”
Shannon Yule Morelli, Associate Archivist, Frick Art Reference Library
Banner image: One of the maps created by the Committee at the Library, marking the locations of art treasures and monuments in Pisa, accompanied by an index. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.