The Château de Chambord is opening the first permanent exhibition on the history of the national collections between 1939 and 1945. More than just an overview of current research, this encourages reflection on the role of museums now and in the past.
The story starts like a novel: "During those feverish days, it was endless, agonizing improvisation. [...] "Do your best, and Godspeed!" That was all I was told when I left for Chambord. [...] Albert Henraux [president of the Louvre's Society of Friends from 1932 to 1953—Ed.] landed like a bomb at 10 p.m., in full battle gear. I didn't know what he had brought me till I had listened to a barrage of invectives against Hitler, 'that Satan', and Mussolini, 'that pig'. "Here you are, old chap, here's what I'm bringing you." I was utterly dumbstruck. It was impossible! In a small van, standing unprotected in the chateau courtyard, were the Mona Lisa , Embarkation for Cythera , and the treasures of the Apollo Gallery, which should never have been moved except with infinite precautions under police guard."
This spirited narrative comes from Pierre Schommer, administrative secretary of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, who became the linchpin of a little-known aspect of the history of the national collections during World War II. Alerted by the purging of so-called "degenerate" art in German museums,…
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