Saturday, July 12, 2014

In the Library: Preservation and Loss during World War II

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building Library

When: through September 26, 2014

Even though most of the National Gallery's East Building is closed for renovation at present, you can still enter through the main doorway and look around that floor.  Contained there is the Gallery's Library, so their exhibits will continue, I'm happy to report.  I always enjoy a trip to the Library; as I was remarking to a friend this week, it's so orderly and quiet.

The current display is on the devastation wreaked by World War II on Europe's art and archives.  You might think, not another exhibit about the Monuments Men - haven't they been done to death?!  Although they are mentioned, this is more about the destruction of great buildings - the things they weren't able to save.  Sadly, the loss of art and information during wartime has been going on as long as war itself.  Prior to WWII, there was little, if any, documentation of this loss, so not only are we deprived of the works we might have seen, we don't even know what we're missing!

The National Gallery has a very large collection of images that chronicle both the loss and the preservation of great works of art; what's on display is a tiny piece of that collection.  Some of the most interesting pictures, in my opinion, were those of the Louvre.  The great museum was emptied at the beginning of the War, when the French realized that the Germans were coming.  Paintings, sculpture - even the great Winged Victory had to leave her fantastic place on the staircase and journey to the Chateau de Valencay for the duration of the war.  I can't begin to imagine what a job that would be to move her - so large, so heavy, a priceless treasure.  Happily for all of us who've been lucky enough to see her, it was managed.

Of course, sometimes works were unknowingly moved to danger, rather than away from it.  Areas that seemed safe at the beginning of the war became targets for bombing by the war's end.  Add to that the danger in moving the art at all, and it's a wonder anything survived.

Verdict: If you have any interest in the history of art, have a look at this small display, easily managed in a lunch hour.

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