How did different governments and individuals seek to protect—or enlarge—their art collections during World War II? How were works of art—or their looting or destruction—exploited for political purposes? How successful have postwar international laws and treaties been in addressing the legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding the ownership of stolen works of art?
Within weeks of the Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939, the French government evacuated thousands of valuable artifacts, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpieces to ancient statues, to secret locations across the country. Once the art was safely hidden, the BBC broadcast the phrase “The Mona Lisa is Smiling.” Other European countries followed suit, while art dealers and private collectors sent their artworks abroad (notably to Switzerland and the United States) as a safety measure.
In this exploration of the controversies surrounding the fate of Europe’s artistic heritage since 1933, Thierry Morel draws upon his extensive research into previously unexplored archives, notably in Russia. He shows how Allied and Axis regimes approached works of art—as commodities, trophies, or political tools—during and after Hitler’s rise to power and World War II, and explores vexed questions of postwar reparations and ownership.
A Rhodes Scholar, Thierry Morel was educated at the universities of Paris and Oxford, where he graduated in law and history of art. He is a research associate at the University of Cambridge and has done extensive research on the history of art collections and art provenance in Europe.