You’ve likely heard of The Monuments Men, the star-studded film that opened last week based on the true story of “the greatest treasure hunt in history,” in which seven museum directors, curators and art historians tasked by Franklin D. Roosevelt set out to save artistic masterpieces from Nazi destruction. What you may not know, however, is that nine pieces with ties to this story reside right here at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and you have the chance to see them as a part of a self-guided tour. You can find the in-depth stories behind the art here—and do, they’re fascinating—but here’s an introduction:
Benedetto da Rovezzano’s St. John the Baptist (1505): The Nazis bought this bust to display in Führermuseum, but in the meantime was hidden in a Nazi storage site: the Alt Ausee salt mines in Austria. Hitler ordered the destruction of the mine near the end of the war, but the workers thwarted that by setting off explosions that would seal the tunnels, but protect the contents.
Willem de Poorter’s St. Paul and St. Barnabas at Lystra (1630): This was seized from a Jewish family, the Hakker’s, in Amsterdam by looters referred to as “Liro Bank.” It’s suggested that it ended up with German art dealer Hans Herbst who was in charge of the planned Führermuseum. The Dutch government obtained it in the early 1950s.
Johannes Lingelbach’s The Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1660): This was one of thousands of pieces of art taken by the Nazis from a well-off Jewish family, the Rothschilds, who were granted a safe passage out of Austria in return for their art collection. It is another that was thought to have been stored in the Alt Ausee salt mines.
Adam Lenckhardt’s St. Jerome (1635-38): Once owned by Liechtenstein Prince Karl Eusebius, this landed in the Rothschild’s collection as well. It was likely looted then retrieved by the Monuments Men.
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon’s The Union of Love and Friendship (1793): Tasked by Saint-Marc Didot, a Parisian literary supporter, this was another piece in the Rothschild’s collection.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s The Piazza San Marco, Venice (1881): This impressionist painting was displayed in a museum in Munich until a New York dealer exchanged it for a painting by German Hans Thoma, one of Hitler’s favorite artists.
Driedel (1900): The museum is unsure where this piece came from, but it was in Europe at the time when, as Jews were being taken to concentration camps, their valuables were being stored as intentional reminders of the exterminated. One exception was part of a Jewish community in Danzig (now Gdansk), who sold their property and shipped it to Manhattan to finance their emigration.
Lyonel Feininger’s Hopfgarten (1920): This painting was hung in the Nazis’ Degenerate Art Exhibition. A U.S. Military worker bought the painting after the war, and the MIA acquired it in 1954.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Modern Bohemia (1924): SS officers took over German museums in 1937, removing those employed and confiscating art, including this painting. Nazis started to destroy the art before they realized they could instead sell it. This one was sold to a German art dealer for $75.