Beauty scale

The Monuments Men group bets on playing cards to find lost works of art

DALLAS (AP) — A group dedicated to completing the work of World War II Monuments Men is betting a deck of playing cards — and rewarding cash — to help find missing artworks taken by the Nazis.

Inspired by the U.S. military’s history in creating mission-related playing cards, the Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation for Art Preservation announced on Wednesday the creation of a game focused on works – including paintings, sculptures and reliquaries – which they say still exist.

“What is needed is to raise awareness of what is missing,” said Anna Bottinelli, president of the foundation. “Because you might know a friend who has a beautiful painting on the wall and you don’t even doubt that painting belongs to someone else.”

The group, which offers rewards of up to $25,000 for information leading to the recovery of every cultural object featured in the game, will be highlighting a few of the cards each week on their social media.

Bottinelli said the foundation was working with museums, law enforcement and owners of lost works of art as they narrowed down the works for display, including those by Vincent van Gogh, Caravaggio and Claude Monet. .

One, a pastel by Edgar Degas entitled “Portrait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot” which was taken by the Nazis from a house in France in 1940, is known to have been sold in the mid-1970s to an unknown Swiss collector .

“A lot of them have resurfaced in the recent past – even in 2008 – at auctions,” Bottinelli said.

The game, sold through the National WWII Foundation and Museum in New Orleans, is a nod to an American military tradition that includes a game featuring the war’s most wanted fugitives. in Iraq and another from World War II designed to help soldiers identify planes, Bottinelli said.

FBI Special Agent Christopher McKeogh, a member of the agency’s New York-based Art Crime team, said he believed there was a misconception that nearly 80 years after the end of the war, most of the missing works of art had been found.

“There’s still a lot of artwork left to search for,” McKeogh said, noting that Nazi looting was “on a scale that’s really hard to comprehend.”

McKeogh said that in some cases people haven’t realized the past of an artwork before bringing it to a gallery or auction house.

“In these cases, we will take steps to seize it and hopefully repatriate the artwork,” McKeogh said, adding that once such a story is uncovered, “owners are usually very willing” to recover it.

“We can never undo the atrocities of war, but any little thing we can do to reunite one of these works with the heirs is a big thing,” McKeogh said.

Robert Edsel, founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation, said that for those who realize they own looted art, “this is a chance for people to do the right thing, to come forward, to solve the problem”.

Edsel started the foundation in 2007 to honor the Monuments Men, the group of men and women from Allied nations, many with artistic expertise, who served during World War II to protect cultural treasures during battle, and after the war helped restore the works of art looted by the Nazis. to the rightful owners.

He has written several books about the Monuments Men, including one on which the movie “The Monuments Men” starring and directed by George Clooney was based.

The foundation frequently receives calls from people inquiring about wartime artifacts and has over the years helped return more than 30, including a 16th-century tapestry taken by a retired US officer from Adolf Hitler in the Eagle’s Nest towards the end of the war. The officer’s family donated the tapestry to a German museum in 2016.

In addition to the game’s 52 artworks, two cards – the jokers – each feature a set of Nazi photo albums of artwork that have missing volumes.

There’s reason to hope someone will find one: the foundation has already found five that were brought back by American soldiers after the war as souvenirs.

“It was always a joy for us to see how much gratitude there was from both sides: the side that returned something and the side that received,” Bottinelli said.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Christopher McKeogh’s name.