Art theft and looting occurred on massive scale during World War II. It all started with Adolf Hitler’s unsuccessful career as an artist. He was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Nonetheless, he thought of himself as a connoisseur of the arts and when became Fuhrer, he had a dream to create the European Art Museum in Linz, that would collect all the greatest masterpieces in the world. The hunt for masterpieces kept in conquered countries begun.
Luckily, most of these items were recovered by agents of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA), affectionately referred to as the Monuments Men – you know the movie and the book about them? Unfortunately many of this masterpieces are still missing. There is an international effort under way to identify Nazi plunder that still remains unaccounted for, with the aim of ultimately returning the items to the rightful owners, their families or their respective countries. Here is the list of 10 most important masterpieces that went missing or were destroyed during the II World War.
Warning: the stories written here are heart-breaking. I nearly cried when I compiled this list.
1. Raphael, Portrait of a Young Man, 1513/14
It’s Poland’s most famous art loss from WWII. Portrait of a Young Man was taken from the Czartoryski’s family collection in Krakow to be placed in Hitler’s Fuhrer museum in 1939. It went missing at the end of the war, but every couple of months unverified rumors suggest it was found somewhere – lately in a Swiss bank vault.
2. Vincent van Gogh, Painter on His Way to Work, 1888
This van Gogh was stolen by the Nazis and then lost by fire under Allied bomb attack on the town of Magdeburg, Germany. Luckily, the lost work have survived through print reproductions.
3. Gustave Courbet, The Stone Breakers, 1849
The Stone Breakers were destroyed during World War II, along with 154 other pictures, when a transport vehicle moving the pictures to the castle of Königstein, near Dresden, was bombed by Allied forces in February 1945.
4. Gustav Klimt, Philosophy, 1899-1907, ceiling panel for the Great Hall of Vienna University
5. Andreas Schlüter: The Amber Room, 18th Century
The Amber Room is a world-famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. Originally constructed in the 18th century in Prussia, the Amber Room disappeared during World War II and was recreated in 2003.
The Amber Room was looted during World War II by Army Group North of Nazi Germany and brought to Königsberg for reconstruction and display. Its current whereabouts remain a mystery.
6. Giovanni Bellini, Madonna with Child, c.1430
7. Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Trude Steiner, 1900
This is a portrait of the daughter of Viennese collector Jenny Steiner and was taken by the Nazis after Stenier’s escape from Austria in 1938. It was consequently sold to an unknown person in 1941 and was never seen since then.
8. Rembrandt van Rijn, An Angel with Titus’ Features
9. Canaletto, Piazza Santa Margherita
10. Edgar Degas, Five Dancing Women (Ballerinas)