Excerpts from the book

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Selected images from the book

and brief descriptions

 
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The evacuated masterpieces were spirited off to châteaux in the countryside of the Loire Valley. When Germany invaded France in the spring of 1940, as the Germans invaded France, thousands of items were rushed off once again, this time to the southwest of France. The move could keep the artworks safer from bombing, but not from the Germans. On June 30, 1940, Hitler ordered that all French state-owned art treasures were to be taken into custody. The French could only hold their breath and wonder what would happen next.  Image with permission Bundesarchiv

As war loomed over Europe in August 1939, the Louvre urgently evacuated almost 4,000 paintings and many more thousands of sculptures, antiquities and objets d'art. Workers rushed to bring items to designated triage areas where they were meticulously labeled, inventoried, packed and crated. Paintings were removed from their frames to reduce the volume for transport and storage. In the hurry to get the paintings on the road before Paris might be bombed, workers simply left the frames against walls and on the floor. 

Image with permission
 © Bibliothèque Kandinsky

 

Most paintings were rolled before being evacuated. Géricault's Raft of the Medusa, a giant 22 feet wide and 16 feet tall, could not be rolled since bitumen—used for making asphalt—was used in large areas of the painting to achieve a saturated black and it never dries. The painting was loaded onto a scenery trailer from the Comédie Française, making the combined height even higher. Utility workers traveled in front of the convoy to move overhead wires along the way. The evacuation went well until they reached Versailles, where the painting crashed into trolley wires, plunging the town into darkness and almost setting off a riot by terrified and angry residents.

Image with permission
Archives des Musées Nationaux


Mona Lisa was nestled into her custom-made, velvet-cushioned wooden case, wrapped and cushioned again, then set into the only crate marked with three red circles, indicating the highest priority of all.

 Image with permission
Archives des Musées nationaux

 

The evacuated masterpieces were spirited off to châteaux in the countryside of the Loire Valley. When Germany invaded France in the spring of 1940, thousands of items were rushed off once again, this time to the southwest of France. The move could keep the artworks safer from bombing, but not from the Germans. On June 30, 1940, Hitler ordered all French state-owned art treasures taken into custody. The French could only hold their breath and wonder what would happen next. 

                Image with permission © BPK, Berlin

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