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The memory of Rose Valland

Rose Valland

Conservation Officer at the Jeu de Paume Museum, dedicated since 1932 to contemporary foreign schools, Rose Valland, like all national museum staff, contributes to the safety of museum works threatened by the imminence of the global conflict.

She was then, from November 1940, the rebellious witness of the looting organized by the Nazis who made transit through its museum, requisitioned for this use, the works stolen from Jewish and Freemason families before sending them to Germany where they came to enrich the collections of the Führer, Goering or German museums.

Powerless to prevent this regulated cutting of the French artistic heritage, Rose Valland nevertheless managed to remain in her post during the four years of occupation, to establish in extremely perilous conditions the detailed lists of the works that she saw scrolling through the galleries. venues and find their destination in Germany.

This information, transmitted regularly to the Directorate of National Museums, will prove to be crucial in establishing a post-war recovery strategy.

At the Liberation, Rose Valland became secretary of the Artistic Recovery Commission then, contracting an engagement within the French First Army, left for Germany with the rank of captain. It is then responsible for finding, in conjunction with the Allies, the pieces belonging to French collections and ensuring their return.

Around 60,000 works of art are estimated to have been repatriated to France, by the Commission for Artistic Recovery and the Allies, thanks to the work and dedication of Rose Valland.

Written in 1961, his testimony book, Le Front de l'art, received an unexpected media light and remained until the 1990s a reference on the history of the recovery of works of art.

The journey of an art historian

The childhood and years of apprenticeship of Rose Valland took place in the village of Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs (Isère), Grenoble and Lyon, where as a hardworking and determined student she trained in teaching and Fine arts.

The discovery of her student work, of her paintings, attest to the artistic qualities of the young girl. This practice will be invaluable to him as part of his scientific training, allowing him to judge works of art with a particular skill.

The tenacity which she shows throughout her studies indeed pushes Rose Valland to enrich her course with a solid training in art history which will soon lead the young provincial, that her social origins rather destined for a career of teacher, working in an important Parisian museum.

After Lyon, the École des Beaux-arts de Paris, the École du Louvre, the Institute of Art and Archeology and the Practical School of Advanced Studies will witness a university career, leading to numerous diplomas.

One of its most eminent masters, Henri Focillon, described it in 1936 as follows:
"It is a distinguished spirit, firm, open and well gifted for our studies", when Gabriel Millet underlines his disinterested dedication: "she loves her task, she is one of those on whom we can count" he wrote. in a letter of recommendation.

A conservation attaché on the eve of the conflict

In 1932, Rose Valland joined the Jeu de Paume museum as a volunteer attaché. Located at the forefront of contemporary art, the museum multiplied its exhibitions and acquired in these thirties, marked by the initiatives of the Popular Front, a certain notoriety.

France, in 1936, prepared for war and the world of museums, under the leadership of the Minister of National Education and Fine Arts, Jean Zay, drew up a plan to protect works of art.

Its spectacular performance will be orchestrated by Jacques Jaujard, future director of the national museums, a man of experience, who had actively participated in the rescue plan for the Prado's works during the Spanish Civil War.

Lists of castles, monasteries or abbeys that can accommodate public collections are drawn up, evacuation plans and routes are defined.

Some large private collections are planned to be accommodated in the places of refuge of the national collections. The departure of the first convoy of works from the Louvre took place in September 1938, a year later, thanks to incredible logistics, around forty trucks left Paris.

From the Jeu de Paume museum, Rose Valland, like hundreds of men and women, takes part in this endeavor.

Rose Valland in the Occupied Jeu de Paume: Fine Arts and War

German troops entered Paris on June 14, 1940. Firmly determined to remain at her post, Rose Valland was unaware of the plan long imagined by the Nazis to seize works of art from the occupied territories of the West: Luxembourg , Belgium, the Netherlands and of course France.

As soon as he took power in 1933, Adolf Hitler made the arts a major issue in National Socialist politics.

Anxious to impose the aesthetics of the Third Reich, he denounces modern art qualified as "degenerate" and purges German museums of its presence. The condemned works are destroyed, as during the Berlin autodafé of March 20, 1939, or sold for foreign currency to supply the Party coffers.

The conquered countries are considered as a formidable reservoir of works capable of nourishing the ambitions of the Führer. Hitler is indeed considering the creation of a gigantic Museum of Fine Arts in Linz, Austria.

To feed its collections, the Nazi cultural services under the orders of Goebbels draw up a catalog of claims for cultural objects of Germanic origin, known as the Kümmel report.

The Jewish and Freemason collections, for their part, were the object of a systematic plunder operated by the service of Alfred Rosenberg, the ERR, which chose the Jeu de Paume as the seat of its operations.

It is therefore by chance that Rose Valland is at the heart of the vast enterprise of spoliation of French artistic heritage, the museum becoming the sorting center for works that are destined in particular for the Adolf Hitler museum, for the personal collection. Hermann Goering or German museums.

Rose Valland immediately after the war

Immediately after the war, the search for works of art taken to Germany was entrusted to the Commission for artistic recovery (CRA), created on November 24, 1944 at the instigation of the Ministry of National Education. Its mission is to study the problems linked to the recovery of objects and works of art and to collect, in close collaboration with the Office for the Recovery of Property, the declarations of the looted owners.

The secretariat of the Commission is entrusted to Rose Valland. This position is rightfully her responsibility given the important documentation she collected during the Occupation.

Lists of works, lists of owners, location of deposits in Germany, this information transmitted to the Allied armies will make it possible to safeguard hidden deposits threatened by military operations.

Later, appointed lieutenant then captain in the French Army, Rose Valland became the liaison agent between the CRA and the French government in the occupation zone in Germany.

"Rude and determined", these two adjectives attributed to her by the American fine arts officer James J. Rorimer, fully characterize the action of Rose Valland.

The decree of September 30, 1949 put an end to the activities of the Commission for artistic recovery. Its action, combined with the efforts of the Allies, made it possible to find around 60,000 works of art, the vast majority of them from Germany and Austria.

In 1950, the number of works of art returned to their rightful owners stood at 45,000

A shared experience

Arrived at the age of maturity, Rose Valland receives recognition from the Nation and its supervisory administration, the Ministry of National Education and Fine Arts.

The long-awaited obtaining of the status of curator, in 1952, consolidates her position within a profession that she has always wanted to integrate, while her action in favor of the recovery of works of art and the safety of the collections is enhanced through the new missions entrusted to it.

In the context of the Cold War, the experience of the Second World War indeed serves to design new rescue plans for artistic heritage threatened by the possibility of a new conflict.

Like Jacques Jaujard in 1939, Rose Valland was responsible for setting up an evacuation plan for masterpieces from French museums. This measure is part of the international agreement of The Hague on the protection of artistic property (1907).

The 1961 publication of Front de l'art, in which Rose Valland retraces the history of the rescue of private collections from Jewish families, helps to publicize this woman who had remained in the shadows until then.

The book is very well received in the press. Critics are unanimous in praising the objectivity of tone. The events recounted highlight the bitter struggle of the services of the national museums in the face of German demands.

Retired from 1968, Rose Valland tirelessly continued to work on the classification of the archives of the Commission for artistic recovery, today improperly called the “Rose Valland fund”.

In October 1979, she donated her personal archives to the Réunion des Musées Nationaux.

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