A look at a real man portrayed in 'Monuments Men'

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 5, 2014 at 5:48 pm •  Published: February 5, 2014
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DALLAS (AP) — As part of an Allied mission tasked with saving works of art during World War II, a homesick James Rorimer told his wife in a December 1944 letter from liberated Paris that he was working hard but worried about how much he was achieving.

"But I'm here to save works of art and that is what really matters," he wrote.

Rorimer, then 39 and a curator at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, went on to carry out his mission successfully, helping to discover where works of art looted by the Nazis were tucked away across Europe. He was a leading figure in a group of 350 men and women from Allied countries attached to the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section. In the new movie "The Monuments Men," Matt Damon portrays a character inspired by the real-life Rorimer, who died in 1966 at age 60.

"He was fighting for the art," said daughter Anne Rorimer.

His contributions included helping discover works of art looted from German museums that were stored in Germany's Heilbronn mines and helping to establish the Munich Collecting Point where works were received, processed and then restituted after the war.

The Monuments Men included architects, artists, curators and museum directors. The Harvard-educated Rorimer went on to become director of the Metropolitan Museum after the war.

Robert Edsel, the Dallas-based author who wrote the book the movie is based on, said Rorimer was "always a whirlwind of activity."

One of Rorimer's major feats was gaining the trust of Rose Valland, the French art expert who had been allowed to stay behind at Paris' Jeu de Paume after the Nazis made it the base for their looting operation. Valland, who unbeknownst to the Nazis spoke German, managed to keep track of where the works — most stolen from Jewish families in France — were being sent.

But Valland, who inspired the character played by Cate Blanchett, was not going to easily give up her information. Living in Nazi-occupied Paris had made her wary, even of her fellow countrymen, and she wanted to know that she was giving the information to someone who would help return the works to their rightful owners.

"Valland's watching everything that Rorimer's doing," said Edsel. "What evolves between the two of them is this dance ... She's testing him. She's trying to find out where his loyalties lie."

Rorimer was first introduced to Valland in fall 1944. Over the months, he earned her trust and by March 1945, when Rorimer was headed with the Army into southern Germany, she told him that Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps was the Nazi hideaway for about 21,000 items stolen from mostly Jewish collectors in France.