|Born||James Joseph Rorimer
September 7, 1905
|Died||May 11, 1966
New York, NY
|Spouse(s)||Katherine Serrell (m. 1942; 2 children)|
James Joseph Rorimer (September 7, 1905 – May 11, 1966), was an American museum curator and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was a primary force behind the creation of the Cloisters, a branch of the museum dedicated to the art and architecture of Medieval Europe. During World War II, Rorimer served in the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, a.k.a. the "Monuments Men," protecting cultural sites and recovering stolen art work.
Early life and work
Rorimer was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 7, 1905, the son of Edith (née Joseph) and Louis Rorimer. His family was Jewish, and their surname had originally been "Rohrheimer". He attended high school at the University School in Cleveland. He spent 1920–1922 studying at the Ecole Gory in Paris before returning to complete his studies in the United States at Harvard University. At Harvard he studied under the museologist Paul J. Sachs and the art historian Walter Cooke.
In 1927 Rorimer graduated from Harvard, magna cum laude, with a degree in fine arts. He was immediately hired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, beginning a career with the Met that would last his entire adult life. From his initial position as an assistant in the Decorative Arts department he quickly rose through the ranks to become Curator of Medieval Art in 1934. Having worked closely with the previous curator, his mentor Joseph Breck, Rorimer used his new role to continue Breck's most important project: the planning and construction of the Cloisters, the new medieval extension to the Met.
In 1938 the Cloisters opened and Rorimer was named its curator, a position which brought with it new duties as fundraiser and developer for the new collection. Among the pieces purchased by Rorimer for the Cloisters are many of the collection's modern-day "signature works", including the Unicorn Tapestries.
In 1942 Rorimer married Katherine Serrell. They had two children, Anne and Louis.
World War II
Rorimer's career at the Met was interrupted by the United States' entry into World War II, and he signed up as an infantryman in the United States Army in 1943. He was soon appointed to a job more suited to his specialized skills, as an officer of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section (MFAA) in Normandy and Paris, and, later, in Germany.
While in Paris, Rorimer had an auspicious encounter with Rose Valland, an art historian and employee of the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume. During the German occupation of France, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce—the Nazi organization in charge of the systematic looting of art and cultural artifacts—designated the Jeu de Paume museum as the central location for storing and sorting their stolen treasures. Valland was the only member of the museum’s original staff retained by the Nazis. She spied on the Nazis, who did not realize that she spoke German, and kept detailed records on the transportation of artwork stolen by members of the Third Reich. She passed information on to the French Resistance and to Rorimer.
While in Germany, Rorimer was promoted to chief of the MFAA Section of the Seventh Army Western Military District, where he was tasked to uncover and preserve significant works of art stolen by the Nazis. By all accounts he relished his role as one of the "Monuments Men," and was responsible for seizing the art collections of both Göring and Goebbels.
After the war, Rorimer returned to the Met and to a new position (in 1949) as Director of the Cloisters, reporting directly to the Met's director, Francis Henry Taylor. In 1950, James published the account of his tour in World War II in "Survival: The salvage and protection of art in war." On Taylor's resignation in 1954, Rorimer was placed on the short list of candidates to fill his role, and he became director of the museum eight months later in 1955. As director, Rorimer proved to be a capable administrator, though his directorship was plagued by contentious battles with trustees and the museum's staff. Nonetheless, the Met acquired many new and significant works during his eleven-year tenure, including Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer, and attendance at the museum tripled from 2 million to 6 million visitors annually. In September and October 1965, under Rorimer's leadership, the Museum hosted the first International Council of Museums annual meeting to be held outside of Europe.
Rorimer died in his sleep on May 11, 1966, of a heart attack.
- James Rorimer. 'Survival: the salvage and protection of art in war. Abelard Press, 1950.
- Dictionary of Art Historians page on James J. Rorimer
- Thomas Hoving. Making the Mummies Dance. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
- Rorimer, J.J. (1950). Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War. Abelard Press. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: RORIMER, LOUIS". ech.case.edu. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- Piña, L.A. (1990). Louis Rorimer: a man of style. Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873384186. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "James J. Rorimer papers, 1923-1982". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- "The James J. Rorimer Papers, 1927-1966". Cloisters Archives Collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Ueno, Rihoko. "Artful Collaborators: James J. Rorimer and Rose Valland". Archives of American Art Blog. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Finding aid for the The Metropolitan Museum of Art records regarding International Council of Museums, 1951-1965, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
- PBS (WNET, New York): "The Rape of Europa." November 24, 2008.
- The James J. Rorimer Papers, 1927-1966 from The Cloisters Library and Archives
- James J. Rorimer Records at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives
- James J. Rorimer Papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
- World War II “Monuments Men” Archival Collections at the Archives of American Art - online exhibition, includes digitized items from Rorimer's papers
Francis Henry Taylor
Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art