Rose Valland

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Rose Valland
Rose Valland.jpg
Rose Antonia Maria Valland

(1898-11-01)1 November 1898
Died18 September 1980(1980-09-18) (aged 81)
EducationÉcole nationale des beaux-arts de Lyon (1922)
École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts (1925)
École du Louvre (1931)
University of Paris
Collège de France
OccupationMuseum curator
Known forCommission for the Recovery of Works of Art
AwardsLégion d'honneur;
Commandeur of the Order of Arts and Letters;
Médaille de la Résistance;
Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit;
Medal of Freedom

Rose Antonia Maria Valland (1 November 1898 – 18 September 1980) was a French art historian, member of the French Resistance, captain in the French military, and one of the most decorated women in French history. She secretly recorded details of the Nazi plundering of National French and private Jewish-owned art from France; and, working with the French Resistance, she saved thousands of works of art.[1]

Early life[edit]

Valland was born in Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, Isère, the daughter of a blacksmith. Like many gifted pupils from humble backgrounds, she received a scholarship to an école normale, a teacher school. She graduated in 1918, with the plan of becoming an art teacher. She studied art at the École nationale des beaux-arts de Lyon, graduating in 1922. Valland then topped the competitive exam for art teacher training and underwent two years of training at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris, graduating in 1925. Afterward, she became a high school drawing teacher, but began to study art history at the École du Louvre and the University of Paris. She graduated in 1933 with a special diploma from the École du Louvre, and engaged in graduate studies at the Collège de France. In 1932, Valland became a volunteer assistant curator at the Jeu de Paume Museum.

World War II[edit]

Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume

In 1941, during World War II, Valland was put in paid service and became the overseer of the Jeu de Paume Museum at the time of the German occupation of France.[2] Through the "Special Staff for Pictorial Art" (Sonderstab Bildende Kunst) of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die besetzten Gebiete (The Reich Leader Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories), or ERR, the Germans began the systematic looting of artworks from museums and private art collections throughout France. They used the Jeu de Paume Museum as their central storage and sorting depot pending distribution to various persons and places in Germany.[1]

While the Nazi plundering was being carried out, Rose Valland began secretly recording as much as possible of the more than 20,000 pieces of art brought to the Jeu de Paume Museum. Valland kept secret from the Germans the fact that she understood German.[3] In fact, she never formally studied the language, but some trips in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s had helped her to get a good grasp of a then widely used scholarly language. Valland would converse with truck drivers employed by the Germans, and she was thus able to learn about artwork being ransacked and taken directly to the railway stations. Valland regularly informed Jacques Jaujard, the Director of the Musėes Nationaux, about the status of Nazi art looting.[2] In addition, for four years she kept track of where and to whom in Germany the artworks were shipped and risked her life to provide information to the French Resistance[4] about railroad shipments of art so that they would not mistakenly blow up the trains loaded with France's priceless treasures. The museum was visited by high-ranking Nazi officials, and Valland was there when Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring came on 3 May 1941 to personally select some of the stolen paintings for his own private collection.[1]

Train 40044[edit]

On 1 August 1944, a few weeks before the Liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 Valland learned that Baron Kurt von Behr, the head of the ERR in France was planning to remove to Germany as much artwork as he could including many of the modern paintings which they had hitherto neglected. Valland learnt that the trucks which had collected the artworks were heading to the Aubervilliers train station on the outskirts of Paris. By the 2 August 1944, 148 crates of paintings containing in total 967 paintings, including works by Braque, Cezanne, Degas, Dufy, Gauguin, Modigliani, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and Urtillo had been loaded on five goods wagons waiting to be hooked up to another 48 goods wagons containing confiscated furniture and personal possessions of deported citizens. [5][6] Fortunately, these other goods wagons hadn’t yet been loaded which meant the train never left the station on schedule.

Valland was able to give a copy of the Nazi shipment order to Jaujard, which listed the train and goods wagon numbers, the contents of each crate and the destination of each goods wagon (either to Kogl Castle at Sankt Georgen im Attergau in Austria and the Nikolsburg depository in Moravia.)[5][7]This information Jaujard passed on to the Resistance. By the 10 August, the train was ready to depart but by then the French railway workers were on strike. However, two days later the tracks were cleared and being delayed by higher priority trains carrying fleeing Germans and their personal possessions the train which had the designation 40044 departed hauling a total of 53 wagons. The overloaded train reached Le Bourget before it suffered a mechanical breakdown. By the time the Germans had fixed the problem 48 hours later, the French Resistance had derailed two trains which blocked the tracks up ahead leaving the train stranded at Aulany-sous-Bois. [8]

Following the arrival of the Second Armored Division of the French Army in Paris a small detachment under the command of lieutenant André Rosenberg (the son of exiled art dealer Paul Rosenberg was sent on the 27 August to check out and secure the train.[6] After ejecting some old German soldiers who were escorting the shipment they opened up some of the crates and found many paintings which Rosenberg had last seen hanging on the walls of his family’s apartment in Paris. [1] [6] Finding two crates pillaged and an entire collection of silvers missing it was arranged for 36 crates to be sent to the Louvre for safekeeping. However to Valland’s frustration it was another two months before the remainder of the crates were removed from the train and transferred to a secure location.[5]

Post World War II[edit]

Memorial plaque at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume

Following the liberation of Paris by the Allied Forces, Valland because she had been employed at Jeu de Paume was initially arrested as a suspected Nazi collaborationist.[7] She was soon released once her conduct had been vouched for.

Trusting no one but Jaujard she initially hesitated to share her records. Put in touch with her by Jaujard it took months of relationship building by Captain James Rorimer of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program to get her to agree to turn over her most important records. The information Valland was able to supply lead to the discovery of multiple repositories of looted art in Southern Germany, most prominently at Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps, where more than twenty thousand works of art and cultural objects were found. She oversaw the return of 1,400 crates of artwork from Neuschwanstein Castle direct to the Jeu de Paume. Valland’s records would later assist in speeding up the return of looted artworks to their rightful owners. To assist in her efforts to locate and return stolen works of art to France, Valland applied for and received a commission first as a lieutenant and then captain in French First Army on 4 May 1945. She served in Germany for eight years, initially as a member of the "Commission for the Recovery of Works of Art" (Commission de Récupération Artistique) where she was the liaison with the French government of the occupation zone in Germany.[2]

Displaying initiative Valland approached German military staff (whose names she had recorded while at the Jeu de Paume) and was able to confirm the location of several additional previously unknown repository sites. Valland was a witness[8] at the Nuremberg trials in February 1946 where she confronted Hermann Goering about the artworks he had stolen. In 1946 Valland was put in charge of the Fine Arts activities for the French Oversight Board where she assisted in the recovery of numerous paintings, sculptures, precious coins, and tapestries belonging to France. It is estimated that due to the efforts of Valland approximately 60,000 works of art were able to located by the Commission de Récupération Artistique and the Allies with three-quarters of them returned to France before 1950, according to a 2013 report to the French Senate. [9][10]

Upon her return to France in 1953, Valland was appointed a conservator of the French Musées Nationaux and in 1954 was named Chair of the "Commission for the Protection of Works of Art" (Chef du Service de protection des oeuvres d'art). In 1961, she wrote about her wartime experiences in a book published under the title, Le front de l'art (republished in 1997). Valland retired in 1968, but continued to work on restitution matters for the French archives. Her valour and dedication resulted in numerous awards from her own and other countries. From the French government Valland received the Légion d'honneur, was made a Commandeur of the Order of Arts and Letters and awarded the Médaille de la Résistance.[1] Following its creation in 1951, Valland received the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.[2] The United States awarded Valland the Medal of Freedom in 1948.[2]

Valland died in 1980 and was buried in her hometown of Saint-Etienne-de-Saint-Geoirs.[2] Place Rose Vallend, the central square in Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs was renamed after Valland in 2003. The Collège Rose Valland at 1 rue Pierre de Coubertin in her home town is also named in her honor. The Association de la Mémoire de Rose Valland which was established to honor her memory is based on Place Rose Valland in her hometown.[11][12]

On the initiative of the Association de la Mémoire de Rose Valland a commemorative plaque honoring Valland was unveiled on 25 April 2005 on the façade of the Jeu de Paume.

A stamp was released by the French postal service in her honor in 2018.

The French Ministry of Culture and Communication (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication) has a web portal, called Site Rose Valland Service des musées de France which lists recovered artworks held in French national museums.

Personal life[edit]

Following the end of the Second World War Valland began a relationship with Joyce Helen Heer (1917-1977), a Liverpool born secretary-interpreter at the Embassy of the United States. The two women shared an apartment on rue de Navarre in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. The relationship ended upon Heer’s death of breast cancer whereupon she was interred in Valland’s family vault. [6][13][14]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1964 John Frankenheimer film The Train was loosely based on her book, and includes a character named "Mlle Villard".[15] Valland's role in preserving the stolen art was discussed as part of the book and documentary, The Rape of Europa.[16]

In 2006, Valland was the subject of Corinne Bouchoux's biography "Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum."[17]

Rose Valland is a character in the 2014 novel Portrait of a Woman in White, by Susan Winkler. The book tells the story of Nazi art looting in France and a French art-collecting family.

In Sara Houghteling's novel, Pictures at an Exhibition (2009), the character of Rose Clément is based on Rose Valland.[18] In 2009 Valland was also one of the main subjects of Robert M. Edsel's book "The Monuments Men," which would later serve as the basis of the 2014 film of the same name.[19]

Valland was an inspiration for the character of Claire Simone, portrayed by Cate Blanchett in the George Clooney-directed film The Monuments Men, released in February 2014.[20]

She is also mentioned in the French thriller L'Antiquaire.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Riding, Alan (2010). And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26897-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Rose Valland" Monuments Men Foundation, Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  3. ^ Mashberg, Tom. "Not All Monuments Men Were Men" The New York Times, Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  4. ^ "On the Trail of Lost Art: A Conversation with Lynn H. Nicholas". Humanities, September/October 2000, Volume 22/Number 3. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  5. ^ a b c Edsel, Robert M.; Witter, Bret (2009). The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. New York: Center Street. ISBN 978-1-59995-150-8.
  6. ^ a b c d Sebba, Anne (2016). Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-87097-5.
  7. ^ a b Ross, Stew (February 4, 2017). "The Monuments Woman". Stew Ross Discovers. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Drake, David (2015). Paris at War: 1939-1944. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 425. ISBN 978-0-674-50481-3.
  9. ^ "Rose Valland". 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  10. ^ "The tricky process of returning Nazi-looted art". France 24. October 2, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  11. ^ "L'espionne Du Jeu De Paume". L'Association La Mémoire de Rose Valland. 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  12. ^ "The tricky process of returning Nazi-looted art". France 24. October 2, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Sprang, Philippe (February 14, 2014). "Rose Valland, un chef-d'œuvre de Résistance". Paris Match. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  14. ^ Schwartz, Claire (2016). "Saving a Bit of Beauty for the World - Retelling the Story of Rose Valland" (PDF). Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  15. ^ Hoffman, Jordan. "Monuments Men: A Story So Good, Burt Lancaster Told It 50 Years Ago" Vanity Fair, Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  16. ^ Feeney, Mark. "Riveting Stories about Nazi plundering of Art" The Boston Globe, Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  17. ^ "Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum" Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  18. ^ Atwood, Roger. "Book Review: 'Pictures at an Exhibition' by Sara Houghteling" The Washington Post, Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  19. ^ "The Monuments Men". 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
  20. ^ Reed, Rex. "The Monuments Men Is One Hell of a Monumental Film" New York Observer, Retrieved 20 March 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bouchoux, Corinne. Rose Valland: résistance au musée. La Crèche: Geste, 2006. ISBN 2-845-61236-2 OCLC 65630980 In French
  • Catel, Emmanuelle Polack, and Claire Bouilhac. Rose Valland. [Marcinelle (Belgique)]: Dupuis, 2009. ISBN 2-800-14552-8 OCLC 690669894 In French.
  • Edsel, Robert M., and Bret Witter. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. New York: Center Street, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59995-150-8 OCLC 317118312
  • Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Viking Press, 1980. ISBN 0-679-75686-8 OCLC 779411555

External links[edit]