The Monuments Men

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Michel François ( 1906 - 1981 )

Professor and historian, Michel François was born in France in 1906. He studied history at the École Nationale des Chartes in Paris, graduating at the top of his class. François then completed a doctoral degree from the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris before utilizing his expertise in sixteenth-century history as an archivist in the manuscripts division of the National Library of France. In 1936 he joined the staff of the Archives nationales (National Archives of France) in Paris, working first as an archivist and later Associate Curator until he was drafted into the French Army in 1939.

In 1943 François was arrested for resistance and incarcerated in Fresnes Prison, located south of Paris. Following his release in January 1945, he was seconded to the Military Government of the French Zone of Occupation in Baden-Baden, Germany. As Chief of the Fine Arts Section of the Directorate of Public Education, François worked closely with the Monuments Men to secure the return of looted French-owned works of art. In addition to frequent trips to repositories for looted art as well as the Munich Central Collecting Point, François maintained close correspondence with Monuments Men Lt. Theodore A. Heinrich, Chief of the MFAA Section of the Office of Military Government for Hesse, regarding inter-zonal exchanges of cultural property. He remained a commanding presence in the effort to locate and return French-owned works of art until at least July 1948.

Upon his return to France, François resumed his duties as Associate Curator at the Archives nationales. He also served as Professor of Medieval History at the Catholic Institute of Paris and President of the Société des antiquaires de France. In 1953 he returned to his alma mater, the École Nationale des Chartes, first as Professor of History and later as President. François held other prominent positions at some of France’s most notable historical institutions, including Secretary of the Société de l'histoire de France (Society of French History), and President of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Between 1970 and 1976, François gave lectures on medieval and French history at the École Nationale des Chartes, the Sorbonne, and the Institute of France.

In addition, François received many prestigious appointments, including memberships to the National Center of Scientific Research, the Institute of France, and the French School of Rome. He served as Secretary General of the International Committee for Historical Sciences and editor of Publication Internationale des Sciences Historiques (International Publication of Historical Sciences). A prolific researcher and writer, his published works include Histoire des comtes et du comté de Vaudémont (1935; The History of the Earls and of the County of Vaudémont) and Le Cardinal François de Tournon, home d’Etat, diplomate, mécène et humaniste, 1489-1562 (1951; The Cardinal François de Tournon, Head of State, Diplomat, Philanthropist, and Humanist, 1489-1562).

Michel François died suddenly in Paris in July 1981.