The Monuments Men

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Keith Merrill ( 1887-1959 )

Keith Merrill served in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II. He became involved with the MFAA in 1945 when the United States made the controversial decision to ship German owned paintings from the Wiesbaden Collecting Point to Washington. A native of Minneapolis, Merrill graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School, and served in the National Guard from 1915 to 1917. He then entered consular service with the Department of State, assigned to posts in London, Madrid, and Sydney, Nova Scotia. In 1924 he returned to Washington, later becoming Chief of the Foreign Buildings Office. He left the Department of State in 1937, and the following year became secretary-treasurer of the construction firm John W. Harris Associates, working out of their New York office. He remained in New York until 1941.

Merrill joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942 as assistant to the Navy liaison officer to the Board of Economic Warfare. In 1945 he transferred to the Foreign Economic Administration, assigned to the headquarters of the United States European Theater in Frankfurt. That same year he was recruited to assist with preparation and shipment of 202 German-owned paintings to Washington for safekeeping, serving as deputy to Lieutenant Lamont Moore of the MFAA, and joined by Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander John H. Rhodes. The paintings arrived at the National Gallery on December 8, 1945. They remained there in storage until 1948, when they began an exhibition tour of thirteen American museums.

After the first exhibit closed at the National Gallery in May, fifty-two of the most delicate panels were shipped back to Germany, followed by another fifty-four in September, and the remainder in March, 1949. Merrill, who had been discharged from the Reserve in 1946, was recalled to active duty to oversee and accompany each of these shipments, as well as two others that were loaned by foreign governments in appreciation of the U.S. efforts in Europe. The first was Michelangelo’s statue, the David-Apollo, which was loaned to the National Gallery by the Italian government. He handled delivery to the National Gallery in 1948, then returned it to Italy the following year. From Italy he traveled to London to coordinate a shipment of artwork from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and in May of 1952 returned the works to Bremerhaven. This was his last service to the U.S. military before final retirement.

After the war, Merrill was an active trustee of The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, to which he donated 225 rare and historic books from his personal collection. During their years of travel and overseas posts, he and his wife Katherine built a collection of art that included paintings, sculpture, tapestries and enamels. Works from their collection were included in an exhibit at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1952, and were featured in an exhibition at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. in 1954. They donated engravings and other artwork by artists such as James McNeill Whistler and Augustus John to the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery, and aquatints by Arlent Edwards to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. On June 8, 1959 Keith Merrill passed away at Avalon, his home in the Prides Crossing section of Beverly, Massachusetts. He was 72 years of age.

*The Foundation wishes to express thanks to Kathleen Kenyon for her contribution to this biographical profile.