The Monuments Men

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George Stout ( 1897-1978 )

A veteran of World War I and well-known expert on art conservation techniques at Harvard, George Stout played a lead role in working to protect European artworks and monuments during World War II. He learned from his professional contacts in Europe that museums and institutions were evacuating and safeguarding their holdings. Stout composed a pamphlet for American museum officials detailing proper safeguarding techniques for their collections. Along with colleagues at Harvard, Stout helped establish the American Defense Harvard Group, which was instrumental in the formation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, later known as the Roberts Commission.

Stout was one of first members appointed to the MFAA, which had been established by the Roberts Commission and charged with protecting art and monuments on the ground in Europe. He also wrote a manual with his Harvard colleague W.G. Constable, entitled Brief Manual of Safeguarding and Conservation in the Field. Along with New York architect Bancel La Farge, Stout was one of the first Monuments Men to go ashore at Normandy. As the Allies marched through France and Germany, he was on the front lines as Monuments Man for Twelfth Army Group, helping to rescue cultural treasures in places like Caen, Maastricht, Aachen, and in repositories in Siegen, Heilbronn, Cologne, Merkers, and Alt Aussee. The significance of George Stout to the MFAA and to the preservation of Europe’s cultural patrimony cannot be overstated. According to official military papers, he was “motivated by the urgency of his task, he spent almost all of his time alone in the field, disregarding comfort and personal convenience…his relationship with the many tactical units with whom he worked were managed with unfailing tact and skillful staff work.”

He departed Europe at the end of July, 1945, and in October was sent to Japan, where he had volunteered his services as a Monuments Officer. He became Chief of the Arts and Monuments Division at Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Tokyo, and remained there through mid-1946. For his work in Europe, Stout received the Bronze Star Medal, and also the Army Commendation Medal.

A native of Winterset, Iowa, Stout was a research fellow at Harvard before the war, where he earned his Master’s degree in 1928 and was head of the conservation department at the University’s Fogg Art Museum from 1933. He resumed that position after the war, until 1947 when he became director of the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA. Stout left Worcester in 1954 and in 1955 became director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where he remained until 1970.