Hubert de Brye (1900-1982)
Born in Evreux, France on July 11, 1900, Hubert de Brye was a connoisseur of eighteenth-century French paintings.
During World War II, de Brye served as a Capitaine (Captain) in the French Army. In August 1945 he was nominated by the Director of the Reparations and Restitution Division of the French Group- Control Commission, and the Commission Récupération Artistique (French Commission for Art Recovery), to serve as the official French representative at the Munich Central Collecting Point. He was attached to the French Liaison Mission at U.S. Third Army Headquarters in mid-September, and arrived at the collecting point on September 27, 1945. De Brye was responsible for arranging transport for the restitution shipments of looted objects stolen from French collections by the Nazis. Upon his arrival in Munich, he was assigned a private office and sorting room as well as a personal assistant/curator to aid in the examination and classification of French-owned works of art.
Meticulous notes supplied by de Brye’s colleague at the Commission Récupération Artistique, Capt. Rose Valland, acted as a “treasure map” for the MFAA’s discovery of Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps in early May 1945. As the central German depot for art and other objects looted from France by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR, the task force commissioned by Adolf Hitler to plunder art including works destined for his planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria), the discovery was an important step forward in the recovery of looted French art.
Hidden inside the castle were thousands of the greatest treasures stolen from private collectors and art dealers in France, many of whom were Jews. These included the Rothschild jewelry collection, silver from the David-Weill collection, and paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Fragonard, Watteau, Canaletto among other greats.
Hubert de Brye was the designated French art expert assigned to Monuments Man Capt. Edward E. Adams, Director of the MFAA evacuation team at Neuschwanstein. Upon his arrival, de Brye was confronted with an unprecedented collection of the same works of art he had devoted his academic career to studying. Adams noted in one of his field reports that, “Every time I wanted to talk to him [de Brye] I had to chase back to the stacks, where I was sure to find him admiring the Fragonards. He was especially fond of a picture of a sad looking cow.”
Because many of the objects found at Neuschwanstein Castle were still in the crates used by the ERR for shipment from Paris, de Brye and Adams were able to match markings to both Valland’s notes and the records of the ERR to confirm each crate’s origin. After months of work, the first twenty-one-car train containing 634 crates of looted works of art departed Neuschwanstein on October 25, 1945. A contingent of twenty French gendarms under the command of de Brye triumphantly escorted the train home to Paris. This initial shipment symbolized the first of many restitutions to France from Neuschwanstein and was a poignant reversal of the machinations of the ERR.
Hubert de Brye remained in residence at the Munich Central Collecting Point until January 1947. In addition to his continued work overseeing the restitution of French works of art, he attended multiple foreign conferences on behalf of the French Liaison Mission and the Commission Récupération Artistique.
He died in Blonay, Switzerland on October 22, 1982.
Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.