The Monuments Men

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John Weatherburn Goodison ( 1903-1993 )

Art historian and museum director, John Weatherburn Goodison was born in England on March 17, 1903. He attended King’s College, Cambridge University, completing a degree in Mechanical Sciences in 1925. In addition to performances with local theater groups, Goodison volunteered at the print room in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University. As the first junior graduate member of the museum’s staff, Goodison helped accession new objects added to the museum’s collection and gave tours to visitors. Overhearing one of these tours impressed the museum’s Director, Sydney Cockerell, who took Goodison under his wing and later promoted him to Assistant Marlay Curator.

Goodison enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1940 and was seconded to the British Army. In June 1944 he became the first Director of British monuments work in Austria. At British MFAA headquarters, he compiled official lists of protected monuments in Austria with corresponding maps supplied to the Royal Air Force. Although some larger towns sustained extensive bomb damage; historical monuments and collections in Austria were largely spared the level of destruction seen in other parts of Europe. In his 1946 pamphlet, Works of Art in Austria: Losses and Survivals in the War, Goodison credits the Austrian people, who evacuated movable objects to secret repositories and carefully bricked up what they were forced to leave behind. Goodison took up offices in Vienna in July 1945, directing the effort to locate and inspect these same repositories. Following the careful return of the objects to Austria, Goodison worked closely with Austrian museum officials and gallery owners, encouraging each institution to reopen its galleries to the public as soon as possible.

The damage to historical monuments in Vienna was more serious than in any other Austrian town. The Belvedere and the Palais Schwarzenberg suffered serious damage. Similarly, multiple light bombs hit Schloss Schönbrunn, littering its park with craters. The Monuments Men stationed in Austria undertook the emergency preservation of these buildings and others, repairing ceilings and restoring windows to protect valuable art from the elements. In less damaged buildings, they made regular inspections to prevent the billeting of Allied troops, whose presence oftentimes posed a danger to paintings and objets d’art. Goodison eventually requisitioned the use of the restored Schloss Schönbrunn as the headquarters of the British Element of the Allied Commission. He remained an integral part of the postwar restoration effort in Austria until 1946.

Upon his return to England, Goodison resumed his duties at the Fitzwilliam Museum and was soon promoted to Senior Keeper. During the 1950s, Goodison created a series of catalogues inventorying the vast number of portraits at Cambridge University. The first volume, Catalogue of Cambridge Portraits: The University Collection I was published in 1955. Goodison also edited a three-volume catalogue of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection. The second volume, Catalogue of Paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Italian School (1967) was a collaboration between Goodison and his close friend and colleague, fellow Monuments Man Giles H. Robertson. His other publications include Handbook to the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge (multiple editions, 1952-1964) and a monograph, Reynolds Stone: his early development as an engraver on wood (1947). Goodison became Deputy Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum upon the sudden death of Director Carl Winter in May 1966. After guiding the museum through an important transition period, he retired in 1968.

Goodison served as honorary Secretary to the Walpole Society and was elected Fellow of Darwin College and the Society of Antiquaries of London. He died in England on December 9, 1993.