The Monuments Men

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Louis Jacob Florus Wijsenbeek ( 1912-1985 )

Louis Jacob Florus Wijsenbeek was a prominent Dutch art historian and museum director. Born in 1912 the eldest son of the first Jewish notary in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Wijsenbeek hoped to inherit his father’s successful practice. Although he studied law at Leiden University, his interests later shifted to art. He completed a doctoral degree in art history from Utrecht University before beginning his museum career at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (The Hague Municipal Museum).

Following the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, the Nazis purged the Dutch museums of all staff members with Jewish ancestry. Dismissed from his post, Wijsenbeek became a volunteer teacher at the Jewish Lyceum in Amsterdam, a school for Jewish children no longer allowed to attend their original schools. There, he may have met Anne and Margot Frank, who were students at the school. Beginning in 1943, Wijsenbeek was imprisoned by the Nazis, first at Scheveningen prison (commonly referred to as Oranjehotel, near The Hague), and later at Westerbork concentration camp.

Soon after the liberation of Westerbork in April 1945, Wijsenbeek was recruited by the newly-established Stichting Nederlandish Kunstbezit (the Foundation for Netherlands Artistic Property), the organization tasked by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Fine Arts, and Science to recover looted Dutch cultural property. He worked first at headquarters in Amsterdam before joining the MFAA as a Dutch Art Expert. For the next two years, Wijsenbeek identified and recovered Dutch-owned works of art, archives, furniture, and cultural objects at repositories and collecting points throughout Austria. He interrogated multiple individuals regarding the locations of looted art, including Rose Bauer, secretary of prominent Nazi art dealer Dr. Kajetan Mühlmann.

Wijesenbeek remained an active participant in the Dutch restitution effort until September 1947, when he returned to the Netherlands as Director of the Museum Het Prinsenhof in Delft. In 1951 he began a successful tenure as Director of The Hague Municipal Museum, which spanned over twenty years. In addition to many successful exhibitions, he was instrumental in securing for the museum the collection of Salomon B. Slijper, the foremost collector of the works of Piet Mondrian. As a result, The Hague Municipal Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Mondrian paintings.

Louis Wijsenbeek died in Munich, Germany in 1985.