History, art and war: secrets and discoveries

By Frank Bolger - Last update

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Great art never truly loses its appeal. And given the recent reports of an extraordinary discovery in Munich, nor does it lose its power to inspire reflection.

But while art can be viewed as a commentary on history in that it scrutinizes the concerns of the day – be they political, intellectual or cultural – the unearthing of 1,500 works of art in a Munich flat was illuminating for very different reasons. Though lost works by masters such as Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Toulouse-Lautrec were among the recovered pieces, the fact of their disappearance under Nazi rule will provide as much scope for reflection as will the art pieces themselves.

The works, which were seized by Nazi troops from both institutions and individuals alike across occupied countries including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia, were confiscated either for their purported ‘degeneracy’, for their value, or for the purpose satisfying Hitler’s desire to fill his Fuehrermuseum at Linz, Austria with the great paintings of the world.

The discovery of such a vast trove of stolen and hidden paintings offers a startling reminder of the comprehensive impact that the Second World War exerted, and continues to exert. However, it is not the only instance of its kind. It was only 5 years ago that the Austrian government revealed that it had more than 10,000 paintings and sculptures which had been hidden since 1945 in monasteries along the Danube and in state institutions.

Nor are such instances likely to be the last. In the words of one British expert, the recent hoard of art works merely represents ‘the tip of the iceberg’, despite the fact that the total estimated value stands at close to one billion euro. It seems that the War is not yet done giving up its secrets.



Frank Bolger

Knowing your limits, and learning to surpass them
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