Last week, art detective and author Robert Edsel was at Crystal Bridges to give a public lecture about his book The Monuments Men. The book tells the heroic tale of the American soldiers who were assigned to rescuing the world’s art treasures from the hands of Adolf Hitler during World World II. While Mr. Edsel was touring the Museum on Saturday morning, he noticed Peonies in a Breeze, a painting by John LaFarge, in the Museum’s Late Nineteenth-Century Art Gallery. Edsel pointed out that this artist is also the father of Monuments Man Louis Bancel LaFarge. Both Bancel’s father and grandfather were American artists by the name of “John LaFarge.” Bancel was born in 1865 when John LaFarge II was 30. Mr. Edsel has kindly prepared the following fascinating information about Louis Bancel LaFarge to share with our blog readers. –LD
New York architect Bancel LaFarge served as Chief of the MFAA section of the Seventh Army under General Lucius Clay, Deputy Military Governor of Germany. Arriving the week after D-Day, LaFarge was the first Monuments officer in France. In his first assignment, he quickly covered the small amount of Allied territory around Bayeaux, assessing damage to monuments and works of art, and discovered that the famous Bayeaux Tapestry had been moved to the château at Sourches for safekeeping. In the months that followed, LaFarge recovered hundreds more artworks, oversaw the development of the Collecting Points in Munich and elsewhere, and supervised a staff of officers dedicated to the salvage of Europe’s cultural treasures.
As Chief of the MFAA, LaFarge also dealt with the insurgence of officers displeased with the American removal of 202 German-owned artworks from the Wiesbaden Collecting Point. 32 MFAA officers signed or supported the “Wiesbaden Manifesto,” as it became known; a document explaining why they thought the removal of the paintings would be highly unethical. LaFarge agreed with their sentiments, but tried to protect his officers by not releasing the document and taking full responsibility. Col. McBride, National Gallery of Art administrator, informed him that the officers would be court-martialed if they disobeyed the orders of Gen. Clay. In order to protect the paintings from damage that might be incurred by military personnel unfamiliar with handling such valuable objects, LaFarge eventually arranged for Monuments officer Lamont Moore to oversee the packing and shipment of the artworks. Although the works were removed and transported for “safekeeping” to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., they were nevertheless returned to Germany three years later.
Without doubt, the sentiments expressed in the Wiesbaden Manifesto combined with the united front of Monuments Men, including LaFarge, were responsible for the ultimate return of the paintings. For his service to the MFAA, LaFarge received honors from the United States, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands.
Additional information about LaFarge, and the other Monuments Men, can be found here.