With so many postings on the demise of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University (here and on Slow Painting) I have been thinking a lot about art ownership and how a work can take on a life of its own. In her scathing jeremaid about the Brandeis decision, Roberta Smith of the New York Times made the following comment:

The greater the art, the greater number of people “own” it. The greater its power, the more it expands our lives. In a just and moral society, art is crucial to our understanding of freedom, difference and individual agency.

So how fitting to watch the documentary about the pillage of art during World War II, The Rape of Europa. I had not fully comprehended the magnitude and scope of the Nazi art acquisition effort. Hundreds of thousands of works of art were moved by train and truck from France, Belgium, Poland and Italy to bunkers in the Alps, deep into salt mines, and to the Schloss Neuschwanstein castle cum art warehouse in Bavaria. While many were returned, the losses are staggering. And the film brings this too large to imagine tale to a human scale by highlighting the heroics of a few individuals who dedicated themselves to salvaging what could be salvaged. For anyone who is interested in the Western art canon, this is a fascinating and disturbing film.

Thank you to my early warning system for all things cinema, Teresa, for raving about this film when she saw it at a film festival in 2007. Now available on DVD, it is an easy Netflix rental.

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At Schloss Neuschwanstein in southern Bavaria, Captain James Rorimer supervises the safeguarding of art stolen from French Jews and stored during the war at the castle (April-May, 1945).

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