Gaile Robinson has a fascinating story in today’s Star-Telegram about the provenance of the Kimbell’s exquisite terra cotta bust of Renaissance art patron Isabella d’Este (once attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, now attributed to Gian Cristoforo Romano).
Turns out, two years ago, Robert Edsel — the Dallas author of Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men, both books about the Allied efforts to retrieve artworks looted by the Nazis — called Kimbell director Eric Lee. Edsel had found strong, photographic evidence indicating that the statue was once part of the collection that was destined to join the infamous Fuhrer museum, where the Nazis planned to showcase all their pillaged masterpieces. Taken by the Monuments Men, the American team that attempted to recover and return the thousands of artworks amid the confusion of postwar Europe, the photo showed the bust being hauled out of the Aultasee salt mine, where the Nazi plunder had been stashed.
It’s not the first time the Kimbell has learned one of its works was Nazi loot, but in this case, when the Kimbell bought Isabella in 2004, the provenance (the history of ownership and sales) showed it had been owned by the Lanz family in Amsterdam between 1910 and 1973.
So what had happened during World War II?
The key information had to be in the ‘property index cards’ — the records kept by the Monuments Men. Like the history behind the stolen artworks Edsel found in the Meadows Art Museum’s collection, it’s a complicated story but well worth reading. We get a sense of just how intricate the entire issue of rightful ownership is — when it comes to global warfare, shifting political boundaries and the entire industry of patronage and museum purchases.