The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University has lost an important member of its family.
Curator Nicole Atzbach (42 years-old) passed away on Saturday, November 4th, after a brief battle with ovarian cancer. The university made the announcement today after receiving permission to share the news from Atzbach’s family.
Atzbach joined the museum as Assistant Curator in March 2010. In 2012, she was promoted to curator. Before that, she worked as a curatorial assistant at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.
After her promotion at the Meadows Museum, director Mark A. Roglán stated, “Nicole has been an extremely valuable part of our team since joining the museum, making significant contributions to recent exhibitions . . . I look forward to her continued success with exhibitions, as well as her preparations for a forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the museum’s permanent collection.”
Atzbach made national headlines last year by solving a mystery surrounding two masterpieces in its collection – ‘Saint Justa’ and its companion piece, ‘Saint Rufina’ by Bartolome Esteban Murillo.
It was well-known for decades that each of the paintings had been stolen by Nazis during World War II. Each painting had “ERR numbers” – Hitler’s inventory codes – printed on the backs of their canvases. But no one could determine who the paintings belonged to prior to the theft. Atzbach wasn’t OK with this mystery.
She told WFAA that she just really wanted to know who the paintings belonged to, “Absolutely. They’re important works of art,” Atzbach said. “So, I figured there had to be a trail, so I went after it.”
Using clues from the ERR numbers and historical documents, Atzbach traced the paintings to Paris’ Rothschild family, specifically Antoinette Leonino. Leonino was a Rothschild and a famous art collector.
The code-cracking techniques that Atzbach used are still being used to discover other works that may have been stolen by Nazis and spread around the world.
Art&Seek first learned of Atzbach ‘s passing over the weekend. That’s when friends of the curator turned to social media to express the sadness they felt about her passing.
Photographer Tamytha Cameron said her heart was broken when she learned about Atzbach’s death, “There aren’t words to express how I feel and there aren’t words that will do justice to Nicole, to the beautiful person that she was, at least not words I can gather right now. I love you sweet friend. Our time was too short.”
Atzbach will be laid to rest in her hometown, Arvada, Colorado.