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Monuments Men and the BMA

Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877), oil on canvas, 1876. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Birmingham Museum of Art Endowment for Acquisitions; Members of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Dr. and Mrs. David Sperling in honor of their friends; Mr. Arthur E. Curl, Jr. in memory of his beloved wife, Donnie; Illges-Chenoweth Foundation; Dr. and Mrs. Jack C. Geer; Mr. James E. Simpson; Mr. and Mrs. James A. Livingston, Jr.; Mrs. Evelyn Allen; Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Barker, Jr.; and Mr. and Mrs. Harold H. Goings.

Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877), oil on canvas, 1876. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Birmingham Museum of Art Endowment for Acquisitions; Members of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Dr. and Mrs. David Sperling in honor of their friends; Mr. Arthur E. Curl, Jr. in memory of his beloved wife, Donnie; Illges-Chenoweth Foundation; Dr. and Mrs. Jack C. Geer; Mr. James E. Simpson; Mr. and Mrs. James A. Livingston, Jr.; Mrs. Evelyn Allen; Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Barker, Jr.; and Mr. and Mrs. Harold H. Goings.

With the debut of the highly anticipated Hollywood movie Monuments Men, the Birmingham Museum of Art is proud to honor our close connection to this important historical event.

The Monuments men were a group of 350 men and women from thirteen nations, who volunteered for military service to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In civilian life, many were museum directors, curators, artists, architects and educators.

The first director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Richard Howard, was one of those heroes. He, along with many others, worked furiously and secretively to track, locate, and ultimately return more than 5 million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.

Among the objects rescued is a beloved piece that now hangs in European gallery at the Birmingham Museum of Art as part of our permanent collection. Entrée d’un Gave, 1876, by Gustave Courbet, is a stunning landscape painting, renowned for the artist’s use of texture and visual drama. In the painting, Courbet recalls the striking topography of his native region in eastern France, as he created the piece while living in political exile on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The piece became a part of the Museum’s collection in 1999.

Although we can’t be sure that Richard Howard had direct interaction with our piece in particular, we are honored to have a permanent reminder of his and others unprecedented contribution in preserving some of the world’s most precious cultural treasures.