James J. Rorimer papers, 1921-1982, bulk 1943-1950

A Finding Aid to the James J. Rorimer Papers, 1921-1982, bulk 1943-1950, in the Archives of American Art, by Rihoko Ueno

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Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

James J. Rorimer (1905-1966) was a museum director and curator of medieval art working in New York City. Rorimer was the primary force and first director of The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During World War II, Rorimer served in the U.S. Army Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Section protecting cultural sites and recovering stolen art work.

James J. Rorimer was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1905 and attended the University School there until he left in 1921 in order to study abroad in Europe. He studied at the Ecole Gory in Paris for two years, then returned to the United States to finish his studies at the University School in Cleveland. In 1927, Rorimer graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. Soon after, he began working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where he worked his way up from a position as an assistant to Head Curator of Medieval Art, a position he filled from 1934 to 1955, director of The Cloisters, and eventually director and trustee of the museum.

Rorimer was heavily involved with the planning and development of The Cloisters, working closely with the architect Charles Collens. When The Cloisters opened in 1938, Rorimer worked there as a curator and later became the first director in 1949. During this time, Rorimer developed a professional relationship with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated to New York City a large tract of land, a portion of which was given to the Metropolitan Museum as a location to build The Cloisters. The Cloisters' collections evolved into a world renown collection of medieval art under Rorimer's curatorship and directorship.

As the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1955-1966, Rorimer nearly doubled membership and attendance, raised a substantial amount of endowment funding, renovated almost half of the galleries, and increased the exhibition space.

Rorimer married Katherine Newton in 1942. They had two children, Anne and Louis.

During World War II, from 1943 to 1946, Rorimer served in the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Art and Archives (MFAA) Section. The "Monuments Men" of the U.S. Army were charged with locating and protecting historical sites, monuments, artwork, and buildings from Allied bombing. Towards the end of the war, the section led recovery efforts to locate and retrieve Nazi stolen art works and other cultural heritage items. Rorimer served as a MFAA officer in Normandy and Paris, and, while in Germany, was promoted to chief of the MFAA Section of the 7th Army Western Military District.

While in Paris, Rorimer worked closely with Rose Valland, an employee of the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris who spied on the Nazis and recorded in detail the movements of artwork stolen by members of the Nazi party, including Hermann Wilhelm Goering and Joseph Goebbels. With Valland's assistance, Rorimer discovered a large cache of stolen and confiscated artwork at the Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps. He and his team also recovered other artwork, European antiquities, and cultural icons that were stored in nearby salt mines. Rorimer and the other Monuments Men arranged the recovery and removal of the cache of stolen goods.

Rorimer received numerous awards for his work during World War II including, the French Cross of War in 1945, Chevalier in 1947, and officer of the French Legion of Honor in 1957. Rorimer wrote about his work as a Monuments Man in his book Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War, published by Abelard Press in 1950. James J. Rorimer died in 1966.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of curator and museum director James J. Rorimer measure 2.3 linear feet and date from 1921 to 1982, with the bulk from 1943-1950. The papers include documentation of James J. Rorimer's World War II service in the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Section of the U.S. Army and his activities protecting historic and cultural sites from bombing, and locating and recovering art work and cultural icons stolen by the Nazis. Found within the papers are scattered biographical materials and correspondence, writings include draft versions of Rorimer's book Safe-Keeping or Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War, financial records, photographic materials including a photo album containing photographs of European art work and cultural sites where Rorimer worked, newsclippings and additional printed materials, and one scrapbook of clippings dating from World War II.

Scattered biographical materials include a college transcript and various certificates. Much of the correspondence is comprised of army directives but also includes some personal letters from Rorimer's wife Katherine.

Writings by Rorimer include several handwritten manuscripts and drafts of his book Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War, which was originally titled Safe-Keeping. There is one folder of miscellaneous financial records, mostly dating from Rorimer's time in the army. There is also one folder of minutes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Board of Trustees meetings.

Photographic materials include black and white photographs, negatives, contact prints, postcards, and one photo album. The photograph album was given to Rorimer from the headquarters of the Office of Military Government in Baden-Wurttemberg and is titled War Damage in Wurtemmberg: A Selection of Photographs. Many of the photographs document bomb damage to European cultural monuments and historic sites. There are photographs of Nazi stolen art repositories discovered by Rorimer and fellow Monuments Men at Buxheim monastery and Neuschwanstein castle, art recovery and transportation, and restitution work at Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point. Photographs of people, such as Edith Standen, Rose Valland, and Rorimer, are scattered throughout the series.

Printed materials include newspaper and magazine clippings, mostly related to The Cloisters or the activities and achievements of the Monuments Men. Printed materials also includes bulletins, brochures, and press releases. There is also a war-time scrapbook and two handbooks of maps showing historic monuments and sites in France and Germany.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 7 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:

  • Allied Forces.--Supreme Headquarters.--Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section
  • Cloisters (Museum)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.).--Board of Trustees
  • Rorimer, Katherine S.
  • Valland, Rose
  • Art thefts--Germany--History--20th century
  • Art treasures in war--France
  • Art treasures in war--Germany
  • Cultural property--Protection--Europe--History--20th century
  • Curators--New York (State)--New York
  • Museum directors--New York (State)--New York
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • World War, 1939-1945--Art and the war
  • World War, 1939-1945--Confiscations and contributions--Germany
  • World War, 1939-1945--Destruction and pillage-Europe

Provenance

The James J. Rorimer papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by his wife, Katherine Serrell Rorimer, in 2 installments in 1983.

Separated and Related Materials

Among the holdings of the Archives of American is an oral history interview with Anne Rorimer, James' daughter, conducted in 2010 by the Archives of American Art. The Archives also holds the papers of several members of the World War II Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Section of the U.S. Army, including S. Lane Faison, Walker Hancock, Walter Horn, Thomas Carr Howe, George Stout, and Otto Wittman. as well as oral history interviews with some of them.

The official government records for James Rorimer's service during World War II in the MFAA Section of the U.S. Army are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.

How the Collection was Processed

This collection was partially microfilmed upon receipt, reels 2800-2802; these reels are no longer in circulation. This collection was processed by Rihoko Ueno in April 2012.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The James J. Rorimer papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

James J. Rorimer papers, 1923-1982, bulk 1943-1950. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1942-1946
8 Folders; Box 1,4

This series contains forms and certificates dating from Rorimer's time in the U.S. Army, including a certificate of honorable discharge and certificate of service. A Harvard transcript and Alumni Bulletin are also included.

These records are arranged chronologically.

Box Folder
1 1 Army Certificates and Forms, 1942-1946
Oversized certificate housed in Box 4, folder 1.
1 2 Harvard Transcript, 1943
1 3 Army Physical Examination Report, 1943
1 4 Boston University Civil Affairs Training School, circa 1943
1 5 Certificate of Honorable Discharge, 1943
1 6 Certificate of Service, 1946
1 7 List of Honors, circa 1946
1 8 Harvard Alumni Bulletin, circa 1946
Box Folder
4 1 Oversized Building Inspection Certificate from Box 1, Folder 1, 1942

Series 2: Correspondence, 1927-1982
0.1 Linear feet; Box 1

Correspondence mostly relates to Rorimer's army service during World War II from 1943-1946, such as letters about placement and assignments in the army, army directives, and announcements of awards. There are a few personal letters from Rorimer's wife Katherine or Kay. There are also letters about publishing the book Survival and congratulatory notes upon publication The more prominent names among the correspondents include Paul Sachs, associate director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard; John D. Rockefeller, Jr., philanthropist; Robert Lehman, banker and donor to the Metropolitan Museum; Francis Henry Taylor, director of the Metropolitan Museum; and Captain Edith A. Standen, one of the Monuments Men.

This series is arranged chronologically.

Box Folder
1 9 Correspondence, 1927-1941
1 10 Correspondence, 1943
1 11 Correspondence, 1944
1 12 Correspondence, 1945
1 13 Correspondence, 1946
1 14 Correspondence, 1962-1966
1 15 Correspondence, 1975-1982
1 16 Miscellaneous Undated Corresondence, circa 1943-1966

Series 3: Writings, circa 1946-1950
0.8 Linear feet; Box 1

There are three drafts of Rorimer's book Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War, which was originally titled and referred to in these versions as Safe-Keeping. The earliest draft is mostly handwritten, the later draft is a mixture of typed and handwritten pages, the third draft is a typescript of the manuscript. There is also one folder of revisions for the earliest draft.

Writings are grouped together according to the manuscript draft with the handwritten draft first, then the second draft, and the typescript draft at the end.

Box Folder
1 17-26 Manuscript Early Draft, circa 1946-1950
10 Folders
1 27 Manuscript Revisions, circa 1946-1950
1 28-30 Manuscript Later Draft, circa 1946-1950
3 Folders
1 31-34 Manuscript Typescript Draft, circa 1946-1950
4 Folders

Series 4: Financial Records, 1943-1946
1 Folder; Box 1

Financial records consists of one folder containing various forms and receipts from Rorimer's time serving in the U.S. army.

Box Folder
1 35 Forms and Receipts, 1943-1946

Series 5: Administrative Files, 1940
1 Folder; Box 1

There is one folder of Metropolitan Museum of Art Board of Trustees minutes for one meeting.

Box Folder
1 36 Metropolitan Museum of Art Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 1943-1946

Series 6: Photographic Materials, 1921-1966
0.7 Linear feet; Box 1-2, 4

Photographic materials include black and white photographs, negatives, and contact prints. Aside from a few travel photographs, the bulk of the series is dedicated to Rorimer's work in the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives section during the war. There is one photograph album given to Rorimer from the headquarters of the Office of Military Government in Baden-Wurttemberg titled War Damage in Wurtemmberg: A Selection of Photographs. The rest of the photographs depict MFAA activities such as recovery and transportation of cultural artifacts from stolen art repositories such as Buxheim monastery and Neuschwanstein castle, documentation of bomb damage in Germany and other countries, the protection of historic sites in France, and restitution and exhibitions at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point. Many of the photographs have annotations written on the verso. Photographs of people, including Rorimer, Stanislaw Lorentz, Edith A. Standen, and Rose Valland, are scattered throughout the series, and indicated with notes at the folder level.

The photographs album is at the beginning of the series. The rest of the photographs are grouped by subject, the arranged chronologically within each grouping.

Box Folder
1 37 Album War Damage in Wurttemberg: A Selection of Photographs, 1945
Oversized material housed in Box 4, Folder 2.
1 38 Personal Photographs of Travels in Europe, 1921-1926
1 39 Alfred Rosenberg, 1942
1 40 Buxheim Monastery, ERR Photograph and Restoration Lab, circa 1945-1946
1 41 Buxheim Monastery, Looted Antiques and Rothschild Furniture, circa 1945-1946
1 42 Buxheim Monastery, Transporting Recovered Art by Trucks and Trains, circa 1945-1946
1 Neuschwanstein Castle
1 43 Views of the Castle Up Close and From a Distance, circa 1945-1946
1 44 Official Signal Corps Photographs of Art Recovery, circa 1945-1946
1 45 Storage Rooms and Transportation of Art, circa 1945-1946
1 46 Photographs Signed and Annotated by Rose Valland, 1945
1 47 Monuments Men at Berchtesgaden Looted Art Repository, circa 1945-1946
Includes blurry photographs of James Rorimer, Captain Anderson, Captain Hathaway, and P.F.C. Miller.
1 48 Art Recovery at Gufflaum and Neuenstein, Germany, circa 1945-1946
1 49 Art Recovery of Famous Paintings at Unidentified Location, circa 1945-1946
Mostly photographs of specific paintings with some photographs of the soldiers holding the frames, probably in the midst of transporting the art.
1 50 Rooms in Unidentified Looted Art Repository, circa 1945-1946
1 51 Unidentified Looted Art, circa 1945-1946
1 52 Hungarian Train, circa 1945-1946
Two photographs labeled "Hungarian Train" on the verso, possibly photographs of the Hungarian Gold Train.
Box Folder
2 Protecting Cultural Monuments and Historic Sites in France
2 1 Camouflage Netting Over Sculptures in Versailles Gardens, Paris, circa 1945-1946
2 2 Special Services Tent at the Grand Trianon in Versailles, Paris, circa 1945-1946
2 3 James Rorimer with Soldiers and Civilians at the Louvre, Paris, circa 1945-1946
2 4 Christ in Majesty Tympanum at the Chartres Cathedral, circa 1945-1946
2 Bomb Damage to Buildings in Germany
2 5 St. George's Church, Nordlingen, and a "Nearby" Church, circa 1945-1946
2 6 Cathedral, Rathaus, and Other Buildings in Ulm, circa 1945-1946
2 7 Palace, Museum, and Theater in Darmstadt, circa 1945-1946
2 8 Fulda Cathedral and St. Michael's Church IN Fulda, circa 1945-1946
2 9 Rothenburg Town Hall, circa 1945-1946
2 10 St. Andreas Church and Museum in Worms, circa 1945-1946
2 11 National Theater and Residences at Max Joseph Platz, Munich, circa 1945-1946
2 12 Unidentified Building in Kurhessen, circa 1945-1946
2 13 Bomb Damage to Innsbruck Cathedral in Austria, circa 1945-1946
2 14 Bomb Damage to Monuments at Unidentified Locations, circa 1945-1946
2 15 U.S. Jeeps and Soldiers at Unidentified Locations, circa 1945-1946
2 16 Unidentified Cultural Monuments, circa 1945-1946
2 17 Unidentified Cultural Monuments, circa 1945-1946
2 18 View of Heidelberg, Germany, Across the Neckar River, 1945
2 19 Room inside "Buxhein ERR Textiles" in Memmingen, Germany, circa 1945-1946
2 Wiesbaden Collecting Point
2 20 Exterior Views of Building, 1945-1946
2 21 Storage Rooms with Racks of Paintings and Crates of Recovered Art, 1945-1946
2 22 Exhibitions of Recovered Art, 1946
Includes one photograph of Edith Standen.
2 23 Restitution Shipments to France, 1946
Includes several photographs of Edith Standen and Rose Valland, and one image with Joe Kelleher. There are also a few photographs of Aristide Maillol sculptures being prepared for shipment.
2 24 Edith Standen Conducting Tour of U.S. Guards, 1946
2 25 Edith Standen and Two Others Inspect "Berlin Sculptures," 1946
2 26 Negatives of Cultural Monuments, circa 1945-1946
2 27 Contact Prints of Cultural Monuments, circa 1945-1946
Oversized material housed in Box 4, Folder 3.
2 28 Small Album of Rooms in Hohenschwangau Castle, 1946-1950
2 29 Rorimer Awarded Legion of Honor in France, circa 1947
2 30 Stanislaw Lorentz and Wilanow Palace in Warsaw, circa 1950-1966
2 31 Heilbronn Reunion, 1956
2 32 Miscellaneous Notes and Photographs Captions, 1945-1963
Box Folder
4 2 Oversized Photograph Album from Box 1, Folder 37, 1945
4 3 Oversize Contact Prints from Box 2, Folder 27, circa 1945-1946

Series 7: Printed Materials, 1923-1966
0.7 Linear feet; Box 3-4, OV 5-6

Printed materials consist of a scrapbook, news clippings, press releases, bulletins, several magazines, booklets, and manuals of maps. Most are related to The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, activities and discoveries of the Monuments Men, and profiles of art collectors and directors. There is also a large scrapbook which contains some personal materials, such as letters and Harvard Alumni bulletins about Rorimer, but the majority of the content consists of news clippings, some of which are duplicated in other folders.

The scrapbook is at the beginning of the series and the remainder of the material are grouped together by type, such as clippings, periodicals, postcards, and then chronologically within each grouping.

Box Folder
3 1 Scrapbook, 1923-1950
Oversized material housed in OV 5.
3 2 News Clippings, 1943-1944
3 3 News Clippings, 1945
3 4 News Clippings, circa 1945
Oversized material housed in Box 4, Folder 4.
3 5 News Clippings, 1946
3 6 News Clippings, 1947-1958
3 7 News Clippings, 1962-1966
Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 5.
3 8 Paris, France: Seine Section, 1945, circa 1945
3 9 Art News, 1946
3 10 Abelard Press Publications Catalog, 1950
3 11 Emporium, 1955
3 12 sele arte, 1955
3 13 Kunstchronik, 1955
3 14 Cultura Peruana, 1955
Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 6.
3 15 Die Kunst, circa 1955
3 16 Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletins, 1938-1958
3 17 The Cloisters Brochures, circa 1941
3 18 The Miracle of Theophilus, circa 1942
3 19 Chart and Survey of German Education System, circa 1943
3 20 Postcards, circa 1943-1946
3 21 Civil Affairs Handbook: France, 1944
Oversized material housed in OV 6.
3 22 Civil Affairs Handbook: Germany, 1944
Oversized material housed in OV 6.
3 23 Press Releases, circa 1945
3 24 Walter W.S. Cook Essays and Memorial Tributes, 1955-1962
Box Folder
4 4 Oversized Clippings from Box 3, Folder 4, circa 1945
4 5 Oversized Clippings from Box 3, Folder 7, 1963
4 6 Oversized Cultura Peruana Magazine from Box 3, Folder 14, 1963
Box
OV 5 Oversized Scrapbook from Box 3, Folder 1, 1923-1950
Box
OV 6 Oversized Civil Affairs Handbook: France from Box 3, Folder 21, 1944
OV 6 Oversized Civil Affairs Handbook: Germany from Box 3, Folder 22, 1944