James J. Rorimer papers, 1923-1982, bulk 1943-1950

A Finding Aid to the James J. Rorimer Papers, 1923-1982, 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 reknown collection of medieval art under Rorimer's curatorship and directorship.

As the director of the Metropolitan Museum, 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. While in Germany, Rorimer 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 found 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 2.1 linear feet and date from 1923 to 1966, with a few records from 1975 and 1982 and 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 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. Many of the images depict European cultural monuments and sites, with notations about damages. There are photographs of Nazi stolen art caches and repositories discovered by Rorimer in locations such as Buxheim monastery and Neuschwanstein castle, recovery and transportation of stolen artwork, and art exhibitions held at the Wiesbaden central collecting point. Also found are related photographs of the exhibitions of the recovered art and some travel photographs. Although there are only a few photographs of people, there are several of Captain Rose Valland dating from 1946. 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.

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:

Each series is arranged in chronological order, or by format and then chronologically. Undated materials are placed at the end of each series.

Subjects and Names

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

Subjects:

  • Valland, Rose
  • Allied Forces.--Supreme Headquarters.--Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section
  • Cloisters (Museum)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.).--Board of Trustees

Subjects-Topical:

  • 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
  • World War, 1939-1945--Art and the war
  • World War, 1939-1945--Confiscations and contributions--Germany
  • World War, 1939-1945--Destruction and pillage-Europe

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks

Names:

  • Rorimer, Katherine S.

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, 1943-1946
(Box 1,4; 8 folders); (Oversized certificate housed in Box 4, folder 1); (Oversized certificate from box 1, folder 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 Harvard Transcript, 1943 June 1
1 2 Army Physical Examination Report, 1943
1 3 Boston University Civil Affairs Training School, circa 1943
1 4 Miscellaneous Army Certificates and Forms, 1942-1943
(Oversized certificate housed in Box 4, folder 1)
1 5 Certificate of Honorable Discharge, 1943 November 24
1 6 Certificate of Service, 1946 April 2
1 7 List of Honors, circa 1946
1 8 Harvard Alumni Bulletin, circa 1946
Box Folder
4 1 Building Inspection Certificate, 1942 February 24
(Oversized certificate from box 1, folder 4)

Series 2: Correspondence, 1927, 1941-1982
(Box 1; 0.1 linear feet)

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.

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
(Box 1; 0.8 linear feet); (10 folders); (3 folders); (4 folders)

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.

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
(Box 1; 1 folder)

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 December
(Box 1; 1 folder)

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, 1921-1926, 1942-1963
(Box 1-2, 4; 0.5 linear feet); (photographs have notes typed and written on verso.); (3 folders); (Labeled "Confidential" with stamp on verso.); (Includes several photographs of Captain Edith Standen and Captain Roses Valland.); (3 folders); (Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 2); (Oversized contact prints from box 2, folder 14)

Photographic materials include black and white photographs, negatives, and contact prints. The photographs depict European cultural monuments and sites, damages to sites and monuments, hidden caches and repositories of stolen art discovered by Rorimer in locations such as Buxheim monastery and Neuschwanstein castle, recovery and transportation of stolen artwork, and art exhibitions held at the Wiesbaden central collecting point. Most of the cultural monuments and artwork are identified on the verso. There are a few photographs of people, including Rorimer, Stanislaw Lorentz, Alfred Rosenberg, Edith A. Standen, and Rose Valland. There is also a folder of travel photos probably from Rorimer's time studying abroad in Europe.

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.

Box Folder
1 37 Travel Photos, 1921-1926
1 38 Alfred Rosenberg, 1942 July
1 39 Unidentified Artwork, circa 1943-1946
1 40 Government photographs of Recovered Loot, circa 1943-1946
1 41 Buxheim Monastery Repository, circa 1943-1946
(photographs have notes typed and written on verso.)
1 42 Buxheim Monastery Transportation of Recovered Loot, circa 1943-1946
1 43 Neuschwanstein Repository, circa 1943-1946
1 44-46 Cultural Monuments, circa 1943-1946
(3 folders)
1 47 Rooms in Unidenfitied Building, circa 1943-1946
Box Folder
2 1 Unidentified Cultural Monuments, circa 1943-1946
(Labeled "Confidential" with stamp on verso.)
2 2 Unidentified Cultural Monuments, circa 1943-1946
2 3 Miscellaneous Photographs of People, circa 1943-1946, 1956
2 4 Identified Stolen Artworks, circa 1943-1946
2 5 Heidelberg, 1945
2 6 Weisbaden Central Collecting Point Exhibitions and Restitution Shipments, 1945-1946
(Includes several photographs of Captain Edith Standen and Captain Roses Valland.)
2 7 Miscellaneous Notes and Photograph Captions, 1945, 1963
2 8 Booklet of Rooms in Hohenschwangau Castle, circa 1946-1950
2 9 Rorimer Congratulated for Legion of Honor, circa 1947
2 10 Stanislaw Lorentz and Wilanow Palace in Warsaw, circa 1960
2 11 Photographs from Album, 1945
(3 folders)
2 12 Album, 1945
2 13 Negatives, circa 1943-1946
2 14 Contact Prints, circa 1943-1946
(Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 2)
Box Folder
4 2 Contact Prints, circa 1943-1946
(Oversized contact prints from box 2, folder 14)

Series 7: Printed Materials, 1923-1966
(Box 2-4, OV 5-6; 0.7 linear feet); (Oversized item housed in OV 5); (Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 3); (Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 4); (Oversized materials housed in Box 4, folder 5); (Oversized material housed in OV 6); (Oversized material housed in OV 6); (Oversized contact prints from box 2, folder 18); (Oversized contact prints from box 2, folder 21); (Oversized magazine from box 3, folder 7); (Oversized scrapbook from box 2, folder 15); (Oversized scrapbook from box 3, folder 14); (Oversized scrapbook from box 3, folder 15)

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.

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