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

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

Rorimer, James J. (James Joseph), 1905-1966

Art historian, Museum director

Collection Information

Size: 2.3 linear feet

Biographical/Historical Note

James J. Rorimer (1905-1966) was a museum director and art historian from New York City. Rorimer was the motivating force in the development of the Cloisters. Educated at Harvard University and the Ecole Gory in Paris, his employment by the Metropolitan Museum of Art began in 1927 and continued until his death. He was curator of the Department of Medieval Art (1934-1955), director of the Cloisters (1949-1966) and director and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1955-1966). During WWII, Rorimer served in the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Section of the U.S. Army, recovering and protecting hidden and stolen art works (1943-1946).


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

Related Materials

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.

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.

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.

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