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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Otto Wittmann papers, 1932-1996

Otto Wittmann papers, 1932-1996

Biographical Note

Otto Wittmann (1911-2001) was director of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo Ohio from 1959-1976. He left Toledo to work as an arts consultant, trustee, and acting chief curator for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles from 1978 though 1989. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force and as a special intelligence officer assigned to locate and return works of art looted by the Nazis.
Otto Wittmann was born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 1, 1911. He graduated from Harvard University with a fine arts degree in 1933 and returned to Kansas City to become the Curator of Prints at the Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, the first art museum in the city. Later, he enrolled at Skidmore College for graduate studies and worked at The Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York.
During World War II, Wittmann served as a Major with the Air Force in the Air Transport Command. He was transferred to the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) in Washington, D.C. under the Office of Strategic Services. He spent long periods in Paris and Munich assisting with looted art recovery, investigating transactions in Sweden and Switzerland, and working with the collection centers set up in France. Years later, at the Toledo Museum of Art, he curated an exhibition of recovered artwork, and invited the U.S. Army members that assisted with protecting the artwork.
After the war, Wittmann accepted a position at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), working there for thirty years and as director from 1959-1976. During his tenure, he tripled the museum's collection of artwork and expanded its exhibition space. Under his direction, the museum was one of the first American museums to display sculpture, painting, furniture, and decorative arts in one setting.
In 1978, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles hired Wittmann as an acquisitions consultant as the museum began to spend the huge billion dollar trust left behind by J. P. Getty. Many institutions and the art market in general were nervous that the Getty's new and huge purchasing power would drive up prices and shut out other institutions and museums from acquiring works of art. Wittmann, however, steadied the Getty's purchases and kept prices competitive enough so that other museums could outbid him if they desired. Within a year, he was appointed to trustee and, shortly thereafter, as acting chief curator until 1983. The Getty named Wittmann a trustee emeritus in 1989.
Otto Wittmann was among the first museum professionals to encourage the establishment of Federal programs for the arts. He was one of the founding members of the National Council on the Arts and served on the museum advisory panel for the National Endowment for the Arts and on the arts advisory panel for the Internal Revenue Service. He was the first chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Federal Council of Arts and Humanities responsible for implementing the intial programs of the Federal Arts Indemnity Act. He was active in many national professional arts associations.
In 1947, Otto Wittmann married Margaret Hill, with whom he had two sons, John and William. Wittmannn died in 1997 in Montecito, California.