The Department of Image Collections at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) has just completed a major photographic documentation project that has been twenty-five years in the making and involved the printing of thousands of negatives of works of art confiscated by the Nazis and other objects processed through the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP) after the Second World War.
In 1981, the Gallery’s then Deputy Director Charles Parkhurst, arranged for the MCCP negatives to be borrowed by the NGA from the National Archives (NARA). Parkhurst served in WWII as one of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives officers charged with preserving and protecting artworks and architecture in danger during the war. Adolf Hitler had planned a grand museum with works of art taken from public and private collections in lands the Nazis occupied. Many senior officials from the Third Reich had also assembled collections of confiscated art and antiques. Additionally, many museums and individuals sent their art collections and libraries into the countryside for safe keeping during the war. Hundreds of thousands of objects were displaced. After the war more than 1,500 repositories were discovered and to handle the extraordinary number of important and valuable objects, the Allies created four central collecting points to repatriate the art work.
The Munich Central Collecting Point was the largest of the four collecting points and many of the great private collections, like the Rothschild collection, were sent there. The Army carefully documented the hundreds of thousands of objects that passed through the portals of the MCCP, sometimes utilizing lists created by the Nazis of the looted art. Before the objects were repatriated to their countries of origin, Army specialists photographed the paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. This material, the negatives mostly unprinted, was transferred to the U.S. Department of State around 1950 where Ms. Ardelia Hall, their Fine Arts Advisor, oversaw the management of the collection and its eventual transfer to the National Archives. The MCCP images remained at the National Archives until it was agreed that the NGA could borrow and then print the negatives, retaining a copy for researchers here. The 40,000 negatives have now all been printed, sorted and, were returned to the National Archives at the end of June. Copies of the prints will be available for researchers at the National Gallery and at the College Park facility of the National Archives. NARA plans to microfilm the photographs. The Department of Image Collections is in the process of creating a database of the fine art images to make the Munich photos more readily accessible.Gregory P. J. Most