The Eyes

The Eyes

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lincoln Kirstein | A Real Life "Monuments" Man

As the movie, Monuments Men, opened this weekend, you know I had to run to see it. While I thought it to be a good movie, it only made me want to know more about this war effort and the men and women who saved many of the treasures of Europe from destruction. I'm now engrossed in the book on which the movie was based. One of the characters in the movie, Preston Savitz (played by Bob Balaban), is based on the real-life person, Lincoln Kirstein.

Lincoln Kirstein
(Photo by George Platt Lynes)
Kirstein, after enlisting in the Army in 1943, started working on a project gathering and documenting soldier art that would eventually become an exhibit and book, Artists Under Fire. In the spring of 1944 he was sent to London for the U.S. Arts and Monuments Commission, and within weeks he was transferred to the unit in France that came to be known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. Soon after being promoted to Private First Class in January 1945 (in General Patton's Third Army), his unit moved to Germany and he was personally involved with retrieving artworks around Munich and in the salt mines at Altaussee.

In his lifetime, Kirstein was a tireless champion of the arts in America. Working behind the scenes to provide artists with money, space, audiences, and, at times, emotional support. He helped found such landmark cultural institutions as the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, and New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Kirstein received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1984); the National Medal of Arts (1985); and with choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet George Balanchine, the National Gold Medal of Merit Award of the National Society of Arts and Letters. A poet, novelist, historian, art collector, and critic, Kirstein died in 1996 at the age of 88.

For more information about this extraordinary piece of art history visit:
Monuments Men: On the Front Line to Save Europe's Art, 1942–1946 (Archives of American Art)