In August 1939, curators at the Louvre nestled the world’s most famous painting into a special red velvet-lined case and spirited her away to the Loire Valley as part of the biggest museum evacuation in history.
As the Germans neared Paris in 1940, the French raced to move the masterpieces still further south, then again and again during the war, crisscrossing the southwest of France. Throughout the German occupation, the museum staff fought to keep the priceless treasures out of the hands of Hitler and his henchmen, often risking their lives to protect the country's artistic heritage. Saving Mona Lisa is the sweeping, suspenseful narrative of their struggle.
Journalist Chanel's debut narrates the fascinating WWII story of how French museum officials prevented Germany from plundering or destroying the Mona Lisa and other valuable art. As she recounts, plans for safeguarding the pieces from wartime hostilities began in the mid-1930s, as fascism spread through Europe. By the time war broke out in 1939, masterpieces had already been evacuated to keep them out of range of bombs and weapons fire. They also needed protection from looting; Hitler and top Nazi officials intended to build up Germany's national collections and add to their private ones with pilfered art. Though the story is more about art than people, Jacques Jaujard, deputy director of the Mus es Nationaux, emerges as a central character. Risking his own safety, he delayed carrying out German orders to surrender artwork, protected his employees, and kept track of important Jewish collections. Chanel's at her best explaining the processes of moving and storing the treasures, and describing negotiations between the French and Germans about where to house the art. A valuable prequel to the more widely known Monuments Men story, this book will intrigue art history and WWII buffs. Illus.