Throughout the four years she spent at the Jeu de Paume, Rose Valland kept on recording the nature of the works transiting through the museum. Well acquainted with cataloguing techniques, able to ascertain and recognise the paintings, she adopted two practices. She recorded what she recognised prior to crating and further characteristics after crating. She completed thousands of records and dockets; she recovered from dustbins carbons and drafts discarded by the Germans.
Rose Valland’s commitment was total and unimpeachable. Only exceptionally has her action or memory fallen short. One single event, a fire which Rose Valland dated to 27 May 1943, during which the Germans burned several hundred master works deemed “degenerate” has not been wholly elucidated. According to the Louvre museum keepers and Rose Valland’s own rectification note, it could have taken place in July 1943 rather than May.
Rose Valland’s activity made it possible to distinguish between spoliated works (taken from their owners by legal decree), works “in transit”, such as those stolen by Ambassador Otto Abetz for Hitler (for his Linz Museum), as well as those taken by Göring, a noted art connoisseur, in constant rivalry with other Nazi dignitaries, and most particularly Hitler.
On 3 December 1941, Rose noted:
“Field marshal Göring’s visit to the Jeu de Paume 2 December 1941.
Visite of the “Luftwaffe” exhibition and of the art works from expropriated Jewish collections
No French person is allowed to remain in the Museum during these visits
FM Göring will tomorrow take away on his private train (4 December in the evening) the statues from the hôtel Edouard de Rothschild), one of them (?), and some fifty paintings […] are Impressionist painting belonging to the Rosenberg Collection”.
(source: Archives des musées nationaux, Cote R 32)
This painstaking, time consuming and tedious, work required exceptional patience and willpower. These records enabled Rose Valland to inform the Resistance and the Americans of the location of the works at the Liberation – and to avoid mass bombings of the identified sites thus avoiding the destruction of the works.
Rose Valland would be a witness at the Nüremberg Trial, taking notes of the accused’s statements. Some photos still exist
These three photographs attest to Rose Valland’s presence in Nüremberg.
Above right, she figures on the second row to the right, bottom left she is at the centre of the fourth row (under Cabin 1). Bottom right, she is on the left in the foreground.
The Secrets of the Jeu de Paume
Rose Valland’s activities are shrouded in secrecy – partly lifted by the website The Documentation Project, which offers a visit of the Jeu de Paume during the Occupation where each work can be visualised in turn.
It is also possible to visit the Centre Georges Pompidou’s site which shows MNR works that had a spell at the Jeu de Paume along with their chronology.
In her old days, Rose Valland would disclose to her home village hairdresser that she had felt “threatened…”; too opaque an allusion for any historical inquiry.
She would never publish the sequel to her memoirs (the section addressing the restitutions is unduly muted). Back in France in 1953, she was asked, on several occasions, to keep her restitutions investigation quiet.
For all her many decorations, there has been no public acknowledgements from art historians. How comes?
Rose Valland’s testimony has sometimes been deemed “questionable”, as attested by Laurence Bertrand-Dorléac, one of the best-informed historians in this matter. The question of the 27 May 1943 fire may be a cause of these reservations: Rose Valland describes in her book a huge auto-da-fé of paintings burning in the Jeu de Paume courtyard. The delicate question of the fate of so called “degenerate” works, which the Germans, theoretically, did not rate, and which could be destroyed or used as quid pro quo in the purchase of other paintings is addressed (note 83, p. 70) in the Mattéoli report:
“At this point, it behoves us to consider the question of the destruction of ‘degenerate art’ paintings as Rose Valland referred to them in the title of the chapter where she describes the event and dates it to 27 May 1943 (p. 178) before correcting her dating in an erratum and moving the date to 27 July. The fire was allegedly lit in the Jeu de Paume’s ‘inner courtyard’ and may have destroyed five or six hundred modern paintings […]. Rose Valland’s testimony is the only one we have of this destruction. Was there some other depredations on 22 July of that year, or a date confusion between her testimony (p.191) and a note drafted on 23 July by Gaston Petite, head of the national museums keeper staff, who conversely mentions the laceration, at the Louvre, of a portrait of Madame Schwob d'Héricourt and the almost complete wreckage of the works from the Auxente collections, some from Michel Georges-Michel, Dali […] and Pierre Loewel, thereafter taken to the Jeu de Paume to be burnt. This – or these – event(s) for which R. Valland and G. Petite’s descriptions differ has(ve) never been confirmed by other sources or evidence but it is worth specifying that the ERR list of plunder from the Michel Georges-Michel collection does indeed include 126 works reported destroyed (‘vernichtet‘).”
Rose Valland and Göring
In his report on “Miss Rose Valland’s activity in the Resistance”, Jacques Jaujard wrote:
“Thanks to this public servant, we could be alerted to visits from Alfred ROSENBERG, and more importantly Field marshal GÖRING who visited the Jeu de Paume Museum twenty-one times in order to take his pick out of the spoliated collections and give instructions to his collaborators. As GÖRING’s frequent visits to Paris were solely aimed at the supervision of the ERR’s operations, it was the Jeu de Paume that informed us of his presence on French territory. A presence which always prompted our fears of some fresh demands” (p. 3).
Rose Valland would after the war sustain her interest in Göring’s whereabouts, visiting his country residence of Carinhall whence she brought home, among others, the sculptures in the above photograph. She summarised in 4 pages the book Carin Göring, in which she slipped a newspaper cutting featuring Göring’s second wife.
Jaujard’s report itemising, just after the war, Rose Valland’s activity in the Resistance outlines the unpredictable German surveillance and the cataloguing of the works that went through the Jeu de Paume. Jacques Jaujard did not have time to write his memoirs. On 21 June 1967, he died suddenly after being somehow professionally side-lined.
In his Souvenirs de l'exode du Louvre (Somogy, 1992, published with the support of the Wildenstein Institute) Germain Bazin, his contemporary, writes: “One evening Malraux and Jaujard were discussing as per usual the programme for the next day. The following morning as he unfolded his newspaper, Jaujard read on the front page of his destitution as secrétaire général des Affaires culturelles. He died of a heart attack the following day.” (p.122)
He goes on: “Jacques Jaujard’s sudden death may have deprived us of his memoirs […] though I tend to believe that Jaujard knew too many things to set them down in memoirs and that he meant to keep what he knew to himself” (p. 123).
In her recent Master’s dissertation (2003), Émilie Aubrun retraced Jaujard’s action at the Direction of the French Musées nationaux from 1939 to1944. She concluded:
“Unlike many others, he got little media attention, and it may be the reason why we have all forgotten his name – as have the dictionaries. It behoves us to reinstate him today, even if many puzzles have yet to be resolved about this enigmatic and discrete figure.
Jacques Jaujard’s work did not cease with the Liberation; he went on playing an active role within the French administration, especially during Malraux’s rule over Culture. France is in his debt for the Caisse nationale des lettres (now the Centre national du livre (CNL), a French public outfit whose role is to support the entire book chain), the regional drama centres, art decentralisation, the special social security status of authors-artists, the 1% drawn from building budgets towards public commissions to painters and sculptors and the reform of the modalities of entry for the Prix de Rome. One month after a retirement he first learned about in the press, even though he had, the day before, been discussing with Malraux the programme of the morrow, he collapsed in his Paris apartment…”
Now Jaujard knew, among other things, what Rose Valland had confided in him… Germain Bazin is hardly more illuminating when he refers to Von Tiechowietz, an art specialist assigned to the Jeu de Paume in replacement of Metternich during the war as some kind of “logistic support” to organised looting. This last character returned to France after the war as a cultural adviser to what would become the Embassy of Federal Germany. “He was given to frequent nostalgic evocations of the vast plains around Berlin. Back home once retired, why did this man who lived alone take his own life?”