Monument Man: Illinois Professor Saved European Art

February 7 is the release of George Clooney’s The Monuments Men–a story of men and women locating, protecting, and saving art, monuments, and archives during World War II. The University of Illinois’ own Dr. Edwin Carter Rae was a Monument Man, and his story can be found in the University Archives.

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A Disheveled Room with Damaged Art, Edwin C. Rae Papers, Album, Box 17, Record Series 12/03/26.

College of Fine Arts faculty member Edwin Carter Rae was an art historian, a U.S. soldier, and an administrator who participated in international efforts to return confiscated artwork from Nazi holdings after World War II. Rae’s official diary (available online through University Archives) begins with the entry:

August 11 – 22, 1945,

ECR instated as Chief, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch, Detachment E1F3 APO 658, which became on 15 Aug 45 Detachment E-201, Co. F. 3d Military Government Regiment APO 403. [...] Chief concern is to regularize field reports, provide better protection and surveillance of monuments, and to reestablish the German agencies on a decent, efficient basis.

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Edwin Carter Rae Portrait, 1947

Before and after his military service, Edwin Carter Rae (1911-2002) was Professor of Art History (1939-1942, 1947-1979), and he later became Chairman of the Art History Department (1954-79). A Harvard University graduate and former instructor at Brown University and Pembroke College, Edwin Carter Rae joined the College of Fine Arts as an instructor of art history in 1939. Rae completed his dissertation “Gothic Architecture in Ireland” in 1942, and he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1943. After four years of teaching at Illinois, Rae left for Europe.

Meanwhile, in 1943, Allied armies administrators established the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program to protect cultural properties in war areas during World War II. Colloquially, MFAA men and women were known as “Monument Men”. Such professionals were charged with protecting and locating art in territories affected by World War II. Their collective work continued after the war and continues today under the management of multiple international organizations.

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MFAA Staff and Rae (left) Review the Condition of a Painting, Edwin C Rae Papers, Album, Page 110, Box 17, Record Series 12/03/26.

From 1945 to 1947, Captain Rae served as Chief of Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the United States Army of Occupation in Bavaria, Germany. The Edwin C. Rae Papers, 1929-1999, contain documents describing Rae’s work for the United States military regarding the restitution of artwork confiscated by Nazis. Among the Papers are Rae’s army records (Box 15) and awards (Box 16) that he received for his work as a Monument Man. Recently, some contents of the Rae Papers have been digitized for online access. Such items include:

Rae’s Official Diary:

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September 20, 1945, Page 14, Edwin C Rae Papers, Diary, Record Series 12/03/26.

 “20 Sept. 71 pictures left Königsplatz at ca. 0904, [?]. Coulter in charge, accompanied by three armed guards, 4 drivers. Art was from 7 collections, mostly Rothschild, valued at upwards of $15,000,000.”

 Rae’s Photo Album:

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A Bird’s Eye View of Artworks to be Returned, Edwin C Rae Papers, Album, Page 82, Box 17, Record Series 12/03/26.

A variety of untitled photographs can be viewed to accompany some of Rae’s diary descriptions and to supplement additional information available in the Edwin C. Rae Papers, 1929-1999.

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MFAA Staff Preparing Artworks to be Shipped, Edwin C Rae Papers, Album, Page 88, Box 17, Record Series 12/03/26.

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  • Sarah Rae

    Thanks so much!! This looks great!

    • Stan

      Hi Sarah, I write for the Daily Illini and would like to write a story about Edwin. If you would be interested in sharing your experiences with him, would you please email me at polansk1@illinimedia.com. Thanks a lot.

  • Dedge

    Thank you for sharing that fabulous accounting of what was a remarkable moment in our history that will never be forgotten. We owe much to those amazing men, and women!

  • Melissa Ellen O’Neill

    Just showed this to my 16 year old son who thinks your Dad was really cool!

  • Eileen Jones

    Hello, Sarah. I watched the film last night and thought of all of you. You and Tom must be so proud of the contributions your dad has made.

  • Guest

    nice

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