Conceived by David Lane and Shawna Reiter
Directed by David Lane
Cast: Krista Duke, Julie Malenfant, Chloé Tremblay
Puppet Design and Construction: Shawna Reiter, Jonathan Davis, David Lane, Ramona Fabregas, Jacqueline Coughlin, Krista Duke, Chloé Tremblay
Original Music by Sophie Lane
Additional Costumes by Heather Levy
Supported in part by a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation
and by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
The Chronicles of Rose is the real-life story of Rose Valland, the curator of the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris which was commandeered by the Nazis during the occupation of France in WWII. Used as a kind of clearing house for stolen and appropriated Jewish art, the Jeu de Paume was a favorite spot for upper echelon Nazi officers like Hermann Goering and Baron Kurt van Behr to gather, sip champagne and review “new acquisitions.” Rose spoke fluent German, but kept this secret from the Nazis, and quickly built connections to the French Resistance. Her notes on the coming and going of stolen art would become crucial to repatriating efforts after the war.
Booking and Technical Contact: David Lane, 413-652-7249, email@example.com
Touring company: 3 puppeteers, one director
Running time: 45 minutes
Stage Requirements: Floor should be smooth and free from obstacles that would encumber a rolling cart. Rose has been performed in theatrical venues as well as community venues. It requires a performing area of at least 12 feet by 12 feet.
Set Description: The set is a series of two rolling carts and two standing carts each measuring approximately 27” x 15” x 3 feet high. A folding table is required for a make-shift backstage area.
Lighting and sound: In a theatrical setting, lighting can be adapted from a festival plot. We will travel with several small instruments which can be used in non-theatrical venues.
Load-in and technical time required: No less than three hours.
Special: For venues which allow for it, two human sized, roving puppets can be working into the beginning of the presentation. These are large scale puppet versions of Rose Valland and azi Luftwaffe Commander Herman Goering. They can be used to lead an audience to the performance area in a larger setting such as a museum or gallery.
On September 3, 1939, with the German army knocking on France’s northern border, French museum authorities ordered that the Louvre be emptied of its treasures in an effort to protect them from looming bombing campaigns and from the threat of Nazi looting.
The great Winged Victory, an 8 foot high, 2nd century BC Greek marble statue would be lowered down the front steps in an astonishing feat. Countless paintings would be taken from their frames and loaded onto trucks. The Venus de Milo and over 3,690 works of art would be evacuated and sent to various chateaux in the French countryside for safe-keeping.
Adolf Hitler was hell-bent on building the Führermuseum in his hometown of Linz. It was to be a monument to Germanic ideals, and paintings such as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa were at the top of his collection list.
For Hitler, classical painting held a sense of beauty and proportion which spoke to his quest for perfection and purification, and tenants of classical realism would be appropriated to serve this vision of the Third Reich. The musculature of a Greek Olympian depicted in statue could be used to represent the strength of the German people, for instance.
This was in direct contrast to the efforts made to portray modern artists, especially German Jewish painters, as “degenerate,” and a symptom of a society which according to Hitler, was at odds with the German people. Art which used non-realistic techniques, such as cubism, and abstract expressionism was to be seen as a “sickness” in an otherwise “pure” society.
Hitler had already launched a full scale assault on modern art, including cubism, Dada, surrealism, Fauvism, symbolism, and post-Impressionism with a staged exhibition in Munich in 1937 entitled Entartete Kunst, so called “degenerate art”. People flocked to the exhibition in droves, some out of curiosity, some to take part in the mocking, and many because they were certain it would be last time they would see a Max Beckman, a Chagall, an Otto Dix, a Matisse . . . a Van Gogh.
The French had seen the plundering that had taken place in Austria, and on August 28th, 1939 they evacuated the Mona Lisa on a stretcher, rushing her in an ambulance out of Paris. She would be moved from chateau to chateau at least 5 times over the course of the war. By at least one account, there was almost certainly a time when nobody, perhaps not even Jacques Jaujard, director of the Musées de France, knew exactly where she was.
The plundering and looting of art in Europe was a kind of obsession for Hitler and Georing, so much so that three separate government offices were charged with supervising the task. Thousands and thousands of pieces of art and cultural and religious artifacts were stollen by the Nazis. What was deemed undesirable was often sold at auction for very little, or destroyed—paintings by Picasso, Degas, Modigliani, Chagall and many others.
In Paris, Jewish art dealers like Paul Rosenberg (Matisse’s friend and representative) were under pressure to sell to Nazi agencies. Rosenberg was able to ship much of his work out of the country, but others were not so lucky. The Nazis would coerce sales of thousands of pieces of art from Jewish families and others over the course of the war.
The Jeu de Paume Museum was commandeered and used as a kind of clearing house for stollen and appropriated art. The Paris museum was a favorite spot for upper echelon Nazi officers like Hermann Goering and Baron Kurt van Behr to congregate and where they would have first pick of new “acquisitions.”
At the helm of the Jeu de Paume was Rose Valland, the museum curator at the time. Bookish and petite, and appearing to be no threat, the Nazis allowed her to maintain her post in the museum, which ironically was a house of impressionist, postimpressionist, and modern art — the very art which Hitler saw as a symptom of a sick society.
But Rose understood German and was able to listen in on conversation of top Nazi officials. She was able to secretly keep records of the art which moved through the Jeu du Paume and passed information to the French Resistance. Amazingly, Rose memorized the origins and likely destinations of thousands of works of arts, riding her bicycle home each day to transcribe the information, piece by piece into her journals.
In several cases, large train shipments of art were saved from allied bombings, a regular occurrence at the time, as railway cars were the chief means of transporting ammunition by the Germans.
By the end of the war, Rose has catalogued over 20,000 pieces of art and went on to join the American Monuments Men commission charged with recovering the stolen art from secret hiding spots, including vast underground caverns where the Nazis had planned to store the art until it could be sent to Berlin to become part of Hitler’s planed National Museum.
But that’s not the end of the story . . .
On Nov. 5, 2013, at a press conference in Augsburg, Germany, on Nov. 5, 2013, it was announced that a trove 1,280 “Degenerate Art” paintings, drawings and prints had been discovered in the Munich apartment of Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt. Cornelius turned out to be the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was one of a handful of Nazi-approved art dealers allowed to deal in Raubkunst—art looted by the Nazis—despite being branded a Mischling (half-breed) by German authorities, because of his one-quarter-Jewish ancestry. It turns out that Cornelius had been sitting on his father’s collection for decades, quietly selling a painting off once and a while, but otherwise living as a recluse, reportedly not owning a television and having not seen a movie since 1963.
Gurlitt had never held a job, paid taxes, or even registered with the state-run health care system. Before his passing on May 6th the following year, he noted in a web posting, “I only wanted to live with pictures, in peace and calm.” The collection and his will are the subject of much scrutiny, with German authorities posting images of the paintings and drawings on line in the hopes of returning them to their previous pre-World War II owners. Only a handful of families have come forward to make claims. The collection is estimated to be worth over 1 billion Euros.
Meanwhile, the last decade has seen every major museum under pressure to embark on further research to ensure solid provenance for work in their collections which changed hands in Europe between 1933 and 1945, and may be associated with individuals who may have lost property as the result of Nazi persecution. The Museum of Fine Art in Boston has recently resolved claims regarding works by Eglon can der Neer, Oskar Kokoschka, a set of 17th century tapestries, an Embroidered panel of the Entombment of Saint Vigilius, and several others. In some cases, the museum is paying to maintain the work in its collection, and in others, the work is being returned to its rightful owners. Similar stories are being played out across the United States and Europe.
Our play is an investigation into Rose and Gurlitt — whose lives, though separated by decades, are intertwined by history, greed, and a love for art.
Copyright David Lane & Shawna Reiter 2017, Photos: Jonathan Davis 2017