Edith A. Standen: A “Monuments Man” in Germany 1945-1947

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men by Dr. Greg Bradsher. See also his posts on Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, Walter J. Huchthausen, Seymour J. Pomrenze, and Mason Hammond.

The forthcoming movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Over the course of the next two months, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals.

This post focuses on Edith A. Standen, and is the fifth in the series of blogs on the Monuments Men.

Edith A. Standen was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1905, the daughter of Robert Standen, a British Army officer stationed in Nova Scotia, and an American mother, granddaughter to Nathan Appleton, a Massachusetts textile mill founder.   She was raised in England and Ireland, and received her B.A. in English from Oxford in 1926.  In 1928, she immigrated to the United States, and settled in Boston where her mother’s family lived. She began working for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which had been founded in 1910 by her uncle, William Sumner Appleton.  During the winter of 1928-1929, she took Paul Sachs museum curatorship course at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.  In 1929 she was hired as art secretary to collector Joseph Early Widener at his Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, estate (outside Philadelphia).   She retained that position until Widener transferred his collection to the National Gallery of Art in 1942.  That year she became an American citizen and the following year she joined the Women’s Army Corps, and was stationed with the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in Ohio.

Her commanding officer referred her to Mason Hammond, an USAAF officer, former Harvard professor, and head of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch of the United States Group Control Council (USGCC), for a “Monuments Man” position. First Lieutenant Standen joined the MFA&A Branch, USGCC, on June 4, 1945 as a Fine Arts Specialist Officer.  From June 20 to July 21 she was sent on a temporary assignment to the 12th Army Group, and then returned to USGCC.  On that assignment she assisted in inspecting the loot at the Reichsbank in Frankfurt that was then schedule to be transferred to the new collecting point in Frankfurt (as it turned out, Wiesbaden).

In September 1945 Standen changed MFA&A positions, moving to the G-5 Division, United States Forces European Theater, at its headquarters at Höchst (about a twenty minute drive from Frankfurt).   In November she was one of thirty-two officers who signed a document, known as The Wiesbaden Manifesto, protesting the United States Army’s decision to send 202 German-owned paintings held by the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point temporarily to the National Gallery of Art for safekeeping.  The third paragraph of the five-paragraph document, noted:

Since the beginning of United States participation in the war, it has been the declared policy of the Allied Forces, so far as military necessity would permit, to protect and preserve from deterioration consequent upon the processes of war, all monuments, documents or other objects of historic, artistic, cultural or archaeological value. The war is at an end, and no doctrine of ‘military necessity’ can now be invoked for the further protection of the objects to be moved, for the reason that depots and personnel, both fully competent for their protection, have been inaugurated and are functioning.

When Captain Walter I. Farmer, the officer-in-charge of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point was redeployed on March 11, 1946, Captain Standen, having been promoted during the winter, was sent on temporary duty as his replacement.  Reflecting on the assignment, she would write in the mid-1990s:

When I took over the Wiesbaden Collecting Point from Walter Farmer in early 1946, I found an organization in perfect working order. The building was in good condition. It was heated. It was lighted. It was weatherproof and secure. The German staff had been well-chosen and were hardworking and loyal. Photography and conservation work were being undertaken by competent professionals. The only new responsibilities that fell to me were the reception of representatives from countries that had been occupied and robbed and the actual shipment of restituted objects.

Her work was more complicated than she implies.  Before leaving the Wiesbaden directorship position in August 1947, she supervised the organization, research and ultimate restitution of thousands of artworks and other objects.  This was not an easy task by any means, especially when dealing with art work that had been acquired by Germans by means forced sales or seized from German museums because it was considered degenerate and then subsequently sold.

A photograph of Edith Standen and Captain Rose Valland is available on the Archives of American Art website.

Standen would leave military service in 1947 and two years later joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as an associate curator in 1949, assigned to the textile study room.  She was subsequently named Curator of Textiles and retired in 1970. In retirement she researched, published numerous articles, and authored European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, two volumes, in 1985.  She would pass away in July 1998.

For more information on Edith A. Standen’s MFA&A career, please consult various National Archives Publications concerning Records of Central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”) OMGUS Headquarters Records relating to Central Collecting Points, Property Division, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260; National Archives Microfilm Publication M1947, Records Concerning the Central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”): Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, 1945-1952, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260. Her personal papers are at the Gallery Archives of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

2 thoughts on “Edith A. Standen: A “Monuments Man” in Germany 1945-1947

  1. Dear Greg,

    Can you please send me your contact info to ask a question re Monuments Men and your work at NARA? Thank you. Steve Katz

    I worked closely with Michael Kurtz in the 80s, and Amy Schmidt as well, when I led the investigation in to Austria’s withholding of Nazi looted art on behalf of the late Congressman Sidney Yates. Thanks. Steve Katz

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