Monuments Men: The Richmond Collection

May 5, 2014

South Seas Landscape, Emil Nolde, 1914
Credit Gift of Dr. George and Mrs. Marylou Fischer, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The film Monuments Men raised public awareness about what happened to important works of art in Nazi Germany. 

Some of it was destroyed, while other pieces were hidden away.  One especially valuable collection made its way to Richmond, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts says it just got one of the missing paintings back.

Between 1910 and 1930, one family in Germany - the Fischers --  collected the works of modern painters.  Robin Nicholson, Deputy Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts says the Nazis disliked and often destroyed such work.

"Anything that you could call modern art was considered degenerate by the Nazis - anything that wasn’t really reflecting  the Fatherland,  traditional values, so artists who were exploring color, shape, form, abstraction, that was all considered anti-German, and they coined this phrase “degenerate.”

As Hitler rose to prominence, he says, some of the Fisher family’s art came to America.

“The original collection was split between two sons, one of whom came to Richmond, Virginia, fleeing the Nazi regime.  The other stayed behind.”

Most of those works were lost during the war, but one painting survived - South Seas Landscape, by one of the leading artists of the German expressionist movement, Emil  Nolde.  

“He speaks of the sort of interest in the native, pagan elements that the French artist Paul Gaughan was also exploring, and what makes this very significant is that American collectors historically did not collect German art. They collected French art, and so for example, you won’t find a work by Emil Nolde in the National Gallery.  They just don’t have them.”

There are over 200 works donated by the Fischer family, and Nicholson considers  it one of the top three collections of German expressionist art in the nation.