Jonathan Petropoulos

 

On his book Göring's Man in Paris: The Story of a Nazi Art Plunderer and His World

Cover Interview of March 24, 2021

A close-up

For a closer look, I would direct the reader to the section on the relationship between Theodore (“Ted”) Rousseau and Bruno Lohse. Rousseau, the former OSS officer who interrogated Lohse for several months in the summer of 1945, continued to stay in touch with the Nazi plunderer, despite the fact that Rousseau became a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and later, Deputy Director under Thomas Hoving. I don’t know what is more extraordinary: their relationship, or the fact that Rousseau kept so many of Lohse’s letters in his files. Their correspondence is in the Met Archives and was made accessible to researchers in around 2015, although some of Rousseau’s papers remain closed until 2050 and beyond.

The letters between Ted Rousseau and Bruno Lohse show the two men trading information about artworks for sale. The letters also attest to many visits: Lohse coming to New York to see Rousseau, his former captor, at the Met, and Rousseau meeting Lohse not just in Munich, but also in Paris and Zurich, among other locales. Lohse offered Rousseau many fine paintings by the likes of Botticelli, Monet, and Cezanne, but there is no evidence of the Met acquiring works from him. The question remains: did the former Nazi plunderer use cut-outs (intermediaries who obscured his role), as he did in other instances, including selling two pictures attributed to Albrecht Dürer to the German Historical Museum in Berlin in the early 2000s? Years earlier, Lohse had bragged in one letter to Rousseau from 1959 that he was very successful selling to other American museums, yet he intentionally tried to cover his tracks, and there is a great deal he successfully concealed.

Ted Rousseau was a swashbuckling curator: he was sophisticated (educated at Eton, Harvard, and the Sorbonne), spoke many languages, and was a spy in the Far East before joining the OSS’s Art Looting Investigation Unit. Rousseau was competitive and took chances (his regard for European export laws was notoriously suspect), so it is not surprising that he would turn to a Nazi art plunderer as a source of information and perhaps artworks themselves. There is no doubt that Rousseau understood that a large number of Nazi looted artworks had never been restituted, and he knew exactly who Lohse was, having helped pen the OSS reports on him. But Rousseau wanted to build the Met’s collections and if Lohse could be helpful…