Jacques Jaujard was a Frenchmen who played a pivotal role in conducting a highly secret operation and evacuation of priceless art pieces from the Nazis.
Just ten days before the onset of World War II, Jaujard and his team of loyal employees carried a tactful operation to disperse art pieces like Mona Lisa and France’s entire public art collection from the sight of Hitler’s art hunger.
The initial life of Jaujard
Jaujard’s drive for art and antiquity began in 1907 when he desired to enter Vienna’s Academy of Art. But his dreams were crushed when he did not get admission to the college and started selling paintings as souvenirs to earn his living.
Years later, he moved to Paris and became the assistant director of the French National Museums. In 1938, he supervised the evacuation of the Museo del Prado collections to Switzerland to shelter it from the Spanish civil war.
The art rescue operation by Jaujard and his team
Ten days before World War II, he sensed Hitler’s personal desire to build the Führermuseum confiscating and plundering art pieces from throughout Europe. And so, Jaujard took the call independently to evacuate the art pieces from Lourve Museum.
On 25 August 1939, Jaujard closed Louvre for three days, officially for repair work. For three days and nights, the curators, Louvre school students, and employees constantly carried out a herculean task. Wrapping and putting the fragile paintings, sculptures, and artifacts into wooden boxes. The vast paintings like The Raft of the Medusa had to be dragged onto an open truck with a giant blanket covering it.
Masterpieces were categorized in order of importance: a yellow circle for very valuable art pieces, green for major works, and red for world treasures. The white case containing the Mona Lisa was marked with three red circles.
A fleet of approximately two hundred vehicles transported more than 1800+ art treasures to inconspicuous castles in France where they could be laid anonymous and secure.
Soon when the Germans invaded France in 1940, Count Franz Wolff-Metternich was appointed by Hitler to administer the Lourve Museum. Jaujard had to carry a double task; resisting the Nazis to loot art pieces and fight against the collaborationist leaders of France who were eager to hand France’s treasures to German occupiers.
But as they say, “the universe conspires when you aspire.” The German man in Nazi uniform, Metternich, discarded Hitler’s autocracy and helped Jaujard to preserve art pieces from German aristocrats like Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Metternich knew the repositories where the artworks were hidden but he assured Jaujard to protect them from the German army.
How Mona Lisa was protected from bombing
Throughout the war, Jaujard organized secret missions to protect Mona Lisa and placing it from one chateau to another.
Jaujard had to convey messages to allies to avoid bombing the art treasures. He provided the allies the details of hidden artworks and encrypted messages like “La Joconde a le sourire,” meaning “The Mona Lisa is smiling.”
The curators created huge signs of the “Louvre” to be stamped on grounds of castles so that it was visible to the pilots.
He even managed to transport electric heaters and hydrometric devices to help preserve the most antique and fragile art pieces like The Seated Scribe, dating back to 2000 BC.
After the liberation of Paris in 1945, the art pieces began to return to the original museums. Jaujard’s colleague, Rose Valland, played an indispensable role as an art spy against Nazis. She provided all the secret information about looted art pieces to Jaujard.
Both of them played an instrumental role in art restitution from the Nazis throughout Europe.
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