These playing cards highlight WWII's 'Most Wanted' lost and stolen art (2022)

Art history buffs, eagle-eyed collectors, antiquities experts and members of the public at large are being invited to join the global hunt for a treasure trove of artworks still missing since World War II, with cash rewards of up to $25,000 for useful information. The buy-in is a single deck of cards.

Dallas-based non-profit the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art has unveiled a set of specially-designed playing cards featuring priceless artefacts that were mostly looted by the Nazis, taken as souvenirs by light-fingered soldiers or subject to forced sales, during the six-year conflict.

The “WWII Most Wanted Art” deck highlights just 52 of the hundreds of thousands of artworks that have yet to be tracked down after what the project’s architects call “the greatest theft in history”.

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The purpose of the deck is to highlight the existence of these works, from Van Goghs to Rembrandts to Caravaggios, and encourage people to come forward with information that might lead to their recovery.

The Monuments Men work in close partnership with the FBI and Carabinieri Art Squad in Italy. But instead of involving law enforcement, Monuments Men founder Robert Edsel said, for those who realise they do own looted art “this is a chance for people to do the right thing, to come forward, to address the problem.”

Decades after World War II, priceless creations are still in the wilderness

The original Monuments Men were part of a wider group commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 in the face of a destructive war and the widespread, systematic sacking of art and artefacts in Nazi-occupied parts of Europe.

Museum curators, scholars and artists, architects and librarians were among the initial 24 who volunteered on the frontlines to locate and recover art during the war. In the last year of the war the Monuments Men recovered hundreds of thousands of stolen objects, followed by a staggering 4,000,000 more in the six years that followed.

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These playing cards highlight WWII's 'Most Wanted' lost and stolen art (1)

But their mission was never completed, prompting the creation of an NGO set up in their name and with the same aim in 2007. The Foundation has since tracked down 30 long-lost masterpieces around the world and reunited them with their legally-recognised owners.

The Most Wanted deck was the brainchild of now-trustee Kevin McGlone, inspired by a U.S. military tradition; decks have been produced featuring most-wanted fugitives from the Iraq War and to help soldiers identify aircraft in World War II.

Foundation president Anna Bottinelli told Euronews: “We thought it would take six months, but in the end it took nearly 24. The more we looked into it, the more we realised the potential for this to be a really ground-breaking concept.

“There are so many artworks missing. Even if we hired every detective in the world, they wouldn’t know where to look. So we have to go the opposite way, and engage the public.”

What's on the cards?

The 52 pieces of art featured in the deck are best construed as highlights, and by no means the sole 'most wanted' items, Bottinelli said. Choosing them was an agonising process, but informed by strict criteria.

“The works included are the ones we have a reason to believe survived the war. We aren’t wasting time on works we believe to have been destroyed. Their whereabouts also had to be unknown; none of them are currently the subject of a court case.”

The Monuments Men worked with law enforcement, museums across Europe and the legal representatives of prospective heirs to draw up the final list.

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The cards are being revealed to the public online in a staggered fashion – four a week, for maximum impact. Keen treasure-hunters (and card players) can pre-order a set now for shipping in May.

These playing cards highlight WWII's 'Most Wanted' lost and stolen art (2)

Among the works featured, though are paintings, drawings and sculptures by Raphael, Degas, Pissarro, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Emil Nolde, Otto Dix, Caravaggio, Guercino, Cranach the Elder, Canaletto, Memling, Mondrian, Liebermann and Van Dyck. There are also reliquaries, and one fragment of a Persian rug stolen from a bank vault in Hungary.

In total, six of the featured pieces were stolen from Italy between 1943 and 1944. Twelve were 'confiscated' from Jewish art collectors. Eight disappeared from Germany in the closing days of the war. At least eleven are known to have been stolen by the German or Soviet Armies.

Some have resurfaced at points in time since then, including five on the European or US art markets. Six were last known to be in private collections in Russia, Italy, the US and Switzerland. One was last known to be in the possession of a member of the Gurlitt family; Hildebrand Gurlitt, who died in 1956, was one of Hitler and Goering's four authorised dealers of looted “degenerate art”.

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So far the Foundation has revealed the content of five of the 52 cards. One of them is a pastel by the French impressionist Edgar Degas’, Portrait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot (1890), which was 'confiscated' from the villa of a Jewish former gallery owner in Floirac, France in September 1940.

These playing cards highlight WWII's 'Most Wanted' lost and stolen art (3)

After passing through the German Embassy, the pastel ended up in the hands of the Nazi-looting organisation Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). It was known to have been sold to a Swiss collector in 1974. But the dealer has refused to disclose their identity.

These playing cards highlight WWII's 'Most Wanted' lost and stolen art (4)

The others are Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Still Life with Flowers, dating back to the 16th or 17th century, and Emanuel de Witte’s Interior of a Gothic Church (1668), both of which went missing in Germany, as well as Palma il Vecchio’s Virgin and Child With Saints, an even older oil painting removed in late 1943 from the Basilica of Santa Maria del Colle in Pescocostanzo, Italy.

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The Foundation has also thrown in two joker cards: each features a set of Nazi photo albums of artwork Hitler once intended for his planned Gemäldegalerie Linz, commonly referred to as the Führermuseum. Eleven parts of the 31-volume set are missing.

These playing cards highlight WWII's 'Most Wanted' lost and stolen art (5)

Based on past experience, Bottinelli says, there is a genuine possibility that some people who discover - or are reminded - that they have lost unwillingly sold or stolen artwork in their possession could still come forward.

“It has been heart-warming to see people do the right thing,” she said, “and voluntarily return something, 70 or 80 years later, because they understand that that’s what’s needed to turn the page on a horrible part of our recent history.”

It’s not always the case; some refuse, leading to legal action, which Bottinelli says is a waste of time. “You can have something incredibly valuable. But if it’s not yours, it’s worthless to you.

"You might as well spin it into a positive and give a family some closure by reuniting them with something that might have been in their family for decades. Trials and legal battles don’t serve any purpose other than bleeding both parties.”

The World War II generation is dwindling, meaning with each passing year, it becomes harder and harder to locate these important pieces of history. The card project, Bottinelli said, is “the starting gun of something we hope will be a long, exciting journey. The work is certainly tedious. But If this project leads to the recovery of just a few, it’ll be a great success. “

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FAQs

Is there still missing art from ww2? ›

More than 30,000 pieces of art are still missing. Some may have been destroyed, others hidden from public view. This gallery focuses on works of art that have been tragically lost to the second World War. The portrait of "Dr Paul Gachet" is one of Vincent van Gogh's more popular works.

How much stolen art from ww2 is still missing? ›

During World War II, the Nazis looted some 600,000 paintings from Jews, at least 100,000 of which are still missing. The looting was not only designed to enrich the Third Reich but also integral to the Holocaust's goal of eliminating all vestiges of Jewish identity and culture.

Do the monuments men still exist? ›

We continue their work by locating and returning these objects to their rightful owners. The assistance of the general public through tips and other information is vital to the success of our mission. If you have information about a work of art or other cultural item taken during World War II, please contact us.

What famous art was lost in ww2? ›

Raphael, Portrait of a Young Man, 1513/14

Regarded by art historians as Poland's most famous art loss from WWII, Portrait of a Young Man was taken from the Czartoryski's family collection in Krakow to be placed in Hitler's Fuhrer museum in 1939.

Who was Hitler's favorite artist? ›

Hitler's favorite painter was Adolf Ziegler and Hitler owned a number of his works. Landscape painting featured prominently in the Great German Art exhibition.

Should stolen art be returned? ›

It is morally correct, and reflects basic property laws, that stolen or looted property should be returned to its rightful owner. Cultural objects belong together with the cultures that created them; these objects are a crucial part of contemporary cultural and political identity.

How much is a Mona Lisa worth? ›

The Mona Lisa is believed to be worth more than $850 million, taking into account inflation. In 1962, it was insured for $100 million, holding the Guinness World Record for highest ever insurance value in the art market (corresponding to $870 million in 2021).

How did the Mona Lisa get stolen? ›

The handyman had been hired by the Louvre to make protective glass cases for some its famous works – including the Mona Lisa. After hiding in a closet overnight, he simply removed the painting, hid it under his smock, and was about to waltz out of the building when he discovered the door was locked.

What artifacts were lost in ww2? ›

In this list, we are examining some of the most famous artefacts of World War II that have never been recovered.
  • The Just Judges—1934. ...
  • Royal Casket—1939. ...
  • Peking Man—1941–45. ...
  • Amber Room—1945. ...
  • Awa Maru Treasure—1945.

Where is the Amber Room now? ›

The reconstruction took 23 years, but today the recreated Amber Room is on display at Catherine Palace in the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum and Heritage Site in St Petersburg.

Who is the old man at the end of Monuments Men? ›

It's his dad, journalist Nick Clooney! This is Clooney Sr.'s first acting credit since 1958, when he played "Freddie — Man in Parking Lot" in The High Cost of Living.

What is the name of the only monument man who is still living? ›

Richard Barancik is the only Monuments Man still living.

Where was the Mona Lisa hidden during WWII? ›

Throughout the war, the art pieces were clandestinely moved from chateau to chateau to avoid being taken back by the Nazis. For example, the Mona Lisa was moved from Chambord to several castles and abbeys, to finish at the end of the war at the Musée Ingres in Montauban.

What happened to art in World War 2? ›

During World War Two, much of the art was destroyed in fighting or looted, never to be seen again. And although a lot was also saved thanks to the heroic efforts of individuals and institutions, some of the stories of art in wartime do make you wince for the poor works.

How did World War 2 affect art? ›

The most obvious characteristic of American painting since 1944, the end of the Second World War can be considered as the trend toward abstraction, which causes the each artist to develop a highly personal and unique style of painting.

What is the most expensive piece of art stolen? ›

The largest art theft in world history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990 when thieves stole 13 pieces, collectively valued at $500 million, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Among the pieces stolen was Vermeer's The Concert, which is considered to be the most valuable stolen painting in the world.

How do I find out if art is stolen? ›

Drag the artwork to the search bar in Google Image Search, and Drop Image Here appears. If the photograph appears found on other websites, the results instantly pop up. Most of them could very well be your own postings of art.

Where is stolen art sold? ›

The black market. Most stolen art work goes underground. The thief sells his haul to an unscrupulous art dealer, who usually sells it on to a private collector who keeps it for a while.

How much are Hitler's paintings worth? ›

Adolf Hitler was a German Impressionist & Modern artist who was born in 1889. Adolf Hitler's work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from 52 USD to 12,000 USD, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is 12,000 USD for.

What was Adolf Hitler's favorite painting? ›

One work he long coveted was Johannes Vermeer's "The Astronomer." After the Nazis snatched it, their chief art confiscator, Alfred Rosenberg, sent a triumphant note to Hitler's closest aide to announce the news, which "will I believe bring him great joy," according to Hector Feliciano's 1995 book "The Lost Museum."

What was Hitler's favorite piece of art? ›

Architecture was Hitler's favorite art form. He viewed himself as the "master builder of the Third Reich." Among the surviving examples of Nazi architecture is the Olympic stadium complex in Berlin.

Do museums buy artifacts? ›

Most commonly, museums get the artifacts they need for an exhibit by either buying or borrowing them. Common sense would say that it is cheaper to borrow than buy, but in the world of museums that isn't always true.

Will the British Museum ever return the stolen artifacts? ›

The British museum will return over 70 artifacts that were looted in 1897.

Why won't England give back artifacts? ›

The British Museum Act, a law from 1963, prevents the museum in London from doing the same. The law does set out limited exceptions (such as if the object is a duplicate), but returning the loot of empire is not one of them.

Who owns the Mona Lisa right now? ›

It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic. It has been on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris since 1797. The Mona Lisa is one of the most valuable paintings in the world.

Can I buy the Mona Lisa? ›

Truly priceless, the painting cannot be bought or sold according to French heritage law. As part of the Louvre collection, "Mona Lisa" belongs to the public, and by popular agreement, their hearts belong to her.

What is the most valuable piece of art in the world? ›

Guinness World Records lists Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa as having the highest ever insurance value for a painting. On permanent display at the Louvre in Paris, the Mona Lisa was assessed at US$100 million on December 14, 1962. Taking inflation into account, the 1962 value would be around US$900 million in 2021.

Who found the Mona Lisa after it was stolen? ›

Vincenzo Peruggia

Is the Mona Lisa still missing? ›

The Mona Lisa was eventually returned to the Louvre, where it remains today, exhibited behind bulletproof glass. It is arguably the most famous painting in the world and is seen by millions of visitors every year.

How did the Mona Lisa get found? ›

At that point, Florence's chief of police and several detectives were dispatched to the Hotel. Quietly, and politely, the thief – whose real name was Vincenzo Perugia – submitted to arrest. After two agonizing years of false leads and dead-end trails, the Mona Lisa had at last been found.

Did they find anything in Lost gold of ww2? ›

The treasure was found and stolen by a former ruling family there (The Marcos regime). And, it was worth billions. It's been disclosed in court records there. Research shows they stole between $5-10 Billions Dollars and most of it was hidden in overseas banks and never recovered.

Where is Hitler's art collection? ›

Photographs of the 74 paintings and two tapestries in 'Katalog der Privat-Gallerie Adolf Hitlers', a photographic catalogue of Hitler's private art collection, are available on the US Library of Congress website. To view the catalogue, click here.

How did WWI affect art? ›

During and after World War I, flowery Victorian language was blown apart and replaced by more sinewy and R-rated prose styles. In visual art, Surrealists and Expressionists devised wobbly, chopped-up perspectives and nightmarish visions of fractured human bodies and splintered societies slouching toward moral chaos.

Has the Russian Amber Room been found? ›

Eyewitnesses claimed to have seen the Amber Room being packaged up and placed on-board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German transport ship, which was subsequently sunk in January 1945 by a Soviet submarine. Its wreckage, however, has been dived many times and nothing linked to the Amber Room has ever been discovered there.

Did they ever recover the Amber Room? ›

After the German evacuation of Königsberg in 1945, however, the treasures of the Amber Room were never seen again -– and some suspect they were secretly transported further into Germany, possibly on the steamer Karlsruhe.

Did they ever find the original Amber Room? ›

But when they took it back to Germany, all records of its location disappeared. And while some claim that Allied bombs destroyed the precious historic room, others are certain that the Nazis must have hidden away its millions worth of amber. To this day, no one has ever found the amber room.

Is Monument Men true story? ›

Drawn from Robert Edsel's book of the same title, the film is based on the true story of American and European art experts who became officers in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of Allied forces and recovered several million cultural objects from Nazi art repositories.

How much gold did The Monuments Men find? ›

Also found at Merkers was 250 tons of gold bullion – which stole any headlines the artistic discoveries might have otherwise received.

Is The Monuments Men movie on Netflix? ›

Is The Monuments Men on Netflix? The Monuments Men never made it to Netflix, unfortunately.

How many Monuments Men are still alive? ›

volunteered for service in the the 'Monuments Men' section. Six Monuments Men are still living; Harry Ettlinger, Richard Barancik, Bernard Taper, Rouben Sami, Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite and Anne Oliver Popham Bell.

Do the Monuments Men still exist? ›

We continue their work by locating and returning these objects to their rightful owners. The assistance of the general public through tips and other information is vital to the success of our mission. If you have information about a work of art or other cultural item taken during World War II, please contact us.

How many real Monuments Men were there? ›

Meet the Monuments Men

See a roster of the 345 men and women from fourteen nations who served as monuments men, including James Rorimer, Ted Rousseau, and Edith Standen, who were affiliated with the Met.

What famous art was lost in ww2? ›

Raphael, Portrait of a Young Man, 1513/14

Regarded by art historians as Poland's most famous art loss from WWII, Portrait of a Young Man was taken from the Czartoryski's family collection in Krakow to be placed in Hitler's Fuhrer museum in 1939.

How much art is missing from WWII? ›

During World War II, the Nazis looted some 600,000 paintings from Jews, at least 100,000 of which are still missing. The looting was not only designed to enrich the Third Reich but also integral to the Holocaust's goal of eliminating all vestiges of Jewish identity and culture.

Why is the Mona Lisa so famous? ›

The Mona Lisa's fame is the result of many chance circumstances combined with the painting's inherent appeal. There is no doubt that the Mona Lisa is a very good painting. It was highly regarded even as Leonardo worked on it, and his contemporaries copied the then novel three-quarter pose.

What artifacts were lost in ww2? ›

In this list, we are examining some of the most famous artefacts of World War II that have never been recovered.
  • The Just Judges—1934. ...
  • Royal Casket—1939. ...
  • Peking Man—1941–45. ...
  • Amber Room—1945. ...
  • Awa Maru Treasure—1945.

What happened to art in World War 2? ›

During World War Two, much of the art was destroyed in fighting or looted, never to be seen again. And although a lot was also saved thanks to the heroic efforts of individuals and institutions, some of the stories of art in wartime do make you wince for the poor works.

Where is the missing panel of the altarpiece of Ghent? ›

In an act of good faith, the thief had left part of the missing panel in the checked-luggage department of the Ghent train station. The panel had been sliced vertically in half, enabling the back side, a grisaille painting of Saint John the Baptist, to be separated from the Just Judges.

Where is Hitler's art collection? ›

Photographs of the 74 paintings and two tapestries in 'Katalog der Privat-Gallerie Adolf Hitlers', a photographic catalogue of Hitler's private art collection, are available on the US Library of Congress website. To view the catalogue, click here.

Did they find anything in Lost gold of ww2? ›

The treasure was found and stolen by a former ruling family there (The Marcos regime). And, it was worth billions. It's been disclosed in court records there. Research shows they stole between $5-10 Billions Dollars and most of it was hidden in overseas banks and never recovered.

How did WWI affect art? ›

During and after World War I, flowery Victorian language was blown apart and replaced by more sinewy and R-rated prose styles. In visual art, Surrealists and Expressionists devised wobbly, chopped-up perspectives and nightmarish visions of fractured human bodies and splintered societies slouching toward moral chaos.

Is there gold in Lake toplitz? ›

If gold were really at Lake Toplitz, the logistics of finding it would be challenging, considering it's 300 feet deep with layers of logs at the halfway mark. Over the years at least five divers have died trying to find the legendary treasure. Other expeditions have not found any conclusive evidence.

Who stole art in ww2? ›

ALIU officers interrogated more than two thousand individuals involved in art looting, including such key German and Nazi figures as Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler's chief photographer and art adviser; Ernst Buchner, director of the Bavarian State Paintings Museum; Karl Haberstock, a Berlin art dealer who purchased and sold ...

Who is a famous war artist? ›

These included Wyndham Lewis, Paul Nash, Chistopher Richard Nevinson, John Singer Sargent, Sir Stanley Spencer and Sir William Orpen. At the end of the war these collections were combined at the Imperial War Museum.

How much art did the Germans destroy? ›

It was the greatest art theft in history: 650,000 works looted from Europe by the Nazis, many of which were never recovered.

What was stolen in Ghent? ›

In 1816 a vicar at the Ghent cathedral reportedly stole the wing panels for an art dealer; some reports, however, say that the panels in question had been deaccessioned. Whether legally or illegally obtained, they eventually ended up at a Berlin museum.

What was stolen in Ghent The Monuments Men? ›

The Monuments Men, a group of art experts-turned-war heroes appointed to save Europe's art treasures during WWII, recovered the stolen altarpiece in 1945 from the Altaussee salt mines and brought it back to its original home in Ghent, where it's been hanging at St. Bavo's Cathedral without incident for half a century.

Why is the Ghent Altarpiece so important? ›

As the defining monument of the “new realism” of Northern Renaissance art, the Ghent Altarpiece (Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Ghent, Belgium) was regarded as both the foundation of a distinguished tradition, and an exemplary achievement to challenge all later artists.

Can you buy Hitlers art? ›

In his book Mein Kampf, he claimed to have produced as many as three paintings a day. While in power, Hitler allegedly ordered the collection and destruction of his artworks, but several hundred are known to still exist. In Germany, it is legal to sell pictures by Hitler so long as they do not contain Nazi symbols.

Who was Hitler's favorite artist? ›

Hitler's favorite painter was Adolf Ziegler and Hitler owned a number of his works. Landscape painting featured prominently in the Great German Art exhibition.

What was Hitler's art collection worth? ›

It is estimated that Gurlitt's hidden collection was worth twelve million reichsmarks while the art taken by the Monuments Men was considerably less valued.

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