Rose Antonia Maria Valland was born on November 1, 1898, in Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, France. Her parents were François Paul Valland, a blacksmith, and Maria Rosa Viardin. Information and evidence claim that Rose was raised in a humble family and modest home (4). However, gifted Rose had an astonishing talent in Art. Because of this, she obtained a scholarship in an “école normale,” a teaching school. She intended to become an art teacher and graduated in 1918. Rose also studied Art at the “École Nationale des, beaux-arts de Lyon,” graduating in 1922. Valland outperformed the challenging exam for art teacher training and experienced two years of more studying in the École Nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, graduating in 1925 (7).
She was a French art historian, a member of the French Resistance, and one of the most decorated women in French history, best described as an “Art Hero” of World War II (7). Rose was enlightened and focused on the arts for her educational path. First, with her degree from Beaux-Paris, her end goal of becoming an Art high school teacher. Once again, she began studying art history at the École du Louvre and the University of Paris, where she graduated in 1931. She had hoped that her education would pay off to become later a full-time paid worker at the Louvre. Instead, Rose traveled to Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to extend her knowledge of Art (4). This trip was beneficial because she learned to speak, read, and understand German, which would be the most powerful tool and the overall positive impact on the Art world from her success in rescuing priceless treasures (6).
A World War II Heroine
After Rose Valland finished her graduate studies at the prestigious College de France, even with all her degrees and credentials, Rose Valland began work at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris as an unpaid volunteer in 1932. Until July of 1941, during World War II, Valland was put in paid service and became the overseer of the Jeu de Paume Museum at the time of the German occupation of France. She assumed charge of the Museum, first as a paid “attache” before her promotion to the assistant curator (4).
Rose Valland love and passion for Art led to her obtaining a position at Jeu de Paume Museum. Because of this, she grew fond and had an enormous appreciation for each art exhibition piece placed in the Museum. In addition, Valland knew and understood how Art culture plays a vital role in people’s lives. Therefore, Valland’s unconditional love for Art led her to maintain her reputation to move further in her career in Art and always be responsible for the Art exhibitions in the Museum. However, greedy Hitler used Art as a political tool, organizing “German” art exhibitions to prove Aryan supremacy and “Degenerate Art” exhibitions accuse Jews and Bolsheviks of being degenerates. Rose Valland described this event in her life as “a strange world where works of art arrived with the sound of jackboots” (6).
Moreover, In Hitler’s mind, Art, race, and politics were related to his whole envision to reach ultimate power and instill his own extremist beliefs. It led to the plunder of one-fifth of Europe’s artistic patrimony And the Nazi intention to destroy hundreds of museums, libraries, and places of worship (3). When the Nazi invasion started in Paris, most employees from all museums, libraries, and places with Artwork were fired except Rose, a modest and, in the German’s eyes, seemed unpretentious woman in her position as a curator, was allowed to stay. It was the leeway for her to start her position as a spy against the Nazi’s plans, given that Valland secretly recorded all the details of the Nazis’ plundering (4).
In hidden notebooks, Valland wrote down the names of the stolen artworks, who they were stolen from, and where they were being sent to coded destinations across Europe. For example, she had evidence that paintings were sent to places such as the castle of Neuschwanstein for when the war ended. Neuschwanstein castle was chosen as headquarters for the “German art-looting organization,” said art historian Tanja Bernau. Its location near the Austrian border and far from Berlin or other likely Allied targets made Neuschwanstein an ideal depot. She hid her spying behind a reserved perspective, pretending she couldn’t understand German. She kept up this act for four years (4).
An Art Spy
As World War II raged and the Nazis advanced across Western Europe, Hitler’s army caused untold destruction. At the same time, it managed the most significant art theft in history since Hitler created a system to loot priceless works of Art from Europe’s occupied territories (1). Therefore, the Allies began a special unit to safeguard Europe’s historic treasures. They were called “The Monuments Men,” and took charge of cultural preservation during the unimaginable destruction by the Nazis.
In 1944, an American Soldier named James Rorimer came to Paris to help with the city’s liberation. Lieutenant Rorimer was one of the Monument Men in charge of finding Europe’s stolen Art. James met Rose Valland at the Jeu De Paume Museum during his search. He suspected that Rose Valland might have information that could lead the Monument Men to the hidden works, and they both had to trust and learn about each other’s intentions (1). Lieutenant was right since Rose Valland, known as the Art Hero of World War II, was courageous by taking on the role of spy to report the information to the Monument Men alliance.
Moreover, Rose hid her spying deception pretending she couldn’t understand German. Rose Valland kept up this act for four years when the Germans infiltrated all prominent European Art while working at the Jeu de Paume. Thanks to Rose, the Monument Men discovered over 20,000 priceless Art, jewelry, and furniture hidden inside the Neuschwanstein Castle (2). For example, she had evidence that paintings were sent to places such as the castle of Neuschwanstein for when the war ended. As a result, Neuschwanstein castle was selected as headquarters for the “German art-looting organization,” said art historian Tanja Bernau. Moreover, its location near the Austrian border and far from Berlin or other likely Allied targets made Neuschwanstein an ideal depot.
Furthermore, when the Nazis took over Je de Paume, they thought Valland was harmless, but little did they know she took multiple notes and photographs and recorded where the Nazis hid all the Artwork. Regardless of the danger, there was during the invasion of the Nazis in the 1940s, Rose Valland The Lieutenant took a long time to gain Rose Valland’s trust. This way, Lieutenant Rorimer utilized the evidence Rose had from the personal scrapbook of a Nazi chief of Staff (5). Therefore, in 1945, Rose Valland joined the Monuments Men in Germany to help ensure the proper restitution of the Artwork (5). Even with all the evidence where various artworks were located and kept in Europe, there are many still missing today, but the Monument Men and Rose Valland succeeded in returning more than 5 million artworks to the rightful museums, art sites, and owners (2).
Rose Valland, The Art Spy by the Center for Art Collection Ethics on February 17,2022.
My Experience With Rose Valland
Rose Valland was a brave woman in the 1940s. Regardless of her situation as a woman trying to battle the barriers that society placed against her to get to her desired career, she remained persistent and did not give in to settling for less. Rose’s love, dedication, perseverance, and passion for her career in Art and goal-oriented persona directed her to take on the challenging job of saving Art from the Nazis during World War II. Furthermore, given that men did not understand women’s power and intelligence, they misinterpreted such a remarkable woman, Rose Valland, who was overqualified and deserved a better position given her incredible education record. However, the misconception men had about her did not stop her from moving forward to fight against the most dangerous regime, which was the Nazis. The Nazi invasion of the Museum where she worked: Je de Paume motivated Rose to fight for her cultural preservation of all the artworks and museum exhibitions that the Nazis wanted to own and take away. Because of this, I was more than astonished by Rose Valland and her determination to prevent injustices to her own country and future generations that would have stolen their cultural identity.
Moreover, as a student in the Social Work field, I was inspired by her hard work from her educational pathway to push forward and obtain the most out of your passion and desired career to be as knowledgeable as one can be. For example, she started with the goal of becoming an art teacher. Since she studied hard, she received scholarships to study Art at the École Nationale des beaux-arts de Lyon and moved forward to top the competitive exam for art teacher training. Rose kept her pathway in art history at the École du Louvre and the University of Paris. She graduated in 1933 with a unique diploma from the École du Louvre and completed graduate studies at the Collège de France (4). Even with all her accomplishments, she was not given a paying position at first in Je de Paume. However, this did not stop Rose, and it has allowed me to respect and understand that back then, women did not have the proper representation nor were able to speak on their rights as we do today. But thanks to Women like Rose Valland, who was intelligent and willing to fight against all odds and injustices, we have reached the present point where many women have higher standings and are represented in influential roles.
Rose Valland has allowed me to view both sides from the power of one’s passion and perseverance regardless of the perception others might have towards you. For example, even when many viewed her as incapable or harmless and not understanding just because she was a woman, she was the one person brave enough to help restore the most critical cultural identity of Europe once again, which is Art. Rose knew the power and how it defines one’s country, and if she did not take on the spy role during her time at Je De Paume, France’s history would be distinct, and no one will have the ability to trace back important information from Artworks. Her outstanding knowledge and intelligence skills permitted Rose to keep a profile from the Nazis, who were unaware that she understood German. Her talented abilities let her take detailed notes and descriptions of all the spoken information from the Nazis.
Rose is indeed a heroine of World War II. Her courage and remarkable work have enlightened multiple people like me to defy all odds. As a student in Social work, it has given me the impulse to help and support visions, and ethical principles like Rose Valland did with cultural identity. It is in one’s power to prevent those injustices from occurring and stealing from any individual and group what they deserve and which people deserve and respect their ownership of their identity and cultural values from Art or designs that represent each society or a country’s history and background. I understand Rose Valland’s position more than ever since; as a student at Florida International University, the Artworks located in the Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum, I treasured and had miscellaneous tours to understand the history and perspectives behind each Artist’s creation. It has been influential in my career development and learning experience, and I will want others to experience and understand it. I know how vital Art and meaningful it can be in one’s life, just as Rose Valland stated. Valland’s fearlessness should never be forgotten since she performed strongly to restore France and Europe’s deserving society with its cultural identity and the worthy ownership of all their exhibitions in their rightful location. It will permanently be embedded in me as I got to know Rose through rigorous research, from the root of her life to the last memorable day of an outstanding woman she will hold in history. I will forever remember her as the extraordinary woman she was, her efforts in her life, and her dedication since now we can appreciate and educate each other on the Artwork for generations to come.
- Brooks, Kylie. (2018, January 31). Art Heroes: Capt. Rose Valland. https://moa.byu.edu/art-heroes-rose-valland/
- Cœuré, Sophie. Accessed April 24. 2022. “Cultural Looting and Restitution at the Dawn of the Cold War: The French Recovery Missions in Eastern Europe.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 52, no. 3, 2017, pp. 588–606, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44504064.
- Deprez, Guillaume. (2020, January 14). Rose Valland: Art Historian Turned Spy To Save Art From Nazis. https://www.thecollector.com/rose-valland-art-historian-spy-nazi/https://www.thecollector.com/rose-valland-art-historian-spy-nazi/
- Early Life – Rose Valland: Guardian of Treasure. https://rvgot.weebly.com/early-life.html
- Herber, Lori. (2014, February 21). Neuschwanstein: A fairy tale darling’s dark Nazi past. https://www.dw.com/en/neuschwanstein-a-fairy-tale-darlings-dark-nazi-past/a-17442885
- Ministere De La Culture. (2019, November 18). Liberate, Egalite,Fraternite. Rose Valland a portrait of a committed woman.https://www.culture.gouv.fr/en/Actualites/Rose-Valland-portrait-d-une-femmeengagee
- Monuments Men Foundation. Reinstitution, Education, Organization. Rose Valland. https://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/