Robert M. Edsel

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Robert Morse Edsel[1] (born December 28, 1956) is an American businessman and author. He has written three non-fiction books - Rescuing Da Vinci (2006), Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (2007); and Saving Italy (2013) - chronicling the recovery of artwork stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II. A film based on his book, The Monuments Men, directed by and starring Academy Award winner George Clooney, was released in February 2014.

Edsel is the co-producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary film, The Rape of Europa (2007). He is also founder and Chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, which received the 2007 National Humanities Medal under President George W. Bush. The foundation has donated four albums of photographic evidence of the Third Reich's theft of art treasures to the United States National Archives.

Early life and education[edit]

Robert M. Edsel was born in 1956, in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised in Dallas, Texas.[2] He is the son of Norma Louise (née Morse), a housewife, and Alpha Ray Edsel, a stockbroker.[3][4] Edsel was formerly a nationally ranked tennis player.

In 1981, he began his business career in oil and gas exploration. His company, Gemini Exploration, pioneered the use of horizontal drilling technology throughout the early 1990s. Gemini Exploration grew from a company of eight employees to almost 100. By 1995, Gemini had become the second most active driller of horizontal wells in the United States. Edsel sold the company’s assets to Union Pacific Resources Company, and the following year, he moved to Europe with his family.

In the late 1990s, while living in Florence, Edsel began to think about the methods and planning used to keep art out of the hands of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Following a divorce in 2000, Edsel moved to New York City, where he began a serious effort to learn about and understand the issue.

By 2004, those efforts had become a full-time career, and he established a research office in Dallas, his hometown.[5] By 2005, he had gathered thousands of photographs and other documents, and began writing the manuscript for Rescuing Da Vinci, which was published in 2006. The book received wide attention.[5][6]

In September 2009, Edsel’s second book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, a narrative account of the Monuments Men, was published by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group. The book has been translated and published in more than 25 languages. George Clooney wrote, directed and starred in a movie of the same name based on Edsel's book, The Monuments Men (2014).

Edsel's third book, entitled Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis (2013), was published by W. W. Norton and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. Saving Italy tells the dramatic story of the Monuments Men's efforts to locate and recover that country’s innumerable art treasures that had been stolen by the Nazis. Beginning with the near destruction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper by British bombing, Edsel introduces a major but largely overlooked Nazi figure, SS General Karl Wolff. Edsel describes Wolff's harrowing negotiations with OSS leader Allen Dulles, America’s senior spy in Europe, related to the artworks and preserving Paris after the Nazis' retreat.[7]

Edsel co-produced a documentary film, The Rape of Europa (2007), based on Lynn Nicholas' eponymous book. Narrated by Joan Allen, the film was well received by critics and began a theatrical run in September 2007 at the Paris Theatre in New York City.[8][9] In addition, Edsel has created The Greatest Theft in History[10] educational program, which includes the two-hour documentary film and seven hours of additional clips, as well as a companion website featuring lesson plans, glossaries, timelines, and other resources to enable teachers to easily use this material in the classroom.

Monuments Men Foundation[edit]

Edsel with President George W. Bush and four Monuments Men.

In 2007, Edsel created the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. The foundation's mission is "to preserve the legacy of the unprecedented and heroic work of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (“MFAA”) section, known as “Monuments Men,” during World War II, by raising public awareness of the importance of protecting and safeguarding civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict, but incorporating these expressions of man's greatest creative achievements into our daily lives." He announced the foundation's creation during a ceremony on June 6, 2007, the 63rd anniversary of D-Day, to celebrate Senate and House concurrent resolutions honoring the Monuments Men.[11][12]

The Monuments Men Foundation was one of ten recipients of the 2007 National Humanities Medal, an honor which was presented by President Bush during a ceremony held in the East Room of The White House on November 15, 2007. The National Humanities Medal is the highest honor given for excellence in the Humanities field.

Photograph albums[edit]

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein with Edsel after the donation of Nazi photograph albums.

During the course of their research into the whereabouts of lost art, Edsel and the staff of the Monuments Men Foundation discovered four large, leather-bound photograph albums which documented portions of the European art looted by the Nazis. The albums were in the possession of heirs to an American soldier stationed in the Berchtesgaden area of Germany, in the closing days of World War II.

The albums were created by the staff of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), a special unit that found and confiscated the best material in Nazi-occupied countries, to use for exploitation. In France, the ERR engaged in an extensive and elaborate art looting operation, part of Hitler’s much larger premeditated scheme to steal art treasures from conquered nations. The albums were created for Hitler and high-level Nazi officials as a catalogue and, more importantly, to give Hitler a way to choose the art for his art museum in Austria. A group of these photograph albums was presented to Hitler on his birthday in 1943, to "send a ray of beauty and joy into [his] revered life."[citation needed] ERR staff stated that nearly 100 such volumes were created during the years of their art looting operation.

In November 2007, at a ceremony with Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, Edsel announced the discovery of the first two photograph albums and, separately, donated the albums to the National Archives. Weinstein called the discovery "one of the most significant finds related to Hitler’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Nuremberg trials."[13]


In 2014, Edsel received the Records of Achievement award from the Foundation for the National Archives, for "'bringing to life the storied history of the men and women' who served in the Monuments Men...."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big-name movies added to SXSW lineup; Texas arts stars honored; L".
  2. ^ Joanne Kaufman (May 1, 2013). "He Drills for Answers". WSJ.
  3. ^ "The Rape of Europa – About Creators of the Film".
  4. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths EDSEL, ALPHA RAY (RAY)". The New York Times. January 22, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Kennedy, Randy (December 19, 2006). "G.I. Joes to the Rescue of Rembrandts and Raphaels". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  6. ^ Kaye, Randi (March 8, 2007). "Life after work" (video). Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  7. ^ Edsel, Robert M. "Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis:". Center Street. ISBN 9780393082418.
  8. ^ Scheib, Ronnie; Variety Staff (January 31, 2007). "The Rape of Europa". Variety. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  9. ^ Saltz, Rachel (September 14, 2007). "Art, Lost & Found". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  10. ^ "The Monuments Men – Official Site".
  11. ^ "H.Con.Res 48". Library of Congress. January 31, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  12. ^ "S. Res. 223". Library of Congress. June 6, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  13. ^ "National Archives Announces Discovery of "Hitler Albums" Documenting Looted Art" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. November 1, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  14. ^ Granberry, Michael (October 29, 2014). "GuideLIVE: National Archives honors Dallas author Robert Edsel". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on October 29, 2014.

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