Lamont Moore (1909-1988)
Lamont Moore was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1909. He received a degree from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania in 1932 and was awarded a Carnegie fellowship to study art and architecture in Europe. He traveled to Holland, France, Switzerland, and England, absorbing European culture and becoming fluent in French and German. Upon his return to the United States, he enrolled in a Museum Technique course at the Newark Museum of Art and Science in New Jersey, where he studied the care and preservation of cultural objects. In addition, he served as supervisor of the Newark Museum’s education department from 1934 to 1941.
In March 1941 the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. opened its doors to the public for the first time. Moore served as curator of the Gallery’s education department from 1941 to 1943 and after the war from 1946 to 1947. He was thus on hand during the National Gallery’s formulation of an emergency plan for the safekeeping of its greatest works of art during World War II. In fear of possible air raids on Washington, National Gallery employees, including Moore and future Monuments Men Craig Hugh Smyth, Charles Parkhurst, and Chief Curator John Walker, evacuated some of the Gallery’s most important works to safety at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina in January 1942. Moore also participated in subsequent inspections of the mansion’s storage conditions to ensure the collection’s continued well-being.
Moore enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1943 and was commissioned Monuments Officer for U.S. Ninth Army in early 1945. Over the course of his service, he was directly involved in some of the most notable discoveries and restitution milestones of the MFAA. In April 1945 he was involved in the discovery of the vast repository near Magdeburg, Germany filled with thousands of items stolen from Polish churches. In May and June 1945 Moore assisted Monuments Men Lt. Cdr. George Stout and Capt. Walker K. Hancock in the evacuation of the Siegen copper mine near Westphalia, Germany. The cache of looted works of art from the Rhineland museums found at Siegen represented the first major repository discovered by the MFAA. Moore was present for the raising of the bronze sarcophagi of Frederick the Great from the depths of Bernterode mine, witnessed the enormous store of Nazi gold at Merkers mine, and was one of only two American Monuments Officers permitted to enter Grasleben mine in the British sector in late May 1945.
Impressed by Moore’s calm demeanor and experienced understanding of evacuation techniques, Lt. Cdr. Stout was inspired to suggest the creation of a three-man Special Evacuation Team. In addition to Moore, the specialized trio included Monuments Men Lt. Cdr. Thomas Howe and Lt. Steven Kovalyak. Together, the men traveled to Alt Aussee, Austria, where Monuments Men Capt. Robert Posey and Pfc. Lincoln Kirstein had recently discovered the staggering collection of works of art and other cultural objects looted by the Nazis including Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, Vermeer’s The Astronomer, and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. Next, the team was sent to Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, where they removed thirty-one truckloads of looted objects in a mere thirteen days. Of particular note at Berchtesgaden was the infamous painting Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery belonging to Hermann Goering. Passed off as a genuine masterpiece by Vermeer by Goering’s art dealer Walter Andreas Hofer, the painting was later dramatically revealed to be a forgery by the artist Hans Van Meegeren.
In August 1945 Moore, Howe, and Kovalyak reported for duty at Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps. Hidden inside the castle were thousands of the greatest treasures stolen from private collectors and art dealers in France, many of whom were Jews. These included the Rothschild jewelry collection, silver from the David-Weill collection, and paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Fragonard, Watteau, Canaletto, along with the detailed records of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR, the task force commissioned by Adolf Hitler to plunder art including works destined for his planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria).
Moore was also closely tied to the MFAA’s greatest controversy. In November 1945 he was one of thirty-two Monuments Men to sign the Wiesbaden Manifesto, a document submitted in protest of the removal of German-owned paintings from the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. for safekeeping. Due to his history with the National Gallery, Moore was chosen to carefully pack the 202 selected paintings and personally escort them overseas to Washington. It was an act that created significant backlash in the international press and compromised the public image of the American restitution effort. In his December 14, 1945 official report on the shipment, Moore detailed the incredible attention to detail involved in ensuring the paintings’ safe passage. Once the priceless paintings were safely ashore in the United States, Moore acted as curator of the collection until its eventual return to Germany in 1949.
Moore remained active with the MFAA as Administrative Officer and Assistant Secretary-Treasurer for the Roberts Commission beginning in February 1946. In 1947 he was named associate director of the American Academy in Rome. He remained in Rome for only one year, and then embarked on a long career at Yale University. There, he served as associate director of the Yale University Art Gallery from 1948 to 1953, and then succeeded his mentor, John Marshall Phillips, as Director after Phillips’s unexpected death in 1953. Moore also taught a graduate course at Yale University on museum techniques and administration. He remained at Yale University until 1957.
Lamont Moore died on August 23, 1998. He is buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.