The movie, “The Monuments Men”, is bringing a little known piece of history to the big screen. The Roberts Commission was created during World War II on June 23,1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the charter of protecting cultural resources in military areas as long as it didn’t interfere with military actions. The Commission identified artwork stolen by the Nazis and, with a military program known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA), worked to recover and return the cultural treasures. The MFAA — the Monuments Men — consisted of more than three hundred men and women from thirteen countries.
David E. Finley played a critical role in the Roberts Commission. As a young man he worked for Andrew Mellon at the Treasury Department and helped Mellon assemble his extensive art collection. Later he helped Mellon fulfill his dream of establishing a national art museum, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Finley became its first director and served from 1938 to 1956. It was in that position Finley met with the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the chairman of American Council of Learned Societies and together they proposed the formation of a commission to protect the threatened art in Europe. The Commission was named for Justice Owen J. Roberts, who served as its first chairman. The Commission met at the National Gallery of Art and Finley is described in a recent Washington Post article as its de-facto chairperson (http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/monuments-men-are-having-a-moment-thanks-in-large-part-to-robert-m-edsel/2014/02/02/3f74eb26-89c1-11e3-a5bd-844629433ba3_story.)
Although the Monuments Men obviously didn’t save everything from destruction, they located and returned millions of pieces of art and cultural resources.
David Finley was married to Margaret Morton Eustis, the daughter of Edith and William Corcoran Eustis. The Eustis family owned Oatlands from 1903 until 1964 when they donated the property and collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Finley’s continued to reside at Little Oatlands, which remains in family hands today. Mr. Finley was instrumental in the founding of the Trust and served as its first chairman. A good source for learning more about this fascinating man is the book, “David Finley, A Quiet Force for America’s Arts”, by David A. Doheny.
At Oatlands, we celebrate the Monuments Men, and David Finley’s crucial role as a “quiet force” for art.