The lead character in the new movie “The Monuments Men” is based on a Winterset native who went to the University of Iowa. U-I president, Sally Mason, told the Board of Regents Thursday that George Stout got his beginning in the art world in Iowa City. “Stout served in World War One in a military hospital and then he attended the University of Iowa. So, we are proud obviously that he is an alum of the University of Iowa,” Mason says. “While he was at the University of Iowa he studied drawing — which during his time at Iowa was a required course — and he fell in love with art.”
Mason says Stout traveled around Europe visiting art museums after he graduated, and then he went on to Harvard for his graduate studies. It was at the Harvard Art Museum where Mason says Stout developed the modern science of art conservation. “He was really the first person that believed that rather than having artists repaint great masterpieces when they needed restoration, that there were ways that you could conserve art,” according to Mason.
Mason says many of the techniques that Stout developed are still in practice today. Stout interrupted his career in the art world and took the unusual step of re-enlisting in the military in World War Two at the age of 45. “Because he wanted to save world culture from being destroyed by the Nazis. And he was absolutely convinced that that was what was happening,” Mason says. “He led a group of art experts and museum professionals that were popularily know as monuments men.”
Mason says the movie is based on a book about Stout and the work his team did during the war. “His Army team saved over 40 tons of artwork, including da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Bayeux Tapestry. And they also worked to save priceless manuscripts and monuments — including a lot of Europe’s great churches and cathedrals,” Mason says. When Japan surrendered, Stout went there and oversaw restoration projects.
The movie is based on the 2009 book by Robert Edsel: “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.” George Clooney plays Stout in the movie. Stout went on to become the director of the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts and then the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. He died at the age of 80 in 1978.