George Lesley Stout


Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve (USNR), Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA), European Theater & Far Eastern Theater

Source: Monuments Men Foundation

A veteran of World War I and well-known expert on art conservation techniques at Harvard, George Stout played a lead role in working to protect European artworks and monuments during World War II. He learned from his professional contacts in Europe that museums and institutions were evacuating and safeguarding their holdings. Stout composed a pamphlet for American museum officials detailing proper safeguarding techniques for their collections. Along with colleagues at Harvard, Stout helped establish the American Defense Harvard Group, which was instrumental in the formation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas,

later known as the Roberts Commission. Stout was one of the first members appointed to the MFAA, which had been established by the Roberts Commission and charged with protecting art and monuments on the ground in Europe.

He also wrote a manual with his Harvard colleague W.G. Constable, entitled Brief Manual of Safeguarding and Conservation in the Field. Along with New York architect Bancel La Farge, Stout was one of the first Monuments Men to go ashore at Normandy. As the Allies marched through France and Germany, he was on the front lines as Monuments Man for Twelfth Army Group, helping to rescue cultural treasures in places like Caen, Maastricht, and Aachen, and in repositories in Siegen, Heilbronn, Cologne, Merkers, and Altaussee. The significance of George Stout to the MFAA and to the preservation of Europe’s cultural patrimony cannot be overstated. According to official military papers, he was "motivated by the urgency of his task, he spent almost all of his time alone in the field, disregarding comfort and personal convenience...his relationship with the many tactical units with whom he worked were managed with unfailing tact and skillful staff work."

He departed Europe at the end of July, 1945, and in October was sent to Japan, where he had volunteered his services as a Monuments Officer. He became Chief of the Arts and Monuments Division at Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Tokyo, and remained there through mid-1946.

For his work in Europe, Stout received the Bronze Star Medal, and also the Army Commendation Medal.

Prior to the war, Stout was a research fellow at Harvard, where he earned his Master’s degree in 1928 and was head of the conservation department at the University’s Fogg Art Museum since 1933. He resumed that position after the war, until 1947 when he became director of the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA. Stout left Worcester in 1954 and in 1955 became director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where he remained until 1970.

There have been damaged buildings and muddy roads and a few shells whistling around but the fundamental necessities have always been available, food, shelter, a place to get warm, a place to sleep. And I have felt better perhaps because of the satisfaction of getting something done that I can see really done and accomplished.

Lesson Plans

  • 1

    Eisenhower, Hitler & The Monuments Men

    Adolf Hitler is stealing, General Dwight D. Eisenhower is protecting. These historic documents let students explore the value of cultural heritage from both sides of the war.

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  • 2

    Is Art Worth a Life?

    Giving up one’s life to save a work of art provokes strong debate. Place students in the role of a Monuments Man or Woman and have them discuss what they would do to protect art in times of war. What is worth protecting?

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  • 3

    Priceless Art, Personal Objects, Countless Lives

    The Jeu de Paume Museum was a collecting point for Nazi art looting in France. Learn what was held within its walls, where it came from, and where it went.

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  • 4

    The Monuments Men Were a Long Time Ago. Why Does This Matter?

    What can we learn from the Monuments Men as the world’s cultural heritage continues to be threatened?

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