Saving Mona Lisa

Gerri Chanel
Heliopa Press (2014)
ISBN 9780615990392
Reviewed by Tammy Petty Conrad for Reader Views (04/15)

Who wouldn’t want to save the Mona Lisa? You can’t imagine how much work was done to do so. “Saving Mona Lisa” by Gerri Chanel is a fascinating read for so many reasons. Art enthusiasts will enjoy it, as will historians and even engineers, who will appreciate the precision that was employed in packing, moving and storing, not just the most famous painting in the Louvre, but thousands of others. I was mesmerized by the dedication of those who worked tirelessly for years to keep the many works of art from the hands of the Nazis.

The author is a journalist, who began researching this book when she lived in France. The story begins in 1939 as the museum curators start working tirelessly on plans to save the treasures in case of war. Although this is a work of non-fiction, it almost reads like a fiction novel. That may be partly because it is hard to believe what happened during the war, but mostly due to the skill of the author. She shares stories about how different pieces of art were part of the plunder in previous wars and then hauled across country lines at the whim of the rulers. It is amazing that there are any works left to view in Europe’s museums!

It was fascinating to hear the details that had to be considered in the process. The massive pieces and the delicate ones required special consideration. Transport routes had to be considered and which locations would be the safest point of relocation. All this was occurring as war was on the horizon. The people involved in this mission should all be considered heroes as they put themselves in jeopardy. As a visitor to many of the great museums all over the Continent, I am truly thankful they worked so hard.

This book not only describes the process, but about the many chateaux that were used as temporary housing.  It exposes just what lengths the Nazis would go to when they wanted to steal a piece of art. The author also shared how the Louvre stayed open at times during the war, even with much of her treasures hidden safely away. One visitor wrote, “What misery to see it thus, the old Louvre of our childhood!”

As an art lover, I am thankful to have read “Saving Mona Lisa” by Gerri Chanel.  I’m grateful she wrote this text to share the stories so others can appreciate the legacy of those who worked so hard to save some of the most famous works of art in the world.

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