BEAUTIFUL LOOT: The Soviet Plunder of Europe's Art Treasures by Konstantin; Grigorii Kozlov with Sylvia Hochfield Akinsha

BEAUTIFUL LOOT: The Soviet Plunder of Europe's Art Treasures

Email this review


As much as needs to be known--possibly as much as will ever be known--about the Soviet appropriation of European art after WW II, told with urgency and crackle by the two art historians/amateur detectives who broke the jaw-dropping story. When the Soviets decided in 1945 to ignore the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 that declared art out-of-bounds as spoils of war, they rummaged around in mines, through cellars, and behind steel doors to cart some 1,990,000 objects back from Germany to museums like the Hermitage. In postwar jargon this ""trophy art"" was considered ""restitution"" for what the Germans had sacked in the USSR. Akinsha and Kozlov, who separately stumbled on pieces of the puzzle and then teamed up to work the rest of it, divide their exhaustive coverage into three parts: what horrors occurred as Russians picked through paintings, sculptures, tapestries, gold; where the take was stored (sometimes repaired, sometimes left rotting) once it arrived behind the newly lowered Iron Curtain; what type of reparation is being done today. They explain that ""trophies had been taken from Germany, not only by state agencies but by private persons: everyone--soldiers, officers, and generals--had looted."" To back up their claim, they name names and set cover-ups right, all the while painting dismaying portraits of doomed artworks. In one scene, marauder Andrei Belokopitov, officially the head of the Arts Committee ""trophy brigade,"" opens a heavy door in Berlin's Friedrichshain Leitturm and ""the marble statues standing in the small windowless space began to fall apart before his astonished eyes. A marble hand fell to the floor and dissolved to dust. It was like entering a bewitched castle in a fairy tale."" The anecdotes--like the book itself--attest to the ways in which beauty is ruined when the powerful, suddenly disoriented, are reduced to flailing.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1995
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Random