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Kovalyak, Lt. Stephen | Kuhn, Lt. Cdr. Charles L. | LaFarge, Maj. L. Bancel

Kuhn, Lt. Cdr. Charles L.  

Lieutenant, United States Naval Reserve (USNR), Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer

A Harvard professor and director of the university’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, Charles Kuhn served as Deputy Chief of the MFAA Section under British MFAA officer Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb. After spending two years with the U.S. Navy interrogating German prisoners, he was assigned to the MFAA by the Roberts Commission, largely due to extensive knowledge of German art and culture. Kuhn was only released from his interrogation duties after intervention from the Capitol, as he had performed so exceptionally with the Navy. While in Europe, he was for the most part stationed in Frankfurt at SHAEF headquarters in the I.G. Farben building, although he traveled across Austria and Germany in pursuit of stolen and lost works of art. Kuhn was responsible for the rescue of two trucks of paintings and tapestries from the Vienna Museum, which had been first stolen and then removed from their hiding place at the Laufen salt mine by the Nazis. He was also involved in the transport of artworks from the Berlin Museums, including the Bust of Nefertiti, to the Wiesbaden Collecting Point after they had been rescued from the Merkers mine and temporarily stored at the Reichsbank in Frankfurt. Like MFAA officer Maj. Bancel LaFarge, Kuhn strongly agreed with the sentiments of the Wiesbaden Manifesto, but was not in a position to actually sign the document. When released from duty, Lt. Comdr. Thomas Carr Howe succeeded him as deputy chief in Frankfurt, and Kuhn returned home to Harvard. In January 1946 he wrote an article for the College Art Journal in which he spoke out against the transfer of German-owned works to the United States and assured the public that the artworks were adequately stored in collecting points in Germany.

Prior to his military service, Kuhn received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1929. The following year he was named director of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, a museum dedicated to the study and artworks of Germanic countries. Under Kuhn’s leadership, the museum grew to house one of the finest collections of modern art from central and northern Europe, including notable artworks from the Bauhaus, the Austrian secession, and German expressionist movements. In the 1930s, he began acquiring pieces for the Busch-Reisinger that Hitler had removed from German museums and deemed “degenerate”; paintings such as Max Beckmann’s Self Portrait in Tuxedo and E.L. Kirchner’s Self Portrait with a Cat. In 1937, Walter Gropius, German founder of the Bauhaus School, arrived at Harvard to become head of the architecture program. Together Gropius and Kuhn worked to build an outstanding Bauhaus collection at the Busch-Reisinger, gaining the support of other Bauhaus artists and architects exiled from Europe and living in the United States. Kuhn remained at the museum for 38 years; he was also a professor at Harvard from 1931 until 1968, and chair of the Department of Fine Arts from 1949 to 1953. He died in 1985 after a long illness, but his extraordinary legacy at Harvard and the Busch-Reisinger is not one to be forgotten.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art