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Pennoyer, Capt. Albert Sheldon | Phillips, Cpl. John Marshall | Plaut, Lt. Cdr. James Sachs, USNR

Phillips, Cpl. John Marshall  

Corporal, U.S. Army, Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU)

American silver expert and Yale Art Gallery director John M. Phillips began his military service in 1942, as part of Army Counter Intelligence based in Boston. In 1944, he was transferred to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) in London to work with the MFAA, and in December of that year was assigned to the ALIU (Art Looting Investigation Unit) in the Office of Strategic Services at the recommendation of Francis Henry Taylor. While working with the ALIU, Phillips traveled to the Netherlands to investigate the whereabouts of Dutch art stolen by the Nazis. While examining art from Hermann Göring’s collection, he began to suspect that Göring’s prized Vermeer was in fact a fake. Phillips aided in exposing Hans van Meegeren as the talented forger, and even interviewed him in prison before his trial.

Phillips was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1927, and received his Masters in English in 1929. However he quickly turned his passion for silver work into a profession when he completed the catalogue of Maurice Brix’s silver collection after his death in 1930. Francis Garvan hired Phillips to research his decorative arts collection, which he began donating to the Yale Art Gallery in 1930. Phillips soon followed the collection to Yale, and became the curator for the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, arguably the finest collection of American silver in the country. In 1932, he joined the faculty of Yale as well, and introduced a course on the decorative arts, lovingly dubbed the “pots and pans” class by students, and favored by students such as President George H. W. Bush. Phillips was named acting director of the Yale Art Gallery in 1941, and was named director in 1948. He was a specialist in historic and early American silver, and said to be the “greatest scholar of American silver of his time” by current Yale Curator of American Decorative Arts, Patricia Kane. Phillips was the author of three books on the subject, Early Connecticutt Silver 1700-1830, Masterpieces of New England Silver 1650-1800, and American Silver. His career was tragically cut short when he died in 1953 at the age of 48 after becoming ill on a commuter train between New York and New Haven. Fellow Monuments officer Lamont Moore succeeded Phillips as director of the Yale Art Gallery, and a John Marshall Phillips Fellowship in American Art was established in his honor.


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