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Breitenbach, Edgar | Brown, John Nicholas | Chadwick, Cpl. Gordon

Brown, John Nicholas  

Lieutenant Colonel, Special Cultural Advisor, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

A distinguished Harvard graduate (BA, 1922 and MA, 1928) schooled in classical studies and the history of fine arts, John Nicholas Brown II was the sole heir to his family’s distinguished and privileged legacy in manufacturing and real estate. He was a great philanthropist, particularly in his family’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, where he donated the John Brown House to the Historical Society. Both before and after World War II, Brown served as a trustee or board member for institutions such as Harvard University and Brown University. Under the direction of Paul Sachs of the Fogg Museum at Harvard, he began collecting art as a young man and became a lifelong proponent of the arts.

Brown was appointed by President Roosevelt to Eisenhower’s staff as Special Cultural Advisor and the civilian head of the MFAA in Europe. While Brown was given the title of Lieutenant Colonel, he was nevertheless a civilian. He worked through often disinterested army personnel to salvage and restitute looted art. Like most of his MFAA colleagues, Brown argued against the removal of German-owned artworks to the United States in 1945. As a gesture of good will, he recommended to General Eisenhower the immediate return of universally recognized works of art which had been looted from their rightful owners. It was a result of Brown’s leadership that Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, which had been discovered at Alt Aussee, was returned to Belgium as soon as September 1945, the first return of a major work of art.

The John Nicholas Brown Papers are conserved at the John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art