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Coremans, Paul B. | Cott, Lt. Cdr. Perry Blythe | Croft-Murray, Maj. Edward

Cott, Lt. Cdr. Perry Blythe  

Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve (USNR), Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Perry B. Cott graduated from Princeton with a BA in 1929 then began his seventeen-year career at the Worcester Art Museum in 1932 as an assistant curator. He received his PhD from Princeton in 1938, and was promoted two years later to associate director and curator of European and Asiatic art at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.[1]

Cott served as an officer in the Naval Reserve from July 1942 to April 1946. The first part of his military service was spent in Naval Intelligence and in October 1943 Cott was one of the first men named to the MFAA Section. He began his service as the MFAA Adviser for western Sicily, based in Palermo, and after the closure of the Sicilian branch, Cott was transferred to Italy in March 1944, following Allied forces as they advanced from Sicily north towards the Austrian border. On June 4 he entered Rome on the heels of the U.S. Fifth Army and by June 7, Cott had already begun inspecting buildings of cultural and historic importance. Following interviews with Italian officials, Cott assessed the damage and location of various collections, both private and state-owned, and initiated salvage and repair operations. During this same time period, Cott, as the Allied Military Government Fine Arts officer for Rome, explained the mission of the Monuments Men in an article for the Corriere di Roma, dispelling earlier German propaganda “to the effect that this is a purchasing commission.”[2]

During the summer of 1944, protective structures in Rome were removed and hundreds of artworks emerged from hiding. In August, Cott organized a group of 46 paintings from Rome, Milan, Venice, Urbino, Naples and Palermo for an unprecedented exhibition made possible only by the circumstances of the war. After two months of organization, the “Exhibition of Masterpieces of European Painting” opened August 27, 1944 at the Palazzo Venezia. Originally only scheduled to run two or three months, the exhibit closed on February 18, 1945 having been seen by nearly 100,000 people.[3]

Cott later served as the Fine Arts officer for Milan and Lombardi and was transferred to Austria in August 1945 to work with General Mark Clark. There Cott arranged another exhibition of 100 paintings from the Art Historical Museum in the state apartments of the Hofburg.

Following the war, Cott returned to the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. In 1949, Cott resigned his position to become assistant chief curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. succeeding Charles Seymour, Jr. Cott was soon promoted to chief curator and remained at the museum for many years. He died in Vevey, Switzerland in 1998.

[1] Worchester Art Museum News Bulletin and Calendar, Vol. XV, No. 1 (October 1949), 4.
[2] Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 249.
[3] Report of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Washington, 1946), 72-73.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art