A Monument Man's masterpieces turn up in northern NH
Walter Huchthausen, an architect, artist and a member of the World War II "Monuments Men," was killed in action on April 2, 1945.
A close-up of the signature believed to be that of Walter Huchthausen’s on a depiction of the Ponte Pietra in Verona, Italy. (JOHN KOZIOL)
Croteau said Thibodeau knew he was an art collector and called him after clearing out a vacant house in Gorham. Thibodeau told him were 13 pieces — pencil, crayon and mixed media — that he might like.
After negotiating their purchase from Thibodeau for $325, Croteau began cleaning the artworks. He did an Internet search on the artist whose name appeared on several of them: It was Huchthausen, a Monuments Man.
A gallery wall would be an appropriate place for the Huchthausen works, he said. Some are studies of classical architecture, while others are examples of a post-industrial sensibility. Others, bright and vibrant, hint of art deco.
Although there is no way to assess their value, Croteau thinks his latest acquisitions will find a wide audience and possibly a new owner. While he wants to share them with the world — which he said he is willing to do now by appointment — Croteau said his real goal is to sell the Huchthausens so that he can afford to continue doing what he loves best: finding other rare, beautiful things.
For now, that search includes trying to find an answer to a fundamental question: How did the Huchthausen artworks end up in Gorham? Croteau said Thibodeau told him the pieces were acquired by the owner of the Gorham house in auctions, but it's not clear when or where.
"They should hang next to a Picasso or a Michelangelo," said Croteau.
"Here's this guy, studying the things he's going to save," said Belanger. Huchthausen, he concluded, wasn't just saving specific works of art; he was saving the idea of art and protecting the innate human need to be creative.
Huchthausen attended the University of Minnesota and later Harvard University, where he received his master of architecture degree in 1930. He subsequently taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and directed the design department at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts before returning to UM to teach.
On April 2, 1945, while driving a Jeep to investigate reports of an altarpiece near Aachen, Germany, Huchthausen was killed by enemy machine-gun fire. He was buried in the American War Cemetery Margarten. A captain at the time of his death, Huchthausen was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star.
Growing up in Berlin, Croteau said he was always intrigued by the connection between history and art. After quitting Berlin High School in the 10th grade, Croteau served in the military and worked as a machinist for General Electric.
In the days before the Internet and Google, Croteau said he bought an old bronze pitcher for a dollar and then took it to Andre Belanger; a friendship was born. Croteau later sold the pitcher for $1,200.
Heavily overlaid with enamel, the cigarette box proved to be made of gold and manufactured by a company whose name is synonymous with opulence — Faberge. Croteau said he eventually sold the box for $16,000.
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