Art Evacuation: Art Stored in an Underground Cave During World War II

January 9, 2009 The Art Law Blog

The BBC reported today that certain works on display the National Library of Wales--several Da Vinci drawings among them--were previously stored in secret in the 1930's so that they would survive the gathering war in Europe.

According to the article, the spokeswoman for the national library said: "The story of the evacuation begins in 1933 when the Right Honourable W.A.Ormsby-Gore (later Lord Harlech) in his role as commissioner of works in Stanley Baldwin's government, called together the directors of all major cultural institutions, museums, libraries and art galleries, to consider a scheme for the safe storage of their most valuable collections in the event of a war in Europe."

The article reports that "Within hours of the declaration of war 70 years ago in September 1939, collections from many of Britain's cultural institutions were crated up and sent by train to Aberystwyth." Apparently twenty-five containers arrived from the British Museum alone, and some institutions even sent their cultural experts to Aberystwyth with the collections.

To ensure the safety of such precious artifacts, the article reports, the national library made the decision to carve out an underground cave to house some of the evacuated material.