Conflict Period:
World War II 1
1881 1
Cambridge, MA 1
1955 1
Cambridge, MA 1

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Personal Details

Full Name:
Langdon Warner 1
1881 1
Cambridge, MA 1
1955 1
Cambridge, MA 1

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Monuments Man Langdon Warner

Langdon Warner served as an expert consultant to the Arts and Monuments Section, G.H.Q. of the Supreme Commander, Allied Powers of Japan from April to September of 1946. During World War II, he appealed to the Roberts Commission for the protection of the former Japanese capitals of Nara and Kyoto during bombings of the country. The cultural heritage of these two shrine cities was preserved due to Warner’s tremendous influence. While his modesty prevented him from accepting personal responsibility for saving the historic sites, after his death the Japanese people felt it necessary to honor him. For his service to Japan, he was posthumously awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasures. The citizens of Kyoto also built a memorial shrine in his honor, and those of Nara placed a tablet in the Buddhist Horyuji Temple.

In civilian life, Warner was an exemplary archaeologist and scholar of Asian art. Having been graduated from Harvard University in 1903, he made his first trip to Asia the following year as part of the Pumpelly-Carnegie Expedition to Russian Turkestan. Warner went on to work as an Associate Curator at the Boston Museum of Art from 1906 to 1913, and as Director of the American School of Archaeology in Peking for the following four years. From 1917 to 1923 he was Director of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, then returned to his alma mater when he was named a field fellow, and later Curator of Oriental Art, at Harvard’s Fogg Museum. Warner led the First and Second Expeditions to China in 1923 and 1925 for the Fogg, in 1925 worked as a field agent for the Cleveland Museum of Art, and also acquired artworks for the Nelson Gallery of Art in the 1930s.

Warner was described by John Rosenfeld, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Art at Harvard, as “the United States’ first full-time teacher of Asian art, universally recognized as a voice of reason and compassion.” He taught many notable Asian scholars, including fellow Monuments Man Laurence Sickman, Director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Although he was a museum man for many decades, Warner’s true passion was in the field, where he worked as an explorer, archaeologist, and collector of Asian art. It has even been said that he is the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones. Warner was also the author of many books on Asian culture, including The Enduring Art of Japan and Japanese Sculpture of the Tempyo Period: Masterpieces of the Eighth Century. Following his death in 1955 at the age of 73, Mr. Bernard Leach perhaps best explained his calling when he wrote that “Langdon Warner was more than an expert archaeologist or explorer; he takes a place among the small band of interpreters of Far Eastern wisdom and beauty.”

Langdon Warner of the Nelson Atkins

Photo courtesy Harvard Art Museums Archives. Langdon Warner (1881-1955)
Art Adviser for Asian Collection

Langdon Warner was a curator and lecturer at Harvard's Fogg Museum when he was hired as an adviser on Asian art to the Trustees of the Nelson-Atkins in 1930. In 1932, he travelled to China with Laurence Sickman (see above) to acquire works for the gallery. During World War II, Warner lobbied on behalf of cultural monuments in Asia. With other faculty and alumni from Harvard, he founded the American Defense – Harvard Group, a precursor of the Roberts Commission, which collected maps, lists and data pertaining to important cultural monuments, which were sent to commanders in the field. His successful efforts to persuade U.S. Army commanders not to bomb the culturally rich Japanese cities of Kyoto and Nara led to his reverence by the Japanese people. After the war, Warner served with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section in Japan and Korea as a senior advisor.

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