Robert Edsel is an author, historian, and founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation.
The former nationally ranked tennis player began his business career in oil and gas exploration in 1981. His company, Gemini Exploration, pioneered the use of horizontal drilling technology in the early 1990s. By 1995, Gemini had become the second-most-active driller of horizontal wells in the United States.
While living in Florence, Italy, he developed a great passion for art and architecture and became curious as to how so many of the monuments and great works of art survived the thefts and devastation of World War II. What began as a question evolved into an impassioned journey to unravel the secrets and heroics of the Monuments Men, the unsung heroes who saved some of the world’s greatest art and cultural treasures for the benefit of civilization. Edsel has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to painstaking and far-reaching research about the Monuments Men, which culminated in his self-published book Rescuing Da Vinci, a detailed historical account that includes 460 photographs. Edsel is also the co-producer of the documentary The Rape of Europa, based on the award-winning book. The film opened in theaters across the U.S. in September 2007. In November 2008, the film was broadcast on PBS and subsequently received two Emmy nominations.
In June 2009, Edsel published Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection by Nancy Yeide, an internationally recognized expert in World War II-era provenance research. The thoroughly documented catalogue is the first study devoted to Goering’s entire painting collection.
In September 2009, Edsel’s second book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, a narrative telling of the story of the Monuments Men, was released by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group. In January 2012, George Clooney announced he would write, direct and star in the film version of The Monuments Men. The blockbuster production, release in February 2014, features a star-studded cast including Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray.
Edsel’s third book, Saving Italy (May 2013), follows two Monuments Men as they struggle to protect and save some of the world’s greatest treasures located in Italy, including works by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Edsel is the founder and president of the not-for-profit Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. The foundation was one of 10 recipients of the 2007 National Humanities Medal, the highest honor given by the United States for excellence in the humanities.
Edsel frequently speaks about his arts project and his ongoing journey. He is regularly invited to lecture at prominent institutions, including appearances at the Eisenhower Institute, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, National World War II Museum, Yale University, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Eisenhower Presidential Library, among many others.
Edsel has a long history of philanthropic endeavors. He has served on the board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (Dallas Chapter) and the advisory board of St. Philip’s School and Community Center, and as a volunteer at the Union Gospel Mission. Additionally, in 2003, Edsel served as chairman of a committee working to develop a master plan for the Turtle Creek corridor in Dallas.
In 2008, Edsel was a recipient of the President’s Call to Service Award and the “Hope for Humanity Award” from the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. In 2009, he became a member of the advisory board for the museum.
In January 2010, Edsel was invited to become a trustee of The National World War II Museum in New Orleans and serves on the executive committee.
In 2011, he was presented with the Texas Medal of Arts Award by Gov. Rick Perry. He also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from St. Mark’s School of Texas.