Anthony Blunt

Anthony Blunt

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name = Anthony Blunt

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birth_name = Anthony Frederick Blunt
birth_date = birth date|1907|09|26
birth_place = Bournemouth, Hampshire, England
death_date = death date and age|1983|03|26|1907|09|26
death_place = Westminster, London, England
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resting_place = Putney Vale Cemetery
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Anthony Frederick Blunt (26 September 1907, Bournemouth, Hampshire – 26 March 1983, Westminster, London [GRO Register of Deaths: MAR 1983 15 2186 WESTMINSTER - Anthony Frederick Blunt, DoB = 26 Sep 1907] ), known as Sir Anthony Blunt, KCVO between 1956 and 1979, was a British spy, art historian, formerly Professor of the History of Art, University of London and director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London (1947-74). He was the "Fourth Man" of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies working for the Soviet Union from some time in the 1930s to the early 1950s.


Early life

Blunt was born in Bournemouth, the third and youngest son of a vicar, the Revd (Arthur) Stanley Vaughan Blunt (1870–1929) and his wife, Hilda Violet (1880–1969), daughter of Henry Master of the Madras civil service. He was the brother of writer Wilfrid Jasper Walter Blunt and of numismatist Christopher Evelyn Blunt, and the grandnephew of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.

He was educated at Marlborough College, where he was a contemporary of Louis MacNeice (whose unfinished autobiography "The Strings are False" contains numerous references to Blunt), John Betjeman and Graham Shepard. He later read mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, and earned his first degree in that subject. ["Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer", by Peter Wright, Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.] But he switched to Modern Languages, eventually graduating in 1930, to become a teacher of French. He became a Fellow of the college in 1932, and in 1965 was Slade Professor of Fine Art in Cambridge. An active homosexual, he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society which at that time was Marxist, formed from members of Cambridge University.


After visiting Russia in 1933, Blunt was recruited in 1934 by the NKVD (later absorbed by the KGB). A committed Marxist, Blunt was instrumental in recruiting Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean.

He joined the British Army in 1939 and in 1940 was recruited to MI5, the military intelligence department. He passed on ULTRA intelligence from decrypted Enigma messages to the Soviet Union. He reached the rank of major. ["Anthony Blunt: His Lives", by Miranda Carter.]

As World War II was ending, Blunt successfully undertook a special mission to the defeated Germany on behalf of the British Royal Family, to recover incriminating letters written by the Duke of Windsor to Adolf Hitler. ["Spycatcher: The Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer", by Peter Wright, 1987; "The Dutchess of Windsor: The Secret Life", by Charles Higham, 1988.] The mission may have also recovered the so-called 'Vicky Letters', between Queen Victoria and some of her German relatives. ["Anthony Blunt: His Lives", by Miranda Carter.]

Later life

After the war Blunt became director (1947-1974) of the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. His students there included Brian Sewell, Ron Bloore and Nicholas Serota. He had been teaching at the Courtauld since shortly before World War II.

In 1945 Blunt became Surveyor of the King's Pictures, and retained the post under Queen Elizabeth II, for which work he was knighted as a KCVO in 1956. He retained the post until 1972. He was particularly knowledgeable on the works of Nicolas Poussin. Interested in architecture, he attended a summer school in Sicily in 1965; this led to a deep interest in Sicilian architecture, and in 1968 he wrote the only authoritative and in-depth book on "Sicilian Baroque".

Blunt is frequently spoken of as a distant relative of Queen Mary (Mary of Teck) – generally Prince Michael of Hesse is given as their common cousin – however, the exact lineage is never produced. He was, however, demonstrably a cousin of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother, through his mother, Hilda V. Master, daughter of John Henry Master, son of Frances Mary Smith, sister of Oswald Smith, father of Frances Dora Smith, mother of Claude George Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, father of Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, making Blunt and the Queen Mother third cousins, by common descent from George Smith and his wife Frances Mary Mosley [Genealogics name|id=00483683|name=Frances Mary Mosley] .

Following the May, 1951 defection of fellow spies Guy Burgess and Donald Duart Maclean to the Soviet Union, Blunt came under suspicion as well. He had been a close, longtime friend of Burgess. Maclean was in imminent danger of being unmasked as a spy by decryptions from VENONA. Blunt was interrogated by MI5 in 1952, but gave little if anything away. ["Anthony Blunt: His Lives", by Miranda Carter, 2001.]

In 1963 MI5 learned of Blunt's espionage from an American, Michael Straight, whom he had recruited. Blunt confessed to MI5 on 23 April 1964, and Queen Elizabeth II was informed shortly thereafter. ["Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer", by Peter Wright, Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.] But his spying career remained an official secret and was bargained for a full confession. Nevertheless he was publicly named by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979. [Margaret Thatcher's public statement to the House of Commons on Mr Anthony Blunt, Hansard HC [974/402-10] [] ] Queen Elizabeth II stripped Blunt of his knighthood, and he was removed as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College. According to MI5 papers released in 2002, the agency had been told by the writer Moura Budberg in 1950 that Blunt was a member of the Communist Party, but the information was ignored.

In October 2001, the BBC reported that an autobiographical memoir written by Blunt during 1979 - 1983 describing his life, his time as a spy, through to his exposure by Margaret Thatcher's government in 1979 was being held in the British Library. It is due to be released 30 years after Blunt's death, in 2013. [ [ BBC News | UK | Spy's secret memoir 'held in library' ] ]

Blunt in fiction

"A Question of Attribution" is a play written by Alan Bennett about Blunt, covering the weeks before his public exposure as a spy, and his relationship with the Queen. After a successful run in London's West End, it was made into a television play directed by John Schlesinger and starring James Fox, Prunella Scales and Geoffrey Palmer. It was aired on the BBC in 1991. This play was seen as a companion to Bennett's 1983 television play about Guy Burgess, "An Englishman Abroad".

"Blunt: The Fourth Man" is a 1985 film starring Ian Richardson, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Williams, and Rosie Kerslake, covering the events of 1951 when Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean went missing.

"The Untouchable", a 1997 novel by John Banville, is a roman à clef based largely on the life and character of Anthony Blunt; the novel's protagonist, Victor Maskell, is a loosely disguised Blunt, although some elements of the character are based on Louis MacNeice.

"A Friendship of Convenience: Being a Discourse on Poussin's 'Landscape With a Man Killed by a Snake"', is a 1997 novel by Rufus Gunn set in 1956 in which Blunt, then Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, encounters Joseph Losey, a film director fleeing McCarthyism.

In the 2003 BBC television drama "Cambridge Spies", Samuel West played Blunt.

Blunt as an art historian

All throughout his espionage, Anthony Blunt was living an extremely fruitful career as a highly respected art historian. In 1940, most of his fellowship dissertation was published under the title of "Artistic Theories in Italy, 1450-1600". In 1945, he was given the esteemed position of Surveyor of the King’s, and later the Queen’s, Pictures, one of the largest private collections in the world. He held the position for 27 years, and was vital in the expansion and cataloguing of the Queen’s Gallery, which opened in 1962.

A few years later, in 1947, Blunt became the Director of the Courtauld Institute, and Professor of the History of Art in the University of London. During his 27 years at the Courtauld Institute, Blunt was respected as a dedicated teacher, an enormously kind superior to his staff, and an invaluable resource for changing the Institute for the better. He fought for more teachers, more funding, more space, and was central in acquiring outstanding collections for the Galleries.

During his tenure, he lived in a furnished apartment at the Courtauld. ["Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer", by Peter Wright, Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.]

Blunt is often credited for making the Courtauld what it is today, for pioneering art history in Britain, and for training the next generation of British art historians. In fact, according to one of Blunt’s biographers, Miranda Carter, several of his former students have been highly influenced by his teachings, including Neil Macgregor, the former editor for the Burlington magazine, former director of the National Gallery and the current director for the British Museum.

Other students who have been influenced by Anthony Blunt include Sir Alan Bowness (who ran the Tate Gallery), John Golding (who wrote the first major book on Cubism), Reyner Banham (an influential architectural historian), John Shearman (the ‘world expert’ on Mannerism and the former Chair of the Art History Department at Harvard University), Christopher Newall (an expert on the Pre-Raphaelites), Michael Jaffe (an expert on Rubens), Michael Mahoney (former Curator of European Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and former Chair of the Art History Department at Trinity College, Hartford), Brian Sewell (an art critic for the "Evening Standard"), and Anita Brookner (an art historian and novelist).

In 1953, Blunt published his book "Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700", and three years later was knighted by the British Government for his work for MI5. Among his many accomplishments, Blunt also received a series of honorary fellowships, became the National Trust picture advisor, put on exhibitions at the Royal Academy, edited and wrote numerous books and articles, and sat on every influential art committee.

After Margaret Thatcher announced Blunt’s espionage, he continued his art historical work by writing and publishing a Guide to Baroque Rome (1982) and completing a manuscript (apparently lost by the publisher after they sent it to a German art historian) on the architecture of Pietro da Cortona. Blunt also published several books on the art of regions which had been generally neglected, including his book "Sicilian Baroque". This publication is admittedly limited, and is intended as only a survey of the architecture of Sicily. Blunt comments in his preface that a “proper history of this particular branch of Baroque architecture” could not be completed as much research is needed to be done in “the archives of the churches, the religious houses and the old families in the island.” Despite his limited resources, Blunt broke new ground in this area, a subject still often neglected in today’s art history.

He has also been said to have “played a central role in restoring the reputation of the French painter Nicolas Poussin,” of whom he had written numerous books and articles. He served as curator for a landmark exhibition of Poussin at the Louvre in 1960, which was an enormous success. ["Anthony Blunt: His Lives", by Miranda Carter, 2001.] He did not, however, limit his research in the areas of Italian art and French art, but also wrote on topics as diverse as William Blake, Pablo Picasso, the Galleries of England, Scotland, and Wales. He also catalogued the French drawings (1945), G. B. Castiglione and Stefano della Bella drawings (1954) Roman drawings (with H. L. Cooke, 1960) and Venetian (with Edward Croft Murray, 1957) drawings in the collection of the Queen, as well as a supplement of Addenda and Corrigenda to the Italian catalogues (in E. Schilling's German Drawings).

Many of his ground-breaking publications are still seen today by scholars as integral to the study of art history. His method of writing is lucid, and is based largely on art and architecture in context of their place in history. In his book "Art and Architecture in France", for example, he begins each section with a brief depiction of the social, political and/or religious contexts in which works of art and art movements are emerging. And in Blunt’s "Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600", he clearly explains the motivational circumstances involved in the transitions between the High Renaissance and Mannerism. His ground-breaking work and logical method to art history have served as resources for many scholars, including Todd P. Olson and John Beldon Scott.


A Festschrift "Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Art presented to Anthony Blunt on his 60th Birthday", Phaidon 1967 (introduction by Ellis Waterhouse) contains a full list of his writings up to 1966.

Major works include:

*A. Blunt, "François Mansart and the Origins of French Classical Architecture", 1941.
*A. Blunt, "Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700", 1953 and many subsequent editions.
*Anthony Blunt, "Nicolas Poussin. A Critical Catalogue", Phaidon 1966
*Anthony Blunt, "Nicolas Poussin", Phaidon 1967 (new edition Pallas Athene publishing, London, 1995).
*A. Blunt, "Sicilian Baroque", 1968.
*Anthony Blunt, "Picasso's Guernica", Oxford University Press, 1969.
*A. Blunt, "Baroque and Rococo Architecture and Decoration", 1978.
*A. Blunt, "Borromini", 1979.

Important articles after 1966:
*A. Blunt, "Rubens and architecture," "Burlington Magazine", 1977, 894, pp. 609-621.
*A. Blunt, "Roman Baroque Architecture: the Other Side of the Medal," "Art history", no. 1, 1980", pp. 61-80 (includes bibliographical references).


*John Banville, "The Untouchable" (novel), 1997.
*Alan Bennett, "A Question of Attribution" (first theatre performance as the second part of a double-bill, with "An Englishman Abroad" about Guy Burgess as the first part, London, 1988; broadcast as television play, 1991; both plays published in one volume as "Single Spies", London, Faber, 1989, ISBN 0-571-14105-6.
*Andrew Boyle, "The Climate of Treason", 1979.
*Miranda Carter, "Anthony Blunt: His Lives", Pan (UK), ISBN 0-330-36766-8.
*John Costello (novelist), "Mask Of Treachery" (non-fiction), London, Collins, 1988, ISBN 0-688-04483-2.
*Louis MacNeice, "The Strings are False", London, Faber, 1965, reissued 1996, ISBN 0-571-11832-1.
*Penrose, Barrie, & Freeman, Simon, "Conspiracy of Silence: The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt," New York, 1987.
*Michael Straight. "After Long Silence: the Man Who Exposed Anthony Blunt Tells for the First Time the Story of the Cambridge Spy Network from the Inside", London, Collins, 1983, ISBN 0-00-217001-9.
*Peter Wright. "Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer", Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.
*Michael Kitson. "Blunt, Anthony Frederick (1907-1983)," rev. Miranda Carter, in "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography," ed H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP,2004),
*"Blunt, Anthony." "Dictionary of Art Historians."
*"Anthony Blunt and the Courtauld Institute." "The Burlington Magazine,"116, no. 858 (Sept. 1974):501.
*cite news |first=Henrietta |last=Foster |title=Unearthing an interview with a spy |url= |work=Newsnight |publisher=BBC |date=23 January 2008 |accessdate=2008-01-23

ee also

*Cambridge Five
*Kim Philby (1912–1988)
*Guy Burgess (1911–1963)
*Donald Duart Maclean (1913–1983)
*John Cairncross (1913–1995)


* "Anthony Blunt" by Michael Kitson in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Further reading

*Nigel West, "Seven Spies Who Changed the World". London: Secker & Warburg, 1991 (hard cover). London: Mandarin, 1992 (paperback).

External links

* [ Anthony Blunt (BBC)]
* [ Blunt's FBI file 2003-10-11]

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  • Anthony Frederick Blunt — Anthony Blunt Pour les articles homonymes, voir Anthony et Blunt. Anthony Frederick Blunt (26 septembre 1907 – 26 mars 1983) est un historien d art britannique, également connu pour avoir été le « quatrième homme » des Cinq de Cambridge …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Anthony Frederick Blunt — (* 26. September 1907 in Bournemouth, Hampshire; † 26. März 1983 in London) war ein englischer Kunsthistoriker und Doppelagent in Diensten des britischen Geheimdienstes MI5 und des sowjetischen NKWD. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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