Anthony Blunt: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anthony Blunt
Allegiance Soviet Union Soviet Union
Codename(s) Johnson
Birth name Anthony Frederick Blunt
Born 26 September 1907(1907-09-26)
Bournemouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Died 26 March 1983 (aged 75)
Westminster, London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Profession Art historian, professor, writer, spy
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge

Anthony Frederick Blunt (26 September 1907, Bournemouth, Hampshire – 26 March 1983, Westminster, London),[1] , (Sir Anthony Blunt, KCVO between 1956 and 1979), was a British spy, art historian, Professor of the History of Art at the University of London, director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London (1947-74), and Surveyor of the King's Pictures (1945-72).

Blunt was an acclaimed art historian and the "Fourth Man" of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies working for the Soviet Union from some time in the 1930s to at least 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 poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.

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.[2]

Blunt's vicar father was assigned to Paris with the British Embassy chapel, and so moved his family to the French capital for several years during Blunt's childhood period. The young Anthony became fluent in French, and experienced intensely the artistic culture closely available to him, stimulating an interest which would last a lifetime and form the basis for his later career.[3]

He was educated at Marlborough College, where he joined the College's secret 'Society of Amici'[4], in which he was a contemporary of Louis MacNeice (whose unfinished autobiography The Strings are False contains numerous references to Blunt), John Betjeman and Graham Shepard.

Cambridge University

He later read mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, and earned his first degree in that subject, [5] but he switched to Modern Languages, eventually graduating in 1930 with a First Class degree, and became a teacher of French. He became a Fellow of the college in 1932, and was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society which at that time was largely Marxist, formed from members (students, alumni, and professors) of Cambridge University. Blunt pursued graduate research in art history while a Cambridge don, and traveled frequently to continental Europe in connection with his studies.[3]

Soviet espionage

After visiting the Soviet Union in 1933, Blunt was recruited in 1934 by the NKVD. A committed Communist, Blunt was recruited by his student Guy Burgess at Cambridge[6], although there is reason to believe that Blunt, the older, was control. Blunt remained at Cambridge and served as a talent-spotter. He identified Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and John Cairncross, who were all Cambridge friends a few years younger than himself, as potential espionage recruits for the Soviets.[3]


Joins MI5

With the onset of World War II, Blunt joined the British Army in 1939, briefly saw limited action in France in the intelligence corps up to the Nazi invasion there in May 1940, was then evacuated from Dunkirk, and later in 1940 was recruited to MI5, the Security Service.[3]. He passed on ULTRA intelligence from decrypted Enigma intercepts to the Soviet Union, During the war, Blunt attained the rank of major.[7]

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.[8] The mission may have also recovered the so-called 'Vicky Letters', between Queen Victoria and some of her German relatives.[7]

Comes under suspicion

Following the defection in May 1951 of fellow spies Burgess and Maclean to the Soviet Union, Blunt came under suspicion as well. He had been a longtime friend of Burgess, from their time at Cambridge. 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.[9]

Renders secret confession

In January 1964, Arthur Martin from MI5 interviewed Michael Straight (later owner and editor of The New Republic and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts), an American who had studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and who had become friends there with Blunt, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. Straight claimed that Blunt had tried to recruit him to become a Soviet spy. Arthur Martin and Jim Skardon had interviewed Blunt eleven times since 1951, but Blunt admitted nothing. Martin, now equipped with Straight's story, went to see Blunt again and this time Blunt made a confession. Queen Elizabeth II was informed shortly thereafter.[10] He admitted to being a Soviet agent and named John Cairncross, Peter Ashby, Brian Symon and Leo Long as spies he had recruited. In return for Blunt's full confession, the British government agreed to keep his spying career an official secret for fifteen years, and granted him full immunity from prosecution.[11] Martin himself was disappointed when it was discovered that MI5 Director-General Roger Hollis and Attorney General Sir John Hobson decided not to put Blunt on trial. He again argued that there was still a Soviet spy working at the centre of MI5, but Hollis thought Martin's suggestion was highly damaging to the organization, and ordered Martin to be suspended from duty, soon afterwards terminating his employment in MI5. In Peter Wright's best-selling 1987 book Spycatcher, Wright argued that Hollis was the best fit for the possible Soviet spy in MI5.

Public exposure

Blunt's role as a Soviet agent was exposed – albeit under a false name – in Andrew Boyle's book, Climate of Treason in 1979 and he was publicly named by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the same year.[12] Queen Elizabeth II stripped Blunt of his knighthood, and he was removed as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College. Blunt is supposed to have fled the country after the public revelation and lived somewhere in southern Europe.[13] However, he returned to London, but may not have fully realized the strength of feeling that had been whipped up against him until one day in February 1980, when he tried to see a film in Notting Hill, he was booed out of the cinema. That same month, his partner since 1953, John Gaskin, threw himself from a sixth-floor balcony but survived. Blunt died from a heart attack at his home in London in 1983, aged 75.

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 1979–83 describing his life and his time as a spy, through to his exposure by Margaret Thatcher's government in 1979, was being held in the British Library. At the time of handing it in, the anonymous donor had insisted that it was not to be released for another 25 years.[14] It was finally made available to readers on 23 July 2009.[15]

In the manuscript, Blunt conceded that spying for Communist Russia was "the biggest mistake of his life":[16]

"What I did not realise is that I was so naïve politically that I was not justified in committing myself to any political action of this kind. The atmosphere in Cambridge was so intense, the enthusiasm for any anti-fascist activity was so great, that I made the biggest mistake of my life."[17]

Although urged to defect like Maclean, Burgess and Philby, Blunt states that he "realised quite clearly that I would take any risk in [Britain], rather than go to Russia."[16] After he was publicly exposed, he claims to have considered suicide but instead turned to "whisky and concentrated work".[16]

Career as an art historian

Throughout the time of his activities in espionage, Blunt's public career was in the History of Art, a field in which he gained prominence. 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 Pictures, and later the Queen’s Pictures (after the death of King George VI in 1952), one of the largest private collections in the world. He held the position for 27 years, was knighted as a KCVO in 1956 for his work in the role, and his contribution was vital in the expansion and cataloguing of the Queen’s Gallery, which opened in 1962.

In 1947 he became both Professor of the History of Art at the University of London, and the director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, where he had been lecturing since the spring of 1933,[18] and where his tenure in office as director lasted until 1974. This position included the use of a live-in apartment on the premises.[19] During his 27 years at the Courtauld Institute, Blunt was respected as a dedicated teacher, a kind superior to his staff. His legacy at the Courtauld was to have left it with a larger staff, increased funding, and more space, and his role was central in the acquisition of outstanding collections for the Courtauld's Galleries. He is often credited for making the Courtauld what it is today, as well as for pioneering art history in Britain, and for training the next generation of British art historians.

In 1953, Blunt published his book Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700, and he was in particular an expert on the works of Nicolas Poussin, writing numerous books and articles about the painter, and serving as curator for a landmark exhibition of Poussin at the Louvre in 1960, which was an enormous success.[20] 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).He attended a summer school in Sicily in 1965, leading to a deep interest in Sicilian architecture, and in 1968 he wrote the only authoritative and in-depth book on Sicilian Baroque.

Notable students who have been influenced by Anthony Blunt include Brian Sewell (an art critic for the Evening Standard),[21] Ron Bloore, Nicholas Serota, Neil Macgregor, the former editor of the Burlington magazine, former director of the National Gallery and the current director of the British Museum, John White (art historian), 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), Melvin Day (former Director of National Art Gallery of New Zealand and Government Art Historian for New Zealand ), Christopher Newall (an expert on the Pre-Raphaelites), Michael Jaffé (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), Lee Johnson (an expert on Eugène Delacroix), and Anita Brookner (an art historian and novelist).

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.

Later life

After Mrs 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.

Many of his publications are still seen today by scholars as integral to the study of art history. His 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:

  • Anthony Blunt, François Mansart and the Origins of French Classical Architecture, 1941.
  • Anthony 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).
  • Anthony Blunt, Sicilian Baroque, 1968 (ed. it. Milano 1968; Milano 1986).
  • Anthony Blunt, Picasso's Guernica, Oxford University Press, 1969.
  • Anthony Blunt, Neapolitan Baroque and Rococo Architecture, London 1975 (ed. it. Milano 2006).
  • Anthony Blunt, Baroque and Rococo Architecture and Decoration, 1978.
  • Anthony Blunt, Borromini, 1979 (ed. it. Roma-Bari 1983).
  • Anthony Blunt, L'occhio e la storia. Scritti di critica d'arte (1936-1938), a cura di Antonello Negri, Udine 1999.

Important articles after 1966:

  • Anthony Blunt, 'Rubens and architecture,' Burlington Magazine, 1977, 894, pp. 609–621.
  • Anthony Blunt, 'Roman Baroque Architecture: the Other Side of the Medal,' Art history, no. 1, 1980, pp. 61–80 (includes bibliographical references).

Depictions in culture

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 Queen Elizabeth II. 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.[22]

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.

Cambridge Spies is a 2003 four-part BBC television drama concerning the lives of the Cambridge Four from 1934 to the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union.


  • 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), 2001, 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.
  • Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman, "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.
  • Nigel West. The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets Exposed by the KGB Archives, London 1998.
  • 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.
  • Foster, Henrietta (23 January 2008). "Unearthing an interview with a spy". Newsnight (BBC). Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  • André Chastel, Anthony Blunt, art historian (1907-1983), in "The Burlington Magazine", CXXV, 966, September 1983, pp. 546–547.
  • Cesare De Seta, Anthony Blunt, in Viale Belle Arti. Maestri e amici, Milano 1991, pp. 111–138.
  • Andrea Gatti, La critica della ragione. sulla teoria dell'arte di Anthony Blunt, in "Miscellanea Marciana", XVII, 2002, pp. 193–205.
  • Fulvio Lenzo, Napoli e l'architettura italiana ed europea negli studi di Anthony Blunt, in Anthony Blunt, Architettura barocca e rococò a Napoli, ed. it. a cura di Fulvio Lenzo, Milano 2006, pp. 7–15.

See also

Court offices
Preceded by
Kenneth Clark
Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures
Succeeded by
Oliver Millar
Academic offices
Preceded by
T. S. R. Boase
Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art
Succeeded by
Peter Lasko
Preceded by
John Pope-Hennessy
Slade Professor of Fine Art,
Cambridge University

Succeeded by
John Summerson


  1. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: MAR 1983 15 2186 WESTMINSTER - Anthony Frederick Blunt, DoB = 26 Sep 1907
  2. ^ Frances Mary Mosley at Genealogics
  3. ^ a b c d Anthony Blunt: His Lives, by Miranda Carter, 2001
  4. ^ Paths of Progress: A History of Marlborough College by Rt Hon Peter Brooke MP and Thomas Hinde
  5. ^ Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright, Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Anthony Blunt: His Lives, by Miranda Carter.
  8. ^ Spycatcher: The Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright, 1987; The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life, by Charles Higham, 1988.
  9. ^ Anthony Blunt: His Lives, by Miranda Carter, 2001.
  10. ^ Peter Wright Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, Melbourne: Heinemann, 1987.
  11. ^ Burns, John F. "Memoirs of British Spy Offer No Apology" The New York Times, 23 July 2009.
  12. ^ Margaret Thatcher's public statement to the House of Commons on Mr Anthony Blunt, Hansard HC [974/402-10]
  13. ^ BBC
  14. ^ BBC News | UK | Spy's secret memoir 'held in library'
  15. ^ British Library | UK | Anthony Blunt memoir becomes available in British Library Reading Rooms
  16. ^ a b c BBC website: Blunt's Soviet spying 'a mistake'
  17. ^ Daily Telegraph: "Anthony Blunt: confessions of spy who passed secrets to Russia during the war"
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ Conspiracy of Silence: The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt, by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman, 1987.
  20. ^ Miranda Carter Anthony Blunt: His Lives, 2001.
  21. ^ Cooke, Rachel. "We pee on things and call it art". Guardian, November 13, 2005. Retrieved on November 30, 2008.
  22. ^ Mullan, John. "Artifice and intelligence". Guardian, February 11 2006. Retrieved on November 30, 2008.

Further reading

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address