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Charles Saumarez Smith
Born 28 May 1954 (1954-05-28) (age 55)
England Redlynch, Wiltshire
Nationality United Kingdom British
Occupation Art historian and museum director
Spouse(s) Romilly Le Quesne Savage
Children Ferdinand Saumarez Smith
Otto Saumarez Smith
Parents William Hanbury Saumarez Smith
Alice Elizabeth Harness Raven

Charles Robert Saumarez Smith CBE (born 28 May 1954 in Redlynch, England) is a British art historian. He was Director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1994. From 2002 to 2007 he was director of the National Gallery and is currently Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts.[1] He was formerly President of the Museums Association.


A great-grandson of the 19th-century Archbishop of Sydney William Saumarez Smith and son of William Hanbury Saumarez Smith, a former Indian civil servant, Charles Saumarez Smith was born in an old rectory in the Wiltshire village of Redlynch, near Salisbury. He was educated at Marlborough College, where a Gainsborough portrait belonging to the school first awakened his interest in art.[2] He then studied history and history of art at King's College, Cambridge, gaining a double first, and, following graduation, was awarded a Henry Fellowship to study at the Fogg. Art Museum in Cambridge Massachusetts. He studied for his doctorate under Michael Baxandall at the Warburg Institute, London, and his thesis was entitled "Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle and the architecture of Castle Howard" was awarded a PhD in 1986. Meanwhile, he was appointed Christie's Research Fellow in the History of Applied Arts at Christ's College, Cambridge and taught part-time in the Department of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex.

In 1982, Saumarez Smith was appointed by Sir Roy Strong as an Assistant Keeper at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he helped to establish the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design and was a contributor to The New Museology, published in 1989. In 1990, his PhD thesis was published by Faber and Faber under the title The Building of Castle Howard and was awarded the Alice David Hitchcock medallion. In the same year, he was appointed as Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In 1994 he published a book on 18th century interior design, before becoming director of the National Portrait Gallery. There he more than doubled visitor figures by staging exhibitions by contemporary photographers, including Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber and the fashion photographer Mario Testino. He also presided over the building of an extension to the NPG in 2000, the Ondaatje Wing designed by Sir Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones. From 2001 to 2002 Saumarez Smith held the Slade Professorship at Oxford University, where he lectured on "The State of the Museum".[3]

Saumarez Smith was a candidate to be Director at the V&A, the Tate Gallery and the British Museum[2] before becoming the director of the National Gallery in 2002. The main success of his directorship was the purchase of Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks in 2004 for £22 million, raised by a successful public appeal. However, few other major acquisitions were made by the National Gallery under Saumarez Smith due to the inflated prices now commanded by Old Master paintings. He was a vocal critic of Tony Blair's government for giving too little money towards museum funding, and for not creating tax incentives for potential donors to museums.[4]

2006 saw the opening of a new ground-floor entrance hall at the National Gallery designed, like the Ondaatje Wing by Dixon Jones architects although this project was begun under Saumarez Smith's predecessor Neil MacGregor. In 2007, news broke of a power struggle between Peter Scott, head of the Gallery's board of trustees, and the director;[5] at the same time it became known that Saumarez Smith was applying for the newly-created post of Secretary and Chief Executive at the Royal Academy. He resigned from the National Gallery on 26 July 2007, and was succeeded by Martin Wyld, head conservator at the Gallery, as acting director until Nicholas Penny was appointed permanent director in the spring of 2008.[6]

He has contributed biographies on Quentin Bell and Philip McCammon Core to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In addition, he is a Visiting Professor at Queen Mary, University of London[7] and an occasional panelist on the BBC's Newsnight Review.

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.


  1. ^ Charlotte Higgins, National Gallery chief walks away from the Old Masters. The Guardian, July 26, 2007. Accessed 26 July 2007
  2. ^ a b Maev Kennedy, Dandy in the Gallery. The Guardian, February 23, 2003. Accessed 15 June 2007
  3. ^ Further particulars: Slade Professorship of Fine Art. Accessed 5 September 2007
  4. ^ Martin Gayford, Wanted – National Gallery Chief to Muster Cash., April 23, 2007. Accessed 9 September 2007
  5. ^ John Walsh, Charles Saumarez Smith: Fine art dandy. The Independent 31 March 2007. Accessed 15 June 2007
  6. ^ Martin Bailey, National Gallery faces worst acquisitions crisis in over a century. The Art Newspaper, 2 July 2007. Accessed 3 July 2007
  7. ^ Queen Mary announces appointment of Charles Saumarez Smith as Visiting Professor (Press release.) Accessed 15 June 2007

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
John Hayes
Director of the National Portrait Gallery
Succeeded by
Sandy Nairne
Preceded by
Neil MacGregor
Director of the National Gallery
Succeeded by
Nicholas Penny
Academic offices
Preceded by
Donald Preziosi
Slade Professor of Fine Art,
Oxford University

Succeeded by
Ernst van de Wetering


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