This article is adapted from Sir Angus Stirling’s speech upon Sir Adam Butler’s retirement as Chairman of the Samuel Courtauld Trust, January, 2006.

Adam, through his mother, is Sam Courtauld’s grandson. In 1989 he succeeded his cousin, Miss Jean Courtauld, to the chair of the Home House Society, and Adam’s involvement as a Trustee goes back some twenty years or more before that. Home House Society took its name from Samuel Courtauld’s home.

Adam has always displayed a deep understanding of the very special character of the collections that make up the Samuel Courtauld Trust’s present responsibility. Each of them, whether assembled by Courtauld himself, Lee, Fry, Gambier-Parry, Seilern or others of major significance in the Gallery on loan, is the fruit of a combination of a discerning eye and instinct for quality. Each one represents an independence of intellect and enlightened purpose, which Adam has sought to cherish and nurture.

His 16 years at the helm have seen some big changes. Soon after he took over came the move from Portman Square to Somerset House. It fell to Adam to guide decisions about long loans and insurance of works from the collections to tour overseas in support of the major fundraising campaign launched at the time. His own presence in the US to speak about the collections and their origins was crucial to the success of this tour.

The collections have since undergone a number of re-orderings and new displays. Given the exceptional importance of the paintings and drawings there is a constant flow of requests from museums to borrow works from the Trust both here and abroad. Adam has been extremely diligent in considering every request on its merits, working closely with successive curators of the Gallery and Directors of the Institute.

More recently Adam has steered the Trust through the vital negotiations which led to the association with the Getty Trust and other private benefactors which enabled the Institute to become an independent college of the University of London. This, the greatest change of all, has opened up a new era for both the Institute and the Gallery, with exciting possibilities for the extension of scholarship, and for public appreciation of, and participation in the collections.

The application to the Charity Commission to amend the Will of Count Seilern so that certain works from his collection could be lent for educational purposes called for careful consideration of both ethical and legal argument; Adam guided the Trustees through this with great sensitivity.

Throughout his long stewardship Adam has brought to the Trust his great experience of public and private sector service at a high level. He has a formidable command of detail, insistence on financial prudence and a clear intellectual perception of the matter under consideration, no matter how complex. Above all he has shown an abiding love of the works of art under his care, and a sure grasp of his role in protecting them.