Two of The Courtauld’s founders, Samuel Courtauld and Lord Arthur Lee, enjoyed a lifelong friendship and close involvement in all aspects of the Institute’s development. Their personalities were very different – Lee’s extrovert and practical, Courtauld’s gentle and aesthetic – yet it was just these differences that strengthened their relationship. Among the items from the Archives that illustrate their mutual understanding and joint commitment, two in particular are a delightful, at times poignant, testament to their relationship.

Surveyor of the King’s Pictures:

In early 1945 Anthony Blunt – or ‘Major Blunt’ as he was known at the Institute during the war years – was approached by George VI’s Royal Librarian with an offer to succeed Sir Kenneth Clark in the part-time post of Surveyor of the King’s Pictures. At that time Blunt held the positions of both Deputy Director and Reader in the History of Art at the Institute. Were he to accept the post of Surveyor, his duties – albeit with the help of the Assistant Surveyor, Ben Nicholson – would involve not only the cataloguing and conservation of the royal collections but also the curating of an exhibition of the Royal Pictures to be held at the Royal Academy in 1946.

The Palace’s offer to Major Blunt provoked a lively discussion in the Institute’s Committee of Management. Courtauld’s views are not recorded. However, Lord Lee, ever keen to ensure that the Institute’s funds were appropriately spent, ‘expressed fears that the Surveyorship would demand more of Major Blunt’s time than he appeared to suppose, and that the Courtauld Institute would suffer.’

The Director [Professor Tom Boase] felt that the proposed appointment was a considerable tribute to the Courtauld Institute [which would offer] ’a suitable alternative to pure research which might otherwise have been undertaken’, and Sir Robert Witt and several other members of the Committee also favoured the proposal ‘on the grounds that it would give prestige to the Institute.’

The meeting thus agreed to allow Major Blunt to accept the Surveyorship of the King’s Pictures, but – perhaps in deference to Lord Lee’s eye on the purse-strings – on condition that Blunt’s Readership position be put on a part-time basis with appropriate adjustments in salary.

From the Minutes of the Committee of Management, 20 March 1945

Artistic farming:

In October 1958 the extensive collections of Samuel Courtauld and Arthur Lee, along with that of Sir Robert Witt, were opened to the public in a new gallery in Bloomsbury. On that occasion, the Rt Hon R A Butler, Courtauld’s son-in-law, related the following story to illustrate the ‘perfect partnership’ of the two men, who in addition to their passion for art and art history shared interests in business and farming.

“Arthur Lee used to run his farm on the lines of a cabinet meeting….[whereas] Samuel Courtauld liked to see his farm run from the aesthetic point of view. He was worried by the unrelieved green of the fields and decided that he wanted black cows to break up and contrast with the green, but he could not make up his mind what breed to have, so Arthur Lee went out and bought pedigree black Kerry cows, which Sam Courtauld thought went extremely well with the fields…. Thus both the aesthetic sense of Sam Courtauld and the business sense of Arthur Lee were satisfied.”

From Speeches on the occasion of the Opening of the new Courtauld Institute Galleries on 14 October 1958.


Virginia Morck, MA 2006