- Birth Place
- Date of Birth
- 26 September 1907
- Date of Death
- 26 March 1983
Anthony Frederick Blunt was born into minor privilege; his father was the chaplain to the British Embassy in Paris. He went to school at Marlborough College and then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1930, and following his early appreciation for French art and architecture became an art critic for the London Spectator. In 1932 Blunt became a Fellow of the College on the strength of his dissertation on artistic theory of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In May 1928 he had been elected to the Society of Apostles, a secret intellectual society at Cambridge. This was his first contact with Marxist thought. While at university his homosexuality led him to meet Guy Burgess.
It is unclear whether it was before or after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1933 that he was recruited by the NKVD. Certainly he was used for ‘talent spotting’ for them from the early 1930s. On the outbreak of war, in 1939, he joined the British Army. In 1940 he transferred to MI5 where he had access to ULTRA intelligence decoded from Enigma messages. By 1944 it is reported that he had moved to SHAEF where he kept the Soviets informed about Western invasion plans.
In 1945 he told his Soviet handlers that he no longer wished to continue spying for them. They accepted his decision. In 1945 he was appointed the Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and retained this post under Queen Elizabeth II. He became Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1947 and professor of the history of art at the University of London.
He was not suspected of espionage until 1951 when Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess defected. The Soviets also attempted to get Blunt to defect but it is likely his privileged position in British society and in the Courtauld Institute was too attractive for him.
In 1963 MI5 learned of his espionage from an American, Michael Straight, whom he had unsuccessfully tried to recruit. He was a member of a Soviet spy ring that included Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, and Kim Philby. In April 1964 Blunt confessed to MI5 but his spying career remained an official secret. In November 1979 he was publicly named by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His security debriefs, both in 1963 and 1979, were disappointing. He revealed little about other agents; in fact it is doubtful that he had really had a change of heart, simply that he had been found out.
He lived the rest of his life in disgrace, stripped of all his honours and awards. Although his treachery has overshadowed much of his life’s work his scholarship on the baroque remains the finest in the English language
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