Queen axes her chief art adviser

The Queen has made her chief art adviser redundant amid restructuring plans undertaken during the pandemic, axing the role created under Charles I.   

It is understood Desmond Shawe-Taylor could be the last Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures after departing the role under the ‘voluntary severance programme’, the Times reported. 

The Royal Collection Trust confirmed on Tuesday that Mr Shawe-Taylor, 65, and his assistant Rufus Bird would leave amid cost-cutting plans, with the roles ‘lost and held in abeyance for the time being.’      

The Trust previously said the pandemic would cost an estimated £64million in lost income in 2020/2021, with a ‘significant reduction in our operating costs’ and a £22million cash injection necessary to continue its work. 

It was reported in July that the Trust would offer voluntary redundancies to up to 650 staff including caterers, office staff and wardens – with their wages paid in full.   

It is understood Desmond Shawe-Taylor (pictured) could be the last Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures after departing the role under the 'voluntary severance programme'

It is understood Desmond Shawe-Taylor (pictured) could be the last Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures after departing the role under the ‘voluntary severance programme’

The Royal Collection Trust confirmed on Tuesday that Mr Shawe-Taylor, 65, and his assistant Rufus Bird would leave amid cost-cutting plans, with the roles 'lost and held in abeyance' for 'the time being'

The Royal Collection Trust confirmed on Tuesday that Mr Shawe-Taylor, 65, and his assistant Rufus Bird would leave amid cost-cutting plans, with the roles ‘lost and held in abeyance’ for ‘the time being’

Pictured: The  Royal Collection's 'George IV: Art & Spectacle' exhibition in the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London, Britain

Pictured: The  Royal Collection’s ‘George IV: Art & Spectacle’ exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London, Britain

The Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures is a post first held during the reign of Charles I, responsible for the conservation and care of the Royal Collection and for providing access at royal residences and through loans and online. 

The collection has some one million objects – furniture, books, porcelain and silver as well as early photography, paintings and drawings. 

While it includes modern works by Tracey Emin and Lucian Freud, Mr Shawe-Taylor previously said ‘its centre of gravity will always be the Old Masters.’

‘The court was never going to spend time trying to acquire works by artists like the anarchist Gustave Courbet,’ he added.  

A royal source said the Queen was ‘aware of all activities of the Royal Collection’ as they confirmed Mr Shawe-Taylor’s departure from the post yesterday.

The statement added: ‘As part of the Royal Collection Trust restructure, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and chief surveyor, and Rufus Bird, surveyor of the Queen’s works of art, will leave the organisation under the voluntary severance programme.

It was reported in July that the Trust would offer voluntary redundancies to up to 650 staff including caterers, office staff and wardens - with their wages paid in full. Pictured: Mr Shawe-Taylor with Prince Charles

It was reported in July that the Trust would offer voluntary redundancies to up to 650 staff including caterers, office staff and wardens – with their wages paid in full. Pictured: Mr Shawe-Taylor with Prince Charles

A woman looks at paintings by the Italian artist Canaletto during a preview of the 'Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace' exhibit at The Queen's Gallery in London

A woman looks at paintings by the Italian artist Canaletto during a preview of the ‘Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace’ exhibit at The Queen’s Gallery in London

A gallery employee poses for photographers next to a painting entitled "At Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (The Music Lesson)" by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer

A gallery employee poses for photographers next to a painting entitled ‘At Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (The Music Lesson)’ by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer

‘The posts of surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and surveyor of the Queen’s works of art will, for the time being, be lost and held in abeyance. 

‘The director of the Royal Collection, Tim Knox, will assume overall responsibility for the curatorial sections, supported by the deputy surveyors of pictures and works of art.’  

Mr Shawe-Taylor took over the post from British art historian Christopher Lloyd in 2005 after nine years as director of Dulwich Picture Gallery. 

The post, created in 1625 by Charles I, was first held by Abraham van der Doort before succeeding to 24 subsequent experts. 

The most notable include former National Portrait Gallery director Sir Lionel Cust and British art historian and broadcaster Sir Kenneth Clark, who presented the Civilisation documentary series in the 1960s.

Anthony Blunt took over the role in 1945, later emerging as a member of the Cambridge Five – a group of spies working for the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the early 1950s.  

Those to hold the post include British art historian and broadcaster Sir Kenneth Clark (pictured), who presented the Civilisation documentary series in the 1960s

Those to hold the post include British art historian and broadcaster Sir Kenneth Clark (pictured), who presented the Civilisation documentary series in the 1960s

Pictured: Desmond Shawe-Taylor

Pictured: Oliver Millar

Pictured left: Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures Mr Shawe-Taylor and right: Oliver Millar, who held the role between 1972 and 1988

Blunt sensationally confessed that he was the ‘Fourth Man’ in the spy ring in 1964, with other members including Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean.

Following an offer of immunity from prosecution, he admitted passing thousands of secret documents to the Russian KGB while working as an officer for MI5 during the Second World War.

News of Mr Shawe-Taylor’s departure comes after it was revealed in July that as many as 250 royal staff were offered voluntary redundancy after Covid-19 created an £18million black hole in Her Majesty’s finances.

Vice Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, master of the household, said in a statement: ‘We may not be fully operational across all of our various activities until 2021. 

‘As a result we have had to start considering some very difficult decisions.’ 

The Royal Collection Trust said at the time it had deferred its annual fee to the Royal Household as there is no income from tourism. 

As a result, the Trust was also said to have offered voluntary redundancies to up to 650 staff including caterers, office staff and wardens – with their wages paid in full.

A Royal Collection Trust spokesperson said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has posed by far the greatest challenge to Royal Collection Trust in the charity’s history.

‘The closure to the public has had a very significant and serious impact on our finances, as we are entirely funded by visitor income from admissions and related retail sales.’   

How Anthony Blunt became a Soviet spy, but he admitted working for Moscow was ‘the biggest mistake of my life’

Anthony Blunt, a former MI5 officer, became Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures in 1945 and worked at the heart of the Establishment for 28 years.

Blunt was known as the ‘Fourth Man’ – alongside Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby – in the most effective Russian espionage operation of modern times.

He never spoke of his treachery but a memoir released in 2009 provides a fascinating insight into his astonishing life. 

Blunt says he considered suicide when he was finally exposed as a Soviet spy, describing working for Moscow as ‘the biggest mistake of my life’.

The details were revealed in a 30,000-word manuscript, which was lodged with the British Library in London anonymously in 1984 – the year after Blunt’s death at the age of 75 – on condition that it remained closed for 25 years.

Anthony Blunt (pictured), a former MI5 officer, became Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures and worked at the heart of the Establishment

Anthony Blunt (pictured), a former MI5 officer, became Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and worked at the heart of the Establishment

Blunt tells how he was ordered by his Russian controllers to flee Britain in 1951, as the net seemed to be closing on the Cambridge spies.

Burgess and Maclean had already been smuggled to Moscow but Blunt says he was uncertain and decided to sleep on it.

He wrote: ‘I don’t know whether one can be said to make decisions in one’s sleep, but this is what seems to have happened to me. I realised quite clearly that I would take any risk in this country rather than go to Russia.’

He managed to escape detection until 1964, when he confessed to MI6 after being offered immunity from prosecution, and it was not until 1979 that he was publicly unmasked, dramatically named as a spy by Margaret Thatcher in the Commons.

He believed his role would stay secret and It came as an ‘appalling shock’ when it became apparent in the late 1970s that his past was about to be made public.

Blunt said he ‘very seriously’ considered taking his own life.

‘Many people will say that it would have been the ‘honourable’ way out.’ he wrote. ‘After a great deal of thought I came to the conclusion that it would be a cowardly solution. It would have solved all my problems, but it would have made things as bad as possible for my family and friends.’

After he was exposed by Mrs Thatcher, he said, he took refuge in ‘whisky and concentrated work’.

Blunt makes no reference to specific betrayals, or to the British agents or servicemen thought to have died as a result of his treason. 

As a wartime MI5 officer, he is said to have passed hundreds of documents to Moscow, including secrets from intercepted German communications after British experts broke their codes. 

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