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School of History

Sir Charles Saumarez Smith


Honorary Professor



I started life as an academic, reading history and art history at Cambridge, then doing a PhD at the Warburg Institute, and spending four years as the Christie's Research Fellow in the Decorative Arts at Christ's College, Cambridge. Then, I got a job helping establish the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design, before becoming Head of Research at the V&A. In 1994, I was appointed Director of the National Portrait Gallery, in 2002, I became Director of the National Gallery and in 2007, I moved to be Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts. I left in 2018, since which I worked for a while for an art gallery, Blain|Southern, but have mainly been writing.



Research Interests:

I started out as an architectural historian, doing research on late seventeenth-century architecture, particularly the work of Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor at Castle Howard. Since then, most of my research has been on the history of museums, including a study of new art museums, published by Thames & Hudson in 2021, but I also have an active interest in the history of East London, publishing a book on it in 2017.



The Building of Castle Howard, London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
Eighteenth-Century Decoration: Design and the Domestic Interior in England, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993.
The National Portrait Gallery, London: National Portrait Gallery, 1997.
The National Gallery: a short history, London: Frances Lincoln, 2009.
The Company of Artists: The Origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, London: Modern Art Press and Bloomsbury 2012. East London, London: Thames and Hudson, 2017 The Art Museum in Modern Times, London: Thames and Hudson, 2021



I would be happy to give advice to anyone working in the area of galleries/museums/heritage.


Public Engagement

I chair the Royal Drawing School, am a trustee of the Garden Museum, a member of the curatorial committee of the Design Museum and write a blog (

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