News Archive 2022

Professor Deborah Swallow to step down as Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld

26 Apr 2022

Professor Deborah Swallow has announced plans to retire from her post as Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art after leading the internationally renowned institution for 18 years.

In this time, The Courtauld has grown as the world’s foremost academic centre for art history, curation, and the conservation of painting, and its Gallery has flourished. Deborah has shown a deeply-felt commitment to widening participation in higher education and art history and The Courtauld has sought to ‘open’ its offer. She has overseen a significant, ongoing expansion of its faculty, research, and curricula, with new appointments in important fields including the arts of Iran and Islam, China, the Buddhist world, and Black art histories.

Professor Swallow has spearheaded the most significant development in The Courtauld’s history, the landmark Courtauld Connects project, which is successfully transforming The Courtauld’s home at Somerset House, making its world-class collections and scholarship accessible to more people than ever before.   The Courtauld Gallery reopened to international acclaim in November 2021, despite the challenges of COVID.  Phase 1 of this development programme will be complete in summer 2022 with the move of the Conservation Department back to Somerset House. The rest of the project is on target to be fully completed in 2025 when all The Courtauld’s teaching and research operations will return from its temporary campus at Vernon Square, King’s Cross.

Alongside the physical transformation of the buildings, The Courtauld has undertaken an innovative programme of activity to ensure that everyone has the chance to engage with and enjoy art, with national and international loans of artworks, innovative digital events, school and community outreach work, and creative volunteer programmes.

Lord Browne of Madingley, Chair of The Courtauld’s Governing Board, said: “During her time as Director, Deborah has worked tirelessly to realise Samuel Courtauld’s founding vision of ‘art for all’.

Leading The Courtauld through challenging times as well as prosperous ones, she spearheaded the most significant initiative in the institution’s history: Courtauld Connects. This major capital works project has already begun to transform our iconic home at Somerset House, and the associated programmatic initiatives are allowing wider audiences to engage with our scholarship and collections through tours and outreach activities. This monumental achievement is testament to Deborah’s unwavering belief in the power of art, its centrality to the human condition and the importance of preserving it for the future.

Deborah has ensured that the reputation of the Gallery has continued to grow, nationally and internationally, and she has consolidated The Courtauld’s reputation as the world’s foremost academic centre for art history, curation, and the conservation of painting. Under her leadership academic excellence has continued to flourish, and earlier this year she secured a landmark 10-year strategic relationship with King’s College, London.

On behalf of the Board, I thank her most sincerely for all she has done for The Courtauld and for the generations to come who will discover its treasures anew.”

Throughout her time at The Courtauld, Professor Swallow has sought to expand The Courtauld’s work and reach through important relationships. Of these, the most significant have been those with the Getty; with the State Hermitage Museum (The Courtauld managed the Hermitage Rooms for five years); with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur Rajasthan; and, as recently announced, with King’s College London. This new relationship will allow cooperation between the two institutions across existing areas of synergy in cultural history, visual arts, conservation and digital humanities, and the development of innovative teaching, research and public engagement.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “Under the leadership of Deborah Swallow the face of The Courtauld, as always an outstanding centre of scholarship, has been transformed through improvements to the Gallery and a programme of collaborations with museums across the UK. ‘Courtauld Connects’ has given the academic institution a wider public purpose, while the recent announcement of a collaboration between the Courtauld and King’s will extend the reach of art history into the broader field of the humanities. Deborah has given The Courtauld a new place in London, the UK and the international community.”

Professor Evelyn Welch, Senior Vice President, King’s College London, said: “It has been a privilege to work with Deborah Swallow who has led The Courtauld for almost two decades. She has ensured that The Courtauld, its conservation unit and collection have been able to work together to achieve remarkable academic and curatorial successes. Deborah has done a wonderful job extending The Courtauld’s expertise to cover a truly global approach to the History of Art. She has been a great supporter of the University of London and the architect of the long-term strategic relationship between the The Courtauld and King’s College London. We have all benefited greatly from her wisdom and wish her the very best for her retirement.”

Kaywin Feldman, Director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, said: “Professor Swallow’s leadership at The Courtauld has been transformative. She arrived in 2004 with an exciting vision to move the institution from its Euro-centric focus to a global institution, rooted in traditions of excellence. With her signature graciousness and inclusivity, Deborah expanded The Courtauld’s donor base and network of scholars and supporters to ensure the institution’s relevance and sustainability. As a Courtauld alumna, it has been a joy to watch the institution expand its service to scholars, artists, and the public during Deborah’s tenure.”

Professor Swallow said: “It has been a huge honour to serve The Courtauld as the Märit Rausing Director and to play a part in shaping this unique organisation’s development. I have been challenged, inspired and energised by my Courtauld colleagues, by our students and alumni and by colleagues across the university.  I am immensely grateful for the unstinting support given by Lord Browne, Chair of our Governing Board, and his predecessors, Nicholas Ferguson and James Hughes-Hallett, by the full Board, those who have served on our committees and by our many very generous supporters, without whom we could not have achieved our successes to date.”

The Courtauld’s Governing Board will undertake an international search for the new Director and Professor Swallow will continue to lead The Courtauld until the selected successful candidate is in place. She will remain active as an academic and museum professional – focusing on her area of expertise, the arts of the South Asian subcontinent – both through her work as an individual scholar and through her engagement with organisations in India and the UK.