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Blunt, Wilfrid

    Image Credit: Curtis Brown

    Full Name: Blunt, Wilfrid

    Other Names:

    • Wilfrid Blunt

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1901

    Date Died: 1987

    Place Born: Ham, Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: Guildford, Surrey, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Career(s): curators


    Art teacher, author and curator of the Watts Museum near Guildford. Blunt was born to Arthur Stanley Vaughan Blunt (1870-1929), an Anglican minister and Hilda Master (Blunt) (1880-1969). His father was the chaplain to the British Embassy in Paris. As his younger brothers did, Blunt received a scholarship to Marlborough College where he studied between 1914 and 1920. Blunt’s conservative views toward modern art were already in place. When Roger Fry mounted the first post-impressionist show at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1910, Blunt wrote of the paintings by Manet and Cézanne that they were “works of idleness and impotent stupidity, a pornographic show.” After a year at Worcester College, Oxford, he switched to the Atelier Moderne in Paris to become an artist. By the following year he was an engraving student at the Royal College of Art, London where he received an associates degree in 1923. At the College, he was befriended by Sir William Rothenstein. Blunt joined Haileybury College, Hertfordshire, as its art instructor (art master) in 1923. He spent the year 1933 on leave training as a concert singer in Italy and Germany, but pursued singing only avocationally. Europe broadened his cultural outlook enough that returning to a provincial boys school was not longer rewarding. Blunt researched and published on the architect William Wilkins (1778-1865), who had designed the buildings of Haileybury in 1806, publishing his Haileybury Buildings privately in 1938. The previous year, a family connection got him a position of second drawing master at Eton College. By this time, 1937, Blunt was opening up about his homosexuality. In 1950 Blunt wrote his most acclaimed book, The Art of Botanical Illustration together with the botonist William T. Stearn (1911-2001), for which he was awarded the Veitch Gold Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Stearn became one of Blunt’s close friends. At Eton Blunt encouraged italic handwriting, publishing the book Sweet Roman Hand on the subject in 1952. Blunt retired from Eton in 1959 and joined the Watts Gallery (Museum) in Compton, near Guildford, Surrey as a curator. Blunt took up writing, largely biographies, as a past time. Among his art-related biographies were The Dream King, of Ludwig II of Bavaria, (1970). Stearn and Blunt further collaborated on Captain Cook’s Florilegium (1973) and The Australian Flower Paintings of Ferdinand Bauer (1976). In 1976 he published Splendours of Islam, an art travelogue. When Blunt retired from the Gallery in 1983, he was allowed to live in the curator’s house until his death. He died of cancer four years later. His brothers were Christopher Evelyn Blunt (1904-1987), a noted numismatist, and Anthony Blunt the eminent art historian (and spy).

    Selected Bibliography

    Splendors of Islam. New York: Viking Press, 1976; and Petzet, Michael. The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria. London: Hamilton, 1970.


    [autobiographies:] Married to a Single Life: an Autobiography, 1901-1938. Wilton, Salisbury, Wiltshire: M. Russell, 1983, and Slow on the Feather: Further Autobiography, 1938-1959. Salisbury: Michael Russell, 1986; Stearn, William T. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Canfield, Cass. The Incredible Pierpont Morgan. New York: Harper & Row, 1974, p. 132; [obituaries:] The Times (London) January 12, 1987; The Independent January 13, 1987; Daily Telegraph January 11, 1987.


    "Blunt, Wilfrid." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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