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Millar, Oliver, Sir

    Full Name: Millar, Oliver, Sir

    Other Names:

    • Sir Oliver Nicholas Millar

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1923

    Date Died: 2007

    Place Born: Standon, Hertfordshire, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Career(s): educators


    Courtauld Institute scholar and surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, 1972-1987. Millar was the son of Gerald Arthur Millar and Ruth Cock (Millar). His father was a writer and cousin of the writer Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989). Millar was educated at Rugby showing an early interest in royal iconography. He entered the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London where the Anthony Blunt, who also held the post of Surveyor of the King’s pictures, took Millar on as his advisor. In 1947, Blunt, now chair of the Courtauld, recommended Millar join the staff as assistant surveyor. Millar rose to deputy surveyor in 1949, succeeding Benedict Nicolson. His first book, on Thomas Gainsborough, was published in 1949. An exhibition catalog for the Tate Gallery, on the artist William Dobson, painter to Charles I, was written in 1951. Millar lectured periodically at the Courtauld on British painting, meeting and marrying a student of the Institute, Delia Mary Dawnay (d. 2004) in 1954. In 1957 he and Courtauld scholar Margaret Whinney wrote the Oxford History of English Artvolume on the period 1625-1714. Millar delivered the Charlton Lecture on Art for 1958, “Rubens and the Whitehall Ceiling.” His interest on the dispersed collection of Charles I led to his publishing of the discovered inventories of the monarch, the first as a volume in the Walpole Society’s volume for 1960. Millar and Blunt collaborated on the first public exhibition in the new Queen’s Gallery in 1962, next to Buckingham Palace, “Treasures from the Royal Collection.” Millar contributed the sections of the catalogue raisonné of the Queen’s Pictures for the Tudor, Stuart and early Georgian periods (1963) and the later Georgian (1969). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1970. When knowledge that Blunt had spied for the Soviet Union became increasingly known, Blunt was relieved from his Surveyor duties. Millar replaced Blunt in 1972, the first full-time Surveyor. The same year he became a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. He issued a second royal inventory, Inventories and Valuations of the King’s Goods, 1972, documenting the collection of Charles I before dispersal from the king’s execution in 1649, followed the same year by a catalog for the show “The Age of Charles I” for the Tate Gallery. The Queen’s Pictures appeared in 1977, a history of the collection written for the general reader. Millar created a new Royal Collection department to oversee Crown art, the collection having been the duties of the lord chamberlain since 1625. He wrote Van Dyck in England (1982), in association with a show at the National Portrait Gallery He retired as surveyor emeritus in 1987 and was succeeded by Christopher Lloyd, then assistant keeper of Western Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Millar was named director to a newly created position, the Royal Collection, which now included art, drawings, prints and the library, his final year of service. He retired in 1987. In retirement, he worked on a final section of the royal collection catalog on the Victorian pictures, which appeared in 1992. Millar contributed the section on Van Dyke’s works executed in England for the Van Dyke catalog of 2004 before his death at age 84. He is not related to Keeper of Manuscripts, British Museum, Eric G. Millar. Millar was an expert in Anthony Van Dyck and 17th-century British painting. His particular interest was patronage of portraiture. A scholar in the antiquarian tradition, he was ill at ease especially in later years with fundraising. Millar instituted conservation measures and a professional department devoted to that under his tenure.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Whinney, Margaret Dickens. English Art, 1625-1714. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957; “Catalogue of the Collections of Charles I, by Abraham van der Doort.” Walpole Society 37 (1958-1960): 1-256; “The Inventories and Valuations of the King’s Goods, 1649-51.” Walpole Society 43 (1970-1972): 1-443; The Age of Charles I: Painting in England, 1620-1649. London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1972; The Queen’s Pictures. New York: Macmillan, 1977; contributor, Van Dyck: a Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale University Press, 2004.


    [obituaries:] Corby, Tom. “Sir Oliver Millar: Eminent Art Historian who Nurtured the Queen’s Paintings but was Caustic about Some of Them.” Guardian (London) May 17, 2007, p. 36; White, Christopher. “Sir Oliver Millar: Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures who Oversaw the Cataloguing of the Royal Collection.” Independent (London), May 16, 2007, p. 32; “Sir Oliver Millar Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures who was also a Leading International Expert on the Painter Anthony van Dyck.” Daily Telegraph (London) May 14, 2007, p. 23.



    "Millar, Oliver, Sir." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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