Secret Scheme Devised to Hide Art Treasures in Cuban Missile Crisis

Article excerpt

SECRET PLANS were devised at the height of the Cuban missile crisis to safeguard the nation's most important art treasures from nuclear attack.

The documents, released by the Public Record Office, were drafted four days after President John F Kennedy placed a naval "quarantine" on Cuba in an attempt to force the Russians to withdraw its missiles from the island. Anthony Blunt, then the surveyor of the Queen's pictures, was among the gallery directors informed about the proposals to safeguard important works of art - though he had been detected as a Soviet spy by the time the plans were finalised two years later.

Planning continued even after the Russians stepped back and the nuclear flashpoint passed safely. But the declassified papers reveal how worried officials were of the potential impact on the public of hiding its art treasures. Fears were raised that removing the nation's Old Masters from the National Gallery might cause public alarm, leading to chaos as people realised they should flee London.

There was good reason, it was observed, to keep the treasures on public show "for national morale reasons".

Outlining the proposal in September 1963, Mary Loughnane, a Treasury official said: "Whether it will have the faintest chance of succeeding ... is another question; but this exercise has, from the very start, been based on the premise that there should be no removal of major masterpieces until other overt precautionary measures are being put in train."

Another paper notes that although the scheme would get the greatest works to safety, "a great many treasures of high value would have to be left behind to take their chance, which would obviously be slim". …