Being Blunt about Blunt

By Schwartz, Stephen | New Criterion, November 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Being Blunt about Blunt


Schwartz, Stephen, New Criterion


The Burlington Magazine, published in London, once bore a full title labeling it "for Connoisseurs." It advertises itself as "the world's leading monthly publication devoted to the fine and decorative arts." In January zoos it printed an article that, to put it as mildly as possible, was shocking in its moral opacity and obfuscation, by Professor Christopher Green of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

The subject was the British art historian and Soviet spy Anthony Blunt (1907-1983), one of the infamous "Cambridge Five," the quintet of intellectual traitors responsible for numerous crimes in the interest of Communism. The text was taken from the last in a program of five lectures held at the Courtauld in February 2004, under the rubric "Being Blunt: Exploring Anthony Blunt's Legacy as a Scholar and Director of the Courtauld Institute."

So far, bad enough: one may easily anticipate a fresh appearance in British academic life of the apologetics for the Stalinist intellectuals and their wickedness that have become dominant on American campuses over the last quarter century. But Professor Green's commentary dealt with an especially provocative issue: "Blunts Picasso," meaning the art historian's Stalinist denunciation of a painter who himself became a prominent Communist, and even of Picasso's monumental Guernica, considered by leftists today an unchallengeable exemplar of art in the service of politics.

The worst was apparently saved for last in the Courtauld series commemorating its former director. The first two events dealt with Blunt's biography, and with memories of his "legacy as a teacher and director of the Courtauld." Meanwhile, an exhibition in the Courtauld's Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre displayed "a selection of works from Blunt's library" intended to "provide an opportunity to reflect upon Blunt's role as a courtier-scholar in his capacity as Surveyor of the Royal Collection." Presentations on Blunt as an architectural historian, and a general overview of his efforts as an art historian, preceded the Green disquisition on Picasso.

The deceits embodied in Green's article are multiple. It is taken for granted throughout that it is unnecessary to mention Blunts career as a spy or his eventual disgrace, including the annulment of his knighthood. That is perhaps excusable, in that these items would probably have been covered earlier in the series. The printed text of Green's presentation includes a photograph of Blunt, in 1979, reading his press statement admitting espionage. So it cannot be argued that the topic is completely avoided. But while he admits that Blunt's denunciations of surrealism and Picasso, mainly in The Spectator of London and the Communist-controlled British Left Review in 1937-1938, reflected the critic's involvement with the Muscovite left, Green offers an adulterated, even sympathetic, account of it.

According to The Sword and the Shield, the authoritative 1999 account by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, Anthony Blunt was recruited into the Soviet secret police, i.e., the dread KGB, in the early 1930s, as a consequence of the enlistment of Kim Philby, the most famous of the "Cambridge Five"--the remaining three were Guy Burgess, Donald Madean, and John Caimcross. Blunt and Burgess were members of the Cambridge "conversational club" known as The Apostles.

Green, in treating Blunts Communization, employs standard cliches about "the Britain of the depression" and "the disaster of the Spanish civil war," by which Blunt is said to have been "moved from an immediate emotional response of horror and outrage" to "the reassuring clarity of rational analysis. But reason, by then equipped with the readymade rigor of Marxist dialectics, allowed Blunt to make ... a decisive shift from individual experience to a collective vision of history."

Green's discourse is replete with stale sloganizing of this kind, revived after some sixty years of deserved oblivion.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Being Blunt about Blunt
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.