Deborah Swallow steps down from Courtauld - Museums Association

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Deborah Swallow steps down from Courtauld

Organisation's first female director retires after 18 years
Art Leadership
Deborah Swallow has led the organisation since 2004
Deborah Swallow has led the organisation since 2004

Deborah Swallow will retire from her post as Märit Rausing director of the Courtauld Institute of Art after leading the renowned art institution for 18 years. 

Earlier this year, Swallow secured a landmark 10-year strategic relationship with King's College, London. She has also led on the Courtauld Connects project, which is transforming the arts organisation’s home at Somerset House to make its collections and research more accessible to the public. 

The Courtauld Gallery reopened after a three-year refurbishment last November and with the move of the conservation department back to Somerset House this summer, Phase 1 of the project will be complete. The rest of the project is on target to be finished in 2025 when all the Courtauld’s teaching and research operations will return from its temporary campus at Vernon Square, King’s Cross.

During her time at the organisation, Swallow has widened participation in higher education and art history, and opened up the Courtauld’s offer. She has overseen the ongoing expansion of its faculty, research and curricula, with new appointments in fields including the arts of Iran and Islam, China, the Buddhist world, and Black art histories.

Aside from leading the organisation, Swallow has continued to supervise PhD students. She is chair of the Courtauld’s academic board, overseeing all academic activity, and is a regular contributor to the organisation’s public engagement activities.

Prior to her tenure at the Courtauld, Swallow held the post of keeper of the Asian department and director of collections at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. She was appointed Märit Rausing director at the Courtauld in 2004.


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.”

She will continue to lead the Courtauld until the new candidate for the directorship is in place. Swallow 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.

Swallow was the first female director of the Courtauld. Previous directors include the art historian and Soviet spy, Anthony Blunt, who led the organisation from 1947-74, using his position in society as cover for his espionage activities.

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