Director - The Courtauld Institute of Art


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Märit Rausing Director

Professor Deborah Swallow


Professor Deborah Swallow is Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld and its Gallery. Alongside her commitment to education and curation, she is a distinguished proponent of the broadest possible appreciation of art and its histories, and a specialist in Indian art and anthropology.

Under her leadership since 2004, The Courtauld has grown as the world’s foremost academic centre for art history, curation, and the conservation of painting, and its Gallery has flourished. Professor Swallow has spearheaded the landmark transformation project, Courtauld Connects; within this, the reopening of the new Gallery is the first major step in bringing to fruition a visionary overarching ambition for The Courtauld, to broaden the reach and impact of its unique offering.

Professor Swallow is a champion of Samuel Courtauld’s founding vision for The Courtauld, summarised as ‘art for all’. She is committed to a fully inclusive form of art history, not only embracing artistic production from all cultures and eras, but seeking to ensure that this can be accessed, understood and enjoyed by everyone. With this in mind, she is currently leading The Courtauld’s drive to ensure greater diversity, inclusion and organisational commitment to antiracism, including steps to decolonise the curriculum. And throughout her career at The Courtauld, she has sought to ‘open’ its offer: through outreach programmes, touring loan exhibitions and a deeply-felt commitment to widening participation in higher education and art history.

Deborah Swallow took her MA in English literature at New Hall, Cambridge. A year teaching in India gave her a deep interest in the arts, culture and religion of the Subcontinent. Returning to Cambridge, she took a PhD in social anthropology at Darwin College, based on further fieldwork in Orissa. Teaching and curatorial posts in anthropology followed at the University of Cambridge, until in 1983 she joined the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Indian department. There she oversaw the creation of the Nehru Gallery of Art and a series of major exhibitions on the arts of the Subcontinent, before becoming Keeper of a newly formed Asian Department and Director of Collections in 2001, and joining The Courtauld as Märit Rausing Director in 2004.

As educator and scholar Professor Swallow continues to be active as a speaker, lecturer, specialist advisor and contributor to journals. She is a Fellow of King’s College London, a Trustee of Asia House, Trustee of the Helen Hamlyn Trust, founder Trustee of the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections and the V&A, and a former Trustee of Art Fund. She has written and spoken on contemporary art, women in leadership, women collectors and 19th-century colonial art. Her specific research interests are in Indian art from around 1850 to the present with particular interest in Indian textile history and the history of heritage and museums in colonial and post-colonial India.

At The Courtauld, Professor Swallow is Chair of The Courtauld’s Academic Board, Academic Promotions Committee and Senior Management Team. She is an ex-officio member of the Governing Board.

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