The art historian whose mediation led to oil paintings for the Knesset was Sir Anthony Blunt, the British traitor featured in the Netflix flagship series The Crown, a special tour of the Knesset’s secrets will reveal.
As part of the 55th anniversary of the Knesset building, the Knesset will hold a special, one-time tour for the general public during which the director of the Knesset Visitor Center will reveal the special stories behind the construction of the building. The tour can be booked through the visitor center on the Knesset website.
During the tour, visitors center head Dr. Moshe Fuksman Shal will tell the story of how the Rothschild family, which donated the money used to build the Knesset, unwittingly enlisted the help of a Soviet spy to prepare two of the important works of art hanging in the building. The oil paintings of the Rothschild barons were hung in the 1970s in a memorial corner in the lobby of the Knesset speaker’s office.
“The person who painted these pictures was the British painter Eric Hebborn, who was killed with a hammer blow to the back of his head on a street in Rome about 25 years ago,” said Fuksman Shal.
James de Rothschild left in his will a sum of six million Israeli pounds for the construction of the Knesset, which celebrated its 55th birthday this past August 30. His widow Dorothy saw to it that a memorial corner was set up, which initially held two photographs of the baron and his son. In September 1972, the oil paintings replaced the photographs in the Knesset.
“When the Baroness de Rothschild looked for a talented artist for the project in the 1970s, an art historian introduced her to Hebborn,” Fuksman Shal said.
Art expert Dr. Doron Lurie said the man who mediated between the painter and Baroness Dorothy Rothschild was later exposed as a Soviet spy – Sir Anthony Blunt. For many years, Blunt served as the art curator to Queen Elizabeth II and also the director of the prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
“At the time, he was one of Britain’s greatest art historians and experts on the country’s most valuable treasures,” Luria said. “Today, however, we know that Blunt had another side.”
In November 1979, a British MP presented a surprising query to prime minister Margaret Thatcher, asking for additional information on a person of interest for national security reasons. The prime minister’s response directly named Blunt as the person in question, and that day, Buckingham Palace announced he was being stripped of his knighthood. Sir Anthony’s actions had been revealed as early as 1964, but in exchange for his confession and cooperation – and also to help the palace save face – this was kept secret, although the queen was made aware of the matter.
When Blunt was in the MI5, the British Security Service, he passed intelligence to the Soviets.