Charles Saumarez Smith was born in 1954. He was educated at King's College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar and gained a double first in history and history of art.
After graduating, he spent a year at Harvard University as a Henry Fellow studying at the Fogg Art Museum.
He then returned to the Warburg Institute and in 1986 was awarded a PhD on the architecture of Castle Howard. In 1979, he was elected Christie's Research Fellow at Christ's College, Cambridge, and in 1982 he joined the staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum as an Assistant Keeper with special responsibility for the V&A/RCA MA in the History of Design. In 1990, he was appointed Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum. From 1994 he was Director of the National Portrait Gallery.
As Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Saumarez Smith oversaw the redisplay of the 19th- and early 20th-century galleries, the refurbishment of the top-floor galleries and the opening of the Ondaatje Wing in May 2000. During his time as Director, the National Portrait Gallery held major historical exhibitions, including Painted Ladies, Raeburn, The Art of the Picture Frame and The Sitwells, as well as exhibitions devoted to the work of photographers, including Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Annie Leibovitz, Lord Snowdon and, most recently, Mario Testino.
He is now Chief Executive of the Royal Academy.