Entering a job that requires industrial relations expertise and moneymaking nous as much as a good knowledge of paintings, Gabriele Finaldi has been appointed head of the National Gallery at a crucial time.
The new director’s recruitment was hailed as a coup by many in the arts world because of his part in transforming Madrid’s El Prado. He will arrive at the London institution in August.
“This is a world-class collection in a world-class city,” Dr Finaldi said, adding that he was “deeply honoured”.
Experts said tasks in his in-tray will include rebuilding relations with staff who have been holding strikes, finding funding to offset declining public subsidies, and attracting new audiences to the historic collection.
Current director Nicholas Penny announced last summer that he was to step down after six years and the role is believed to have been offered to Dr Finaldi in December. The expert in Italian and Spanish art was announced as Dr Penny’s successor yesterday after the appointment was officially confirmed by the Prime Minister.
Dr Finaldi, a British citizen, returns to the institution where he worked as a curator for a decade until 2002, before leaving for the Museo Nacional del Prado. The 49-year-old was born in London and studied art history at Dulwich College and then the Courtauld Institute of Art.
During his time at the Prado, he oversaw the building’s expansion and established the first conservation studio and laboratory. He also curated a series of acclaimed exhibitions such the Jusepe de Ribera show in 2011 and Murillo and Justino de Neve the following year.
Charles Saumarez Smith, who served as director of the National Gallery from 2002 to 2007 and is the secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, told The Independent: “It’s good news. He’s a very nice, experienced and capable person, with great gravitas. I’ve got nothing but admiration for him.”
The National Gallery attracted 6.4 million visitors last year. But while Dr Penny presided over the most successful period in the gallery’s history, the institution is currently in turmoil over proposals to privatise some visitor services roles.
Relations between staff and director sank so low that Dr Penny was booed at one meeting, and in February there was an unprecedented five-day strike. There will be more industrial action next week.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: “Now the new director has been confirmed, we call on the gallery to halt their plans and allow us time to present our proposals for an in-house option to him.”
This is a world-class collection in a world-class city
Gabriele Finaldi, in front of ‘The Spinners’ by Diego Velazquez, at El Prado in Madrid yesterday, as it was announced he was leaving his post there epaReuse content