Sandy Nairne is to step down as head of the National Portrait Gallery in February after more than a decade at the helm.
The director, who has been hailed for boosting visitor numbers by 40 per cent, “wonderful” exhibitions and acquiring acclaimed work, announced today he was to leave in order to pursue his writing and advisory work.
“It has been a great privilege to lead such a special institution as the National Portrait Gallery, and I am very proud of what we have achieved over the past decade,” he said, adding that the gallery was “in very good shape and will go from strength to strength”.
Sir William Proby, chairman of the trustees, said Mr Nairne “has done a tremendous job and will be greatly missed. He has significantly increased visitor numbers, put on some wonderful exhibitions… and overseen many major commissions and acquisitions.”
Mr Nairne, who had been director of programmes at Tate, was appointed NPG director in November 2002, following the departure of Charles Saumarez Smith. At the time attendance annual figures were 1.4m; they have since risen past 2m.
Before the Tate, Mr Nairne had worked at the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford.
Among the recent acclaimed exhibitions at the NPG under Nairne’s stewardship were Lucian Freud Portraits and the current Bailey’s Stardust exhibition of the photography of David Bailey.
During his tenure, the director oversaw the acquisition of the Van Dyck self-portrait earlier this year as well as the acquisition of a John Donne Portrait and Mark Quinn’s Self. He also commissioned portraits of Dame Judi Dench, Simon Weston and David Beckham.