Personality clash splits Royal Academy

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The Independent Online

One is a mercurial American banker who defied both tradition and competition to become the first female secretary of the Royal Academy. The other is a flamboyant exhibition organiser whose talent for staging controversially acclaimed shows is matched only by his electrifying temper.

One is a mercurial American banker who defied both tradition and competition to become the first female secretary of the Royal Academy. The other is a flamboyant exhibition organiser whose talent for staging controversially acclaimed shows is matched only by his electrifying temper.

Lawton Fitt and Norman Rosenthal may have little more in common than the fact that they occupy the prestigious upper echelons of the Academy's managerial ranks. The full extent of their differences was revealed yesterday when it emerged the pair were experiencing a personality clash that was creating feuding factions at the heart of one of the world's most revered art institutions. Dozens of painters, sculptors and architects who govern the Academy have reportedly felt compelled to take sides.

Tensions peaked on a business trip several months ago, when a disagreement took place. Ms Fitt reportedly complained to the president Phillip King about Mr Rosenthal's conduct. The extent of their apparent animosity was reflected in allegations that Mr Rosenthal subsequently feared he was being pushed out of his job and sought legal advice from Cherie Booth QC.

The dispute came to the attention of the 80 artists - ranging from David Hockney to Sir Peter Blake - who govern the organisation as Academicians, at a meeting last month.

Yesterday, Sir Peter, the artist behind the cover of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, who emphasised he was not taking sides, said: "There are three elements - Norman, Lawton and the president - and there are various factions surrounding each of them.I believe that Lawton has said she wants Norman to go and presumably as secretary she has the power to hire and fire."

In the light of the backgrounds of Ms Fitt and Mr Rosenthal, the alleged clash may come as little surprise. Boston-born Ms Fitt, 50, became one of the few female senior partners in Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank. Her position led to her inclusion in a list of the 50 most powerful women in the US business world.In 2002, she was the first woman and first American to become Academy secretary.

Mr Rosenthal, 59, is credited with reviving the Academy's fortuneswith a string of critically acclaimed, often controversial, exhibitions. They include Sensation, featuring works by Damien Hirst, and the first public gallery viewing of a painting of Myra Hindley.

Neither Ms Fitt nor Mr Rosenthal was available for comment yesterday. Speaking from Dubai, Professor Brendan Neiland, the artist and keeper of the Academy, told The Independent: "Things are perfectly amicable between the two. In any organisation, there are going to be differing opinions. I believe they have since met and talked together very recently."

However, one unnamed senior Academician said: "There are many interpretations of the current situation but it will only become clear in the coming months when people either leave or do not leave."

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