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A curator who 14 years ago was a front-of-house assistant directing visitors to the highlights and toilets of the National Portrait Gallery in London is to return as the organization’s new director.

Nicholas Cullinan, who co-curated Tate Modern’s blockbuster Matisse cutouts exhibition last year with Sir Nicholas Serota, has been chosen to replace Sandy Nairne and become only the 12th director in the NPG’s 158-year history.

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Nicholas Penny is to retire as National Gallery director to spend more time with “family, friends and books”.

Dr Penny, who turns 65 in December will step down next year once a successor has been appointed.

His retirement leaves two of the top jobs in British arts up for grabs, after the National Portrait Gallery director, Sandy Nairne, recently announced his impending departure.

It will also bring to an end the most successful period in the National Gallery's history.

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Sandy Nairne has decided to step down in February 2015 as director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, after 12 years, to pursue his writing and advisory work, it was announced today, Thursday 12 June 2014.

Sandy Nairne says: ‘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. The fact that two million visitors now come each year to visit exhibitions, take part in activities or see displays of this amazing Collection in London, as well as around the country or online, is testimony to the dedication of all who work at the Gallery and those who support it in so many different ways. The Gallery is in very good shape and will go from strength to strength.’

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The National Portrait Gallery in London has acquired a 17th century portrait of Lady Anne Clifford, an early feminist and patron of the arts. When Lady Clifford died in 1676 at the age of 86, she was likely Britain’s wealthiest woman. Clifford fought a lifelong battle for her inheritance from her father, George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland, which had been left to her uncle. Through archival research and dogged legal disputes, Lady Clifford established the justice of her claims.  

William Larkin painted the portrait recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1616 when Lady Clifford was 28 years old. The work was given to her cousin but then lost for centuries. It was traced by gallery owner Mark Weiss to a European private collection and purchased by the National Portrait Gallery for £275,000, including a £70,000 grant from the Art Fund charity.

Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said, “Lady Anne Clifford painted by William Larkin is a fascinating portrait of an important woman, and I am very grateful to the Art Fund and our generous individual supporters who have made the acquisition possible.”

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A portrait of Winston Churchill by Sir William Orpen, a renowned British portrait painter and war artist, will go on public display after years of hanging in the home of Churchill’s late grandson.

Dating back to 1916, the portrait was painted before Churchill became prime minister, but after he resigned from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty due to the failure of WWI’s Gallipoli campaign, the joint British and French operation that was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and secure a sea route to Russia. Churchill had said that the portrait revealed his soul during one of his darkest hours.

The painting will go on display today at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of a 10-year loan. The National Portrait Gallery said that Churchill regarded the emotionally revealing painting as the finest one of himself. The portrait was briefly on view at a 2005 exhibition at the Imperial War Museum but has otherwise remained out of public sight. Sandy Nairne, the National Portrait Gallery’s director said, “I am very pleased that the Churchill family has agreed that this outstanding portrait by William Orpen of Winston Churchill, the nation’s greatest 20th century statesman, should now be on public display.”

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