Scottish National Gallery director Michael Clarke to retire

Michael Clarke with a rare Constable portrait of Laura Moubray. Picture: Neil Hanna

Michael Clarke with a rare Constable portrait of Laura Moubray. Picture: Neil Hanna

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Michael Clarke CBE, who played a key role in turning National Galleries in to Scotland’s third most popular visitor attraction, is retiring.

Mr Clarke will retire from his post as director of the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) and deputy director of the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) at the end of September this year.

Mr Clarke joined the Galleries in 1984, having previously worked at Manchester University and the British Museum. He became keeper in 1987 and then director of the Scottish National Gallery in 2001. During his tenure, the Gallery has developed an international reputation for the quality of its acquisitions, research and programmes.

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Sir John Leighton, director-general of the NGS, said Mr Clarke has had a hugely successful career at the Galleries.

“With his depth of expertise, commitment to excellence and flair for accessible programming he has played a key role extending the national and international reach and reputation of NGS,” he said. “His contribution will be greatly missed but we all wish him well in his retirement.”

From 1998-2004, Mr Clarke led the Playfair Project at NGS which linked the National Gallery with the neighbouring Royal Scottish Academy building, creating a unified complex on The Mound for the first time. The expansion of the offer at The Mound has been a key element in attracting new audiences and the SNG now welcomes nearly 1.4 million visitors every year, making it the third most popular visitor attraction in Scotland. Michael has also been closely involved in the development of the major project to transform the Scottish Galleries at the SNG, which is due to begin on site later this year and to be completed in 2018.

His numerous publications include The Tempting Prospect: a Social History of English Watercolours (1981) and Corot and the Art of Landscape (1991), both published by the British Museum, and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms (2001).

He has organised many exhibitions for the Scottish National Gallery, including Lighting up the Landscape: French Impressionism and its Origins (1986), Cézanne and Poussin (1991), Monet to Matisse (1994), Monet; the Seine and the Sea (2003), Impressionist Gardens (2010), The Art of Golf (2014) and Inspiring Impressionism (2016), as well as being a guest contributor to exhibitions organised abroad. He has also lectured widely in Europe and America.

Mr Clarke’s special interest lies in the French School, of which he has acquired many paintings and drawings for the Scottish National Gallery’s collection. He was also instrumental in acquiring two Titian paintings, Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto from the Bridgewater Collection, in partnership with the National Gallery in 2009 and 2012.

In 2004 he was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French state, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2008 and he was awarded a CBE by the Queen in 2009.

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