Nicholas Penny

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Nicholas Penny
Born (1949-12-21) 21 December 1949 (age 68)
Nationality British
Occupation Art historian
Spouse(s) Mary Crettier

Sir Nicholas Beaver Penny FBA FSA (born 21 December 1949) is a British art historian. From 2008 to 2015 he was director of the National Gallery in London.

Early life

Penny was educated at Shrewsbury School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, before undertaking his postgraduate studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.[1]


His academic career began with a research fellowship at Clare Hall, Cambridge, after which he went on to teach art history at Manchester University. While still in his early thirties, Penny was appointed to the Slade Professorship at Oxford University and to a senior research fellowship at King's College, Cambridge. He was the co-author, with Francis Haskell, of Taste and the Antique, a study of the formation of the canon of classical sculpture published in 1984.

Between 1984 and 1989 Penny was keeper of the department of Western art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and professorial fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. In 1990 he began a long association with the National Gallery, joining the institution as Clore Curator of Renaissance Painting. Shortly afterwards, in 1991, he identified the Madonna of the Pinks belonging to the Duke of Northumberland as a genuine Raphael, and not a copy of a lost original as was previously supposed. The painting came to public prominence in 2002 when the Gallery undertook a major fundraising campaign in order to prevent the painting's sale to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Earlier that year Penny made an unsuccessful bid for the directorship of the National Gallery, the post going to Charles Saumarez Smith. Again in 2002, Penny was appointed senior curator of sculpture at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Following Saumarez Smith's early resignation from his post, Penny was once again a candidate for heading the London National Gallery, and this time he succeeded. He was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the Queen's 2015 Birthday Honours.

Penny is a regular contributor to The Burlington Magazine and the London Review of Books.


  1. ^ "Sir Nicholas Penny | Directors | National Gallery, London". Retrieved 2018-03-06.


  • Maddocks, Fiona (27 November 2007). "The National Gallery finds the right man". The Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 12 January 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2007.
  • Jones, Jonathan (27 March 2008). "Agent provocateur". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  • Higgins, Charlotte (27 March 2008). "Buy old masters, says new National Gallery head". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  • 2002 press release from the National Gallery of Art on Penny's appointment as Senior Curator of Sculpture
  • Balliol College News mentioning quondam fellowship of the college and appointment to the National Gallery
  • Overview of publications
Academic offices
Preceded by
J. Mordaunt Crook
Slade Professor of Fine Art,
Oxford University

Succeeded by
Jonathan Brown
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