Norman Rosenthal retires from Royal Academy after 31 years
One of the London art world's most flamboyant and temperamental figures, Sir Norman Rosenthal, is stepping down as the Royal Academy's head of exhibitions after 31 years in the job. His blockbuster shows - from Monet to the Aztecs to the current exhibition of masterpieces from Russian collections - have helped transform the profile of the once-fusty RA.
Sir Norman, 63, described leaving his post as "a difficult decision" with "a certain sentimental sadness attached to it". He will continue to act as a special advisor, but will also work as a freelance curator in Britain and abroad. "At the risk of sounding vain, people have begun to identify me with this place. It may be objectively, subjectively, unhealthy."
The "risk of sounding vain" has not normally been a concern of the curator who has been described variously as 'pigheaded' and 'a dictator'. "I hate committees," he once said, "I believe in responsibility. Make a mistake and everybody knows you're responsible." Or as art critic Richard Dorment once put it: "Norman has a strong streak of megolomania."
He's also been a successful fundraiser for the RA. The late David Sylvester, with whom Rosenthal had one of his most famous spats after the critic and art scholar resigned from the committee for the 1993 American Art in the 20th Century show, told an interviewer: "I've always wanted to write something about him so that I could call it 'The New King of Schnorrers'. You know what a schnorrer is, don't you? It's a beggar. Norman has an astonishing talent for attracting financial support. He can get money out of anybody."
In 1989, Rosenthal married Manuela Beatriz Mena Marques, curator of 18th-century paintings at the Prado in Madrid. They have two daughters who live with their mother in Spain.
Rumours that he might leave the RA first emerged in 2004 after Lawton Fitt became the first woman to be appointed as the RA's secretary. She resigned after a difficult year which included a bitter feud with Rosenthal. More recently, there were reports of tensions with the current chief executive, Charles Saumarez Smith, although both men have insisted recently that they remain on good terms.
Who will replace him? Art critic Martin Gayford, writing for Bloomberg.com, said yesterday: "There are people who are good at old-master exhibitions or modernism, antiquities or contemporary art. But to find someone who has an equal enthusiasm for - and knowledge - of all of those, and who can present them with flair and old-fashioned hoopla will be difficult." ·