The announcement comes shortly after the academy celebrated its 250th anniversary by unveiling a £56m, David Chipperfield-designed expansion, which linked its two buildings and created a series of new galleries, a lecture theatre and a Clore Learning Centre.
Saumarez Smith’s tenure at the academy also saw it play host to a number of blockbusters, including Anish Kapoor – who famously used a cannon to splatter its walls with red wax, a record-breaking retrospective of David Hockney landscapes, and From Russia, an exhibition of Soviet-era art that required a change of legislation in the House of Lords before it could proceed.
Saumarez Smith has been a well known figure in the museum sector for many years, serving as the Museums Association’s president from 2004 to 2006.
Before joining the Royal Academy he headed the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and worked as head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Saumarez Smith said in a statement: “The Royal Academy is a very distinctive place and I have enjoyed working closely with the staff, artists and the two presidents… There is never a good time to announce one’s departure, but I wanted to leave at a time of obvious strength and success.”
He will take up the role of senior director at the London-based commercial gallery Blain|Southern at the end of the year.