John Leighton to step down from National Galleries of Scotland - Museums Association

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John Leighton to step down from National Galleries of Scotland

Director-general will leave in 2024 after 18 years in the role
John Leighton
John Leighton Photo by Bryan Robertson

John Leighton has announced that he is stepping down as director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland in February 2024.

Leighton, who has been in the role since 2006, has led the organisation through a period of significant change.

His tenure has seen an ambitious programme of investment in the organisation’s buildings and infrastructure, including the redevelopment of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2011. The final phase of the £22m refurbishment of the Scottish National Gallery, which has suffered several delays due to planning and engineering setbacks, is due to be unveiled later this year.  

A new collections storage facility, The Art Works, is currently in development in Granton, North Edinburgh. The project aims to create a new home for looking after the national collection of art that combines environmental and social sustainability.

Leighton’s tenure saw a significant rise in footfall at the organisation’s three Edinburgh galleries, with attendance rising by over a million visitors since 2006, reaching an average of 2.5 million visits annually in the years before the pandemic.

Leighton oversaw a successful public fundraising campaign in 2017 to acquire Edwin Landseer's much-loved painting, The Monarch of the Glen (c1851) The National Galleries of Scotland

Leighton has also overseen the expansion of the national art collection, acquiring significant works ranging from old masters through to modern and contemporary art and photography. He led the fundraising campaign for the joint acquisition of two masterpieces by Titian, Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, with the National Gallery in London. The 2017 acquisition of Edwin Landseer’s painting The Monarch of the Glen was another public fundraising success.


“It has been an extraordinary privilege to work with the amazing colleagues, trustees, patrons, friends and all the supporters of the galleries and I am immensely proud of our collective achievements across so many activities and projects,” said Leighton.

“With the completion of the Celebrating Scotland’s Art project at the national later this year and with the galleries firmly back on track after the disruption of the global pandemic, this seems the right time for me to hand over to new leadership. In these difficult times, and as society continues to recover from the impact of the pandemic, I know that the National Galleries of Scotland will continue to play a key role in society in Scotland, offering inspiration and joy to a very wide public.”

Benny Higgins, chair of the National Galleries of Scotland’s board of trustees, said: ‘Sir John Leighton has served the National Galleries of Scotland with distinction and unswerving commitment. His strong, thoughtful leadership has enabled the Galleries to progress in the best and most challenging of times. He will leave an enduring legacy.”

The process of recruiting of a new director-general will begin immediately and will be led by the chair and a committee of trustees.

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