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Sir Nicholas has been a member of the committee which assesses works for grants since 1976. As chairman he has presided over a period of remarkable growth in the amount of money given by the Art Fund to help museums and galleries to enrich their collections with works of art of all periods.

Only this week announcements were made concerning major works saved for the nation with the help of grants from the Art Fund, among them a Constable landscape that will go to the Tate.

The committee are taking steps to identify Sir Nicholas’s successor, who could be either a member of the present Committee or from outside.