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The €10,000 annual prize celebrates major contributions to scholarship and the arts, with Sir Nicholas being chosen from a shortlist that included Sir Timothy Clifford (Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland), Sir Harry Djanogly (Collector and benefactor), Sir Christopher Frayling (Chairman of the Arts Council), Neil MacGregor (Director of the British Museum), Sir Christopher Ondaatje (benefactor) and Lord Rothschild (former chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and benefactor).

Sir Nicholas, former chairman of the National Arts Collection Fund and an author of books on Matthew Boulton and barometers, was a leading light in the development of the Furniture History Society. He has hit the headlines more recently for his Government-commissioned report on saving art for the nation, which recommended a package of incentives, including tax breaks.

Sir Nicholas has used the prize money to commission a piece of furniture for the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.