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From January 4, Julian Agnew, 66, steps down as chief executive and chairman to be replaced by Sir Thomas Lighton, 55, who until recently was managing director of London’s Waddington Galleries, leading dealers in modern and contemporary art.

Agnew’s have traditionally been known for Old Master and British paintings, drawings and watercolours, but the new appointment marks not just an expansion of the gallery’s involvement in 20th century British art, where they already have a strong presence, but a definite move into contemporary art, a development Agnew’s have been planning for some time.

Sir Thomas has 30 years’ experience working in the art market and has twice been chairman of the Society of London Art Dealers.

As chief executive of Agnew’s he will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the gallery and major decision making, while he is specifically charged with developing the contemporary side of the business, his area of expertise.

Julian Agnew, who has been chairman for 20 years and worked in the family firm for 45, will continue to be involved with Old Masters and pre-1850 art.

Sir Thomas is the first chief executive of the firm who is not a member of the Agnew family. Temporarily, Julian Agnew will remain chairman of the Agnew’s holding company, but the trading arm is to be run solely by Sir Thomas.

Last year the firm sold its historic building in Old Bond Street where it had been dealing since 1877 and moved into temporary accommodation in Grafton Street.

This week they move into a permanent new Mayfair home when they take over four floors of a townhouse at 35 Albemarle Street, W1.

At present they are working from one floor while the others are being refurbished, but work is expected to be completed by late spring.

By David Moss