British Museum set to name Geman art historian Hartwig Fischer as successor to Neil MacGregor

The last time a foreigner helmed the British institution was 150 years ago

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The Independent Culture

The British Museum has chosen German art historian Hartwig Fischer to succeed Neil MacGregor, the first foreign director in over 150 years.

While the museum declined to comment on the prospective appointment this morning it is understood Dr Fischer, currently director general of the Dresden State Art Collections, has been recommended to the Prime Minister who has to approve the hire.

It is hoped that his appointment, which follows a five-month search for MacGregor's replacement, will be confirmed later today.   

Fischer, who is little known in the UK, is responsible for 14 museums and four separate institutions in four cities as part of his current post.

Outgoing British Museum director Neil MacGregor

He is the first foreign-born director since Anthony Panizzi was appointed ‘principal librarian’ – the previous title of the director when the British Museum and British Library were joined – in 1856.

He succeeded Martin Roth, current director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the post. Since 2012 he has worked on modernising the state art collections which date back to the 16th century.

Previously, the 52-year-old was director of the Folkwang Museum in Essen where he oversaw the restoration of the historic museum.

Providing the Prime Minister approves the appointment, Dr Fischer takes on an institution that has been dramatically transformed under MacGregor’s 13-year leadership.

What had been an ailing institution struggling for relevancy has transformed into the UK’s most popular visitor attraction. Attendance has risen 50 per cent since he joined in August 2002 and he has presided over a series of blockbuster exhibitions including Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The museum was also transformed with a new building for exhibition space and conservation and scientific facilities.

In what could almost be seen as a cultural exchange, one of MacGregor’s new roles will be chairing an advisory board to to make recommendations to Monika Grütters, the German minister of culture on the development of the Humboldt-Forum.