Entertainment & Arts

Hartwig Fischer confirmed as British Museum director

Hartwig Fischer and Neil MacGregor Image copyright Dresden State Art Collections/EPA
Image caption Hartwig Fischer (left) will take over the post vacated by Neil MacGregor (right) in Spring 2016

German art historian Hartwig Fischer is to replace Neil MacGregor as director of the British Museum.

Prime Minister David Cameron approved the appointment on Monday and MacGregor said he was the "perfect choice".

Dr Fischer, who will take up the post in Spring 2016, described the museum as "a model of public engagement, critical scholarship, and international outreach".

He is currently director general of the Dresden State Art Collections.

MacGregor, who steps down in December, said: "The museum, its staff, its trustees and its unparalleled collection is truly international. It therefore makes absolute sense for the new director to reflect this global outlook.

Analysis: Will Gompertz, Arts editor

Although the British Museum conducted an international search for its new boss, in reality it was always going to more a pan-European trawl as the salary packages of museum directors in America tend have to have another nought on the end.

Choosing a non-Brit for a world museum will bring a fresh perspective, but it might be a bit of a culture shock for Hartwig Fischer. When his fellow countryman Martin Roth took over at the V&A he was dazed and confused by the meeting culture so beloved by our museums, not to mention the consensual management style expected by the curators.

He has plenty to do. Not least among the collection displays, which could do with a refresh and re-think - and to carry on the innovation Neil MacGregor started on integrating the museum's programme and assets with education programmes within the academic sector.

"Dr Fischer is a well-respected scholar with extensive experience. He will, I am sure, build on the British Museum's recent successes to ensure the museum remains one of the world's greatest museums."

The British Museum is the most popular visitor attraction in Britain, welcoming 6.7 million people in 2014.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The museum attracts visitors from around the world

Its last non-British head was the Italian-born Sir Anthony Panizzi, who held the post of principal librarian between 1856 and 1866.

Dr Fischer said he had visited the British Museum on many occasions "as a member of the public" and that it was "an honour" to be asked to run the institution.

"When I was growing up in Hamburg, Britain was always present in my family life. It has remained so ever since. I never dreamt that I would be invited to be responsible for this great British institution, and I am conscious that nobody could fail to grasp what the British Museum represents, not only for the UK but for the whole world."

He added that despite being "daunted by such a responsibility" he was aware that "nobody directs such a museum alone".

Image caption The British Museum is the most popular visitor attraction in the UK

"The colleagues of the British Museum are admired and envied around the world. I am greatly looking forward to working with them," he said.

Dr Fischer began his museum career at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, where he was curator of 19th Century and modern art from 2001 to 2006.

He has never worked in Britain but did co-curate a 2006 exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky's work that was shown at Tate Modern in London. He studied History of Art, History and Classical Archaeology in Bonn, Berlin, Rome and Paris and holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Bonn.

Born in Hamburg in 1962, the 52-year-old speaks German, English, French and Italian and is married to Ilaria Piqueras Fischer, a psychoanalyst.

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