Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, has resigned with immediate effect. He ended his tenure at the highly respected institution early after previously stating that he would remain in the position until a suitable replacement was found.
The controversy over the theft of 1200 objects from the Museum’s collection has turned the Museum into a laughing stock. This week, Ittai Gradel, a Dutch antiquities dealer, said he had told the British Museum about suspicious items from the BM collection appearing on the auction site eBay. In 2021, he claimed his allegations were not taken seriously or investigated.
Fischer stated, “It is evident that the British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have in response to the warnings in 2021 and to the problem that has now fully emerged. The responsibility for that failure must ultimately rest with the Director. I also misjudged the remarks I made earlier this week about Dr. Gradel. I wish to express my sincere regret and withdraw those remarks.
“The situation facing the Museum is of the utmost seriousness,” Fischer continued. “I sincerely believe it will come through this moment and emerge stronger, but sadly, I have concluded that my presence is proving a distraction. That is the last thing I would want. Over the last seven years, I have been privileged to work with some of the most talented and dedicated public servants. The British Museum is an amazing institution, and it has been the honour of my life to lead it.”
Hartwig Fischer is a German art historian and cultural administrator who has served as the director of the British Museum. Fischer was born on February 1, 1962, in Hamburg, Germany. He studied art history, archaeology, history, and musicology at the University of Hamburg, completing his master’s degree in 1991 and his doctorate in 1995. His academic pursuits were focused on art and architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Fischer started his professional career in the museum field and academia. He held various positions, including curatorial and managerial roles, in institutions such as the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the German Historical Museum in Berlin. These experiences provided him with a solid foundation in museum management, art curation, and cultural heritage preservation.
In April 2016, Fischer became the director of the British Museum in London, succeeding Neil MacGregor. Under his leadership, the Museum continued its mission to showcase the vast collection of art and artefacts spanning cultures and history. Fischer’s tenure was marked by efforts to engage diverse audiences, adapt to changing technology and visitor expectations, and address issues related to the provenance and display of objects in the Museum’s collection.
Fischer’s directorship at the British Museum coincided with a period of global challenges, including debates about the repatriation of cultural artefacts to their countries of origin and discussions around the decolonisation of museum practices. During his time as director, he faced these complex and often controversial topics, seeking to strike a balance between honouring the Museum’s historical collections and addressing concerns about cultural appropriation and representation.
Top Photo Courtesy British Museum