Mark Jones has been named interim director of the British Museum. He will replace Hartwig Fischer who stepped down last week. Dr Carl Heron will now replace Dr Jonathan Williams as Deputy Director of the institution. Fischer and Williams departed amid claims of mismanagement over stolen artefacts from the museum’s collection. Jones was the former Director of the V&A and previously held the position of Keeper of Coins At the BM.
The new appointment was confirmed in a statement issued by George Osborne, chair of the museum trustees, He stated: “Mark is one of the most experienced and respected museum leaders in the world, and he will offer the leadership and grip the museum needs right now.
“We are both clear that his priorities are to accelerate the cataloguing of the collection, improve security and reinforce pride in the curatorial mission of the museum. This sits alongside the major renovation work we’re undertaking, and the partnerships we’re forging, to ensure that we build a stronger future for the museum we all love and admire.”
In the meantime, George Osborne has informed staff that Dr Heron will take over as deputy temporarily. “I wanted to let you know that Carl Heron has agreed to step up as acting deputy director .. on a temporary basis. “Carl is a highly respected authority within the museum, so I’m sure you will all wish him well in this position.”
The reshuffle occurred after British Museum director Hartwig Fischer stepped down with immediate effect following the theft of 1200 objects from the Museum’s collection. Ittai Gradel, a Dutch antiquities dealer, said he had told the British Museum about suspicious items from the BM collection appearing on eBay’s auction site as early as 2021. Mr Gradel claimed his allegations were not taken seriously or investigated.
Mark Jones will be a safe pair of hands for the world renowned institution. He studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art and was assistant keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum (1974-1990), keeper of Coins and Medals from (1990 to 1992). Jones was later appointed director of the National Museums Scotland (1992-2001) and then led the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (2001-2011) through the £120m Future Plan renewal programme.
Peter John Higgs, a senior curator in the Greek and Roman departments of the BM for over 30 years, is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police. He is one of Britain’s top Greek and Roman ancient artefacts experts. Higgs was Born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and now lives in Hastings, East Sussex. He studied archaeology at the University of Liverpool before joining the British Museum. Until his sacking, he was a popular and trusted staff member. The British Museum tops London’s attractions list and is the number two most visited museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris.
The theft has sent shockwaves throughout the entire Museum profession. The question of who is ultimately responsible for the culture that enabled the theft to occur in the first place delves deep into the role of Museum stewardship. It also focuses on issues of custodial trust in a whole array of objects in the BM collection, which includes the controversial Elgin/Parthenon Marbles.
Top Photo: Courtesy V&A