<iframe src="//www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-PWMWG4" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden">

British Museum director Hartwig Fischer announces immediate departure after suspected thefts

25 August 2023

(25 Aug) Hartwig Fischer announced today that he is stepping down as director of the British Museum with immediate effect. His resignation follows the sacking of senior curator Peter Higgs, who is accused of stealing and selling more than 1,500 objects from the museum’s collection. This week, it has emerged that the British Museum was warned in 2021 that a staff member had been selling items from the collection on eBay since 2016. The Roman antiquities expert Ittai Gradel became suspicious about the provenance of a cameo listed on the site and says that he emailed the museum’s deputy director Jonathan Williams in February 2021, and then several months later emailed Fischer, offering evidence of his claim. In his resignation statement Fischer said: ‘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.’ He also withdrew and apologised for remarks made earlier in the week about Gradel’s allegations. In the same statement, George Osborne, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, declared that the trustees would ‘now establish an interim arrangement’, without providing further details. As more information has come to light, Greek public figures have renewed demands for the return of contested artefacts, citing security concerns, while Nigerian officials are calling for the return of Benin Bronzes.

Court documents in the two lawsuits against Lisa Schiff and her business SFA Advisory include hitherto unpublished claims from around 40 companies and individuals. The New York art advisor, who closed her business and filed for bankruptcy in May this year, is accused of running a Ponzi scheme, diverting money from the sales of clients’ artworks, conversion, fraud and breach of contract. One document states that 108 works considered to be in Schiff’s possession, together worth more than $1.1m, are currently ‘missing’. Another lists around 50 unsecured claims, some worth more than $2m.

Government officials from Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand have accused the Denver Art Museum (DAM) of possessing stolen antiquities and have formally asked for the return of eight pieces looted from historical sites. The Colorado institution owns hundreds of objects without a provenance that were donated by art dealer Emma Bunker, a close associate of convicted art smuggler Douglas Latchford. The representatives from the south-east Asian countries say that DAM has thus far failed to respond to their requests.

A lapse in cybersecurity at the auction house Christie’s has revealed the exact location of artworks belonging to hundreds of collectors. Images of objects uploaded to the Christie’s website by would-be sellers have often included GPS coordinates disclosing where the photographs were taken. A pair of researchers from a German cybersecurity company discovered the breach when a friend asked them to check how secure the auction house’s data was. ‘Around 10 per cent of the uploaded images contain exact GPS coordinates,’ the researchers told the Washington Post. When the pair alerted the auction house to what they termed a ‘serious vulnerability’ more than two months ago, they received a reply from an executive stating ‘Thank you, but we do not require any advice or assistance.’ According to the researchers, the auction house took steps to rectify the issue only after being contacted by the Washington Post.

Didier Fusillier has been appointed president of the Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais (Rmn-GP), which manages the Grand Palais and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. Fusillier succeeds the Belgian art historian Chris Dercon, who stepped down from the prestigious role last October. In his new position, Fusillier will work closely with the Centre Pompidou, which is moving parts of its collection into the Grand Palais between 2025–30 while its main site undergoes refurbishment. Fusillier was previously president of the Park and Grande Halle de La Villette, and before that was director of the Maison des arts de Créteil (MAC).

Two German tourists have been arrested for defacing the Vasari Corridor at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence on Tuesday night. The vandals are alleged to have sprayed ‘DKS1860’ – thought to refer to the third-division football team 1860 Munich – on to seven columns that line the elevated passageway built in 1565 by Cosimo I de’ Medici and connects the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi, said that the museum will be demanding reimbursement for the clean-up operation, which will cost around €10,000, and will also be pressing charges against the pair.