Apollo Magazine

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Curator: is there a Mole at the British Museum?

Who leaked the name of the British Museum's new director to The Times?

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories. Follow @Rakewelltweets

Rakewell offers his heartiest congratulations to Hartwig Fischer, currently head of the Dresden State Art Collections, who was officially named as the next director of the British Museum on Tuesday morning.

Hold on – Tuesday morning? Readers of The Times will be scratching their heads. When Beth Rigby and Jack Malvern broke the story in the paper last Thursday evening, they wrote that:

‘The choice, which has been approved by the museum’s trustees and is due to be signed off by the prime minister, confounds all predictions […] The announcement, which is expected imminently, will end a five-month search that was expected to finish in July.’

The Rake suspects that the much-shared exclusive was correct in more than one sense: it confounded expectations alright – not least those of the British Museum, which had made no announcement whatsoever. A senior museum figure in London had offered Rakewell 2 to 1 odds on the Whitworth’s Maria Balshaw becoming new director.

Indeed, the BM made its ‘imminent’ proclamation about Fischer’s appointment a full four days after Rigby and Malvern’s story broke. (Though some hours after the Times story was published, ‘sources at the British Museum’ apparently told the Guardian that Prime Ministerial approval was merely a ‘formality’)

So where did Murdoch’s sleuths source their information?

Who knew about Hartwig Fischer? Source: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen. http://www.skd.museum

As it stands, Rakewell has little to go on. But it seems Fischer’s colleagues in Dresden were less circumspect than their counterparts in London:

‘Dr Fischer attended a conference in Berlin [on Thursday] and could not be reached for comment, but an official at the Dresden collection confirmed that he will move to the British Museum.’

Fischer’s appointment was also confirmed by ‘Downing Street sources’, according to Rigby and Malvern. Before being appointed media editor of The Times in July, Rigby was deputy political editor at the Financial Times – the paper that broke news of Gabriele Finaldi’s appointment as National Gallery director back in January, some two months before the museum itself made an announcement. Were these leaks inside jobs at our major institutions, or has someone been making cultural mischief at Number 10?

Any idea who was behind the indiscretion? E-mail leads to rakewell@apollomag.com

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