Nicholas Cullinan

Nicholas Cullinan has joined the British Museum. © Zoë Law 2018.

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He takes over from interim director Sir Mark Jones and will take up his role this summer.

As widely reported, last summer the museum announced the discovery that items were missing from its collection. Investigations were launched and appeals made for the return of objects that had been sold on.

Then museum director Hartwig Fischer announced he would leave his post and Jones took up the post on an interim basis in September 2023.

High Court

Lawyers for the British Museum have brought a civil lawsuit in the High Court against a former employee regarding the theft of up to 1800 ancient gems and jewellery this month.

The London court ordered the defendant to provide the museum with a list of all items he is suspected of taking and to return those still in his possession. Documents filed in his defence show he intends to dispute the claims.

A Met Police investigation into the thefts continues but the individual has not been charged.

Cullinan’s appointment

George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, said of Cullinan’s appointment that “the trustees chose Nicholas Cullinan because he brings proven leadership today and great potential for tomorrow”.

Osborne added: “He has shown his capacity as Director of the National Portrait Gallery to oversee both a major physical renovation and a compelling renewal of purpose in a way that doesn’t take sides, but brings people together - and won universal acclaim.

“We believe he can achieve this, and more, on the bigger scale of the British Museum as we undertake a once-in-a-generation redevelopment.

“I could not be more excited for us as we enter this new chapter in the long story of the British Museum with confidence, and back on the front foot.”

Cullinan was previously director of the National Portrait Gallery, and prior to this curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Tate Modern in London.