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British Museum 'to appoint German Hartwig Fischer as director'

The British Museum is to get its first foreign director in almost 200 years with the appointment of a German art historian, according to reports.

Hartwig Fischer, 53, the current director general of Dresden State Art Collections, is set to replace the outgoing Neil MacGregor, The Times said.

The paper cited Downing Street sources as having confirmed the appointment as well as an official at the collection in Germany.

Mr Fischer, the paper said, has never worked in Britain, studied art history for eight years in his twenties and likes to maintain a low profile.

It ends a five-month search after Mr MacGregor, 68, who has been at the helm of the museum since 2002, announced he was stepping down in April.

Speaking at the time, he said it was "a difficult thing" to decide to leave.

In his time in charge, Mr MacGregor led the British Museum to the top of the list of the UK's most popular visitor attractions for seven years in a row.

Data from VisitEngland showed nearly 6.7 million people walked through the doors of the museum in London last year, down 0.1% on 2013.

Mr MacGregor also had to grapple with the continuing controversy of the Elgin Marbles and caused a stir last year when he backed a move to loan a section of the display to Russia.

The 2,500-year-old marbles have been in the museum since 1816 and, apart from spending the war years safely hidden in a Tube station, none had ever left until the sculpture was sent to St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.

The last foreign head of the museum was Italian Sir Anthony Panizzi, who is listed on the institution's website as having been principal librarian between 1956 and 1966.

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