MacGregor at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015
Robert Neil MacGregor
16 June 1946
|Education||The Glasgow Academy, Scotland|
|Alma mater||New College, Oxford|
École Normale Supérieure
University of Edinburgh
Courtauld Institute of Art
|Occupation||Art historian and museum director|
Robert Neil MacGregor, OM, AO, FSA (born 16 June 1946) is a British art historian and former museum director. He was the editor of the Burlington Magazine from 1981 to 1987, then Director of the National Gallery, London, from 1987 to 2002, Director of the British Museum from 2002 to 2015, and is currently the founding director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin.
Neil MacGregor was born in Glasgow to two doctors, Alexander and Anna MacGregor. He was educated at Glasgow Academy and then read modern languages at New College, Oxford, where he is now an honorary fellow.
The period that followed was spent studying philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (coinciding with the events of May 1968), and as a law student at Edinburgh University, where he received the Green Prize. Despite being called to the bar in 1972, MacGregor next decided to take an art history degree. The following year, on a Courtauld Institute (University of London) summer school in Bavaria, the Courtauld's director Anthony Blunt spotted MacGregor and persuaded him to take a master's degree under his supervision. Blunt later considered MacGregor "the most brilliant pupil he ever taught".
From 1975 to 1981, MacGregor taught History of Art and Architecture at the University of Reading. He left to assume the editorship of The Burlington Magazine. He oversaw the transfer of the magazine from the Thomson Corporation to an independent and charitable status.
Directorship of the National Gallery
In 1987 MacGregor became director of the National Gallery in London. During his directorship, MacGregor presented three BBC television series on art: Painting the World in 1995, Making Masterpieces, a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Gallery, in 1997 and Seeing Salvation, on the representation of Jesus in western art, in 2000. He declined the offer of a knighthood in 1999, the first director of the National Gallery to do so.
Directorship of the British Museum
MacGregor was made director of the British Museum in August 2002, at a time when that institution was £5 million in deficit. He has been lauded for his "diplomatic" approach to the post, though MacGregor rejects this description, stating that "diplomat is conventionally taken to mean the promotion of the interests of a particular state and that is not what we are about at all".
His tenure included many exhibitions that were more provocative than the museum had previously done or told stories from unique perspectives that were notably less Eurocentric than previous exhibits, including a project celebrating the Hajj. He similarly made comments that sparked debate, such as his claim that the ancient Persian empire was greater than Ancient Greece.
From September 2010 to January 2011 the British Museum lent the ancient Persian Cyrus Cylinder to an exhibition in Tehran. This was seen by at least a million visitors by the Museum's estimation, more than any loan exhibition to the United Kingdom had attracted since the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972.
Holding his office during a period which has seen the Acropolis Museum constructed in Athens, he has consistently argued against returning the British Museum's controversially held sculptures from the Parthenon (the "Elgin Marbles") to Greece. A poll in 2014 suggested that more British people (37%) supported the marbles' restoration to Greece than opposed it (23%). His predecessor as director David Mackenzie Wilson had also tried to justify the British Museum position during a live 1983 television encounter with Greek actress and Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, an encounter subsequently viewed as embarrassing for the British Museum. On his part, MacGregor has stated that it is the British Museum's duty to "preserve the universality of the marbles, and to protect them from being appropriated as a nationalistic political symbol" and that "there is no legal system in Europe that would challenge the [British Museum's] legal title" to the works. The legal basis of various Ottoman documents, now lost and possibly non-existent, to which the British Museum has traditionally appealed in order to claim ownership of the Marbles is however increasingly subject to dispute. Under the directorship of MacGregor, the Museum controversially rejected UNESCO mediation. In supporting his case for ownership of the Parthenon Marbles, MacGregor has had to argue exclusively in English, as he can neither read nor speak Greek. In view of the increasing international pressures on Britain following Brexit, and the activity of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, it is unclear for how much longer MacGregor's rejection of the case for repatriation will be tenable. In 2018, after MacGregor's term as Director ended, British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed to repatriate the Marbles to Athens, if necessary overriding the British Museum trustees:
"As with anything stolen or taken from occupied or colonial possession – including artefacts looted from other countries in the past – we should be engaged in constructive talks with the Greek government about returning the sculptures."
In January 2008, MacGregor was appointed chairman of the World Collections programme, for training international curators at British museums. The exhibition The First Emperor, focussing on Qin Shi Huang and including a small number of his Terracotta Warriors, was mounted in 2008 in the British Museum Reading Room. That year MacGregor was invited to succeed Philippe de Montebello as the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He declined the offer as the Metropolitan charges its visitors for entry and is thus "not a public institution".
As of 2015, MacGregor was paid a salary of between £190,000 and £194,999 by the British Museum, making him one of the 328 most highly paid people in the British public sector at that time. MacGregor retired from the post in December 2015 and was succeeded in Spring 2016 by Hartwig Fischer, director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
Directorship of the Humboldt Forum
On 8 April 2015, MacGregor announced his resignation as Director of the British Museum. It was announced that MacGregor would become founding director and head of the management committee of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, and that he would make recommendations to the German government on how the future museum can draw on the resources of the Berlin collections to "become a place where different narratives of world cultures can be explored and debated". The three-member management committee also includes the co-directors, archaeologist Hermann Parzinger and art historian Horst Bredekamp.
One of MacGregor's proposals is to make the museum admission-free, based on the model of the British Museum.
MacGregor has made many programmes for British television and radio. In the year 2000, he presented on television Seeing Salvation, about how Jesus had been depicted in famous paintings. More recently, he has made important contributions on BBC Radio Four, including A History of the World in 100 Objects and, in 2012, a series of fifteen-minute programmes after The World at One called Shakespeare's Restless World, discussing themes in the plays of William Shakespeare.
In 2017, MacGregor hosted a BBC Radio Four series Living with the Gods, on faith and society, liaising with Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai, on the presentation of world cultures.
On 4 November 2010, MacGregor was appointed to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II. On 25 March 2013 MacGregor was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) by the Governor-General of Australia Quentin Bryce, "for service to promoting Australia and Australian art in the United Kingdom".
- A History of the World in 100 Objects. Allen Lane. 2011. ISBN 9781846144134.
- Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects. Penguin. 2014. ISBN 0718195701.
- Germany: Memories of a Nation. Allen Lane. 2014. ISBN 9780241008331.
Reviews and Criticism of MacGregor's work
- A history of the world in 100 objects
- Gerard Vaughan (June 2011). "A good place to start : radio inspires a volume of transcendent objects". Australian Book Review (332): 47–48.
- theguardian.com 8 April 2015
- Founding Directors
- Carter, Miranda (8 November 2001). "Spy who came in from the Courtauld". The Independent. London. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- Adams, Tim (8 June 2003). "His place in history". The Observer. London. Retrieved 18 July 2009.
- "(Robert) Neil MacGregor". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- Campbell-Johnson, Rachel (27 December 2008). "Briton of the Year: Neil MacGregor". The Times. London. Retrieved 18 July 2009.
- Jonathan Jones, Neil MacGregor saved the British Museum. It’s time to reinvent it again, the Guardian, 8 April 2015.
- "The Story of Humanity Told Through '100 Objects'". PBS NewsHour. [PBS]. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
- Hoyle, Ben (18 April 2008). "Negotiations over first bill of rights allows access to Ahmedinejad regime". The Times (Syndicated in The Australian). Retrieved 19 April 2011.
- "Neil MacGregor: 'There is no possibility of putting the Elgin Marbles back'". The Times. 7 November 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
- "British people tend to want Elgin marbles returned". Yougov.co.uk. 18 October 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
- "How Mercouri tackled Britain in 1983 battle of the Marbles". The Times of London.
- Pierce, Andrew (11 May 2009). "Greek government unveils new home for Elgin Marbles". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
- Lacayo, Richard (5 November 2007). "A Talk: With Neil MacGregor". Time. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
- David Rudenstein (29 May 2000). "Did Elgin Cheat at Marbles?". Nation. 270 (21): 30.
Yet no researcher has ever located this Ottoman document and when l was in Instanbul I searched in vain for it or any copy of it, or any reference to it in other sorts of documents or a description of its substantive terms in any related official papers. Although a document of some sort may have existed, it seems to have vanished into thin air, despite the fact the Ottoman archives contain an enormous number of similar documents from the period.
- Professor Vassilis Demetriades. "WAS THE REMOVAL OF THE MARBLES ILLEGAL?". newmentor.net.
- "UNESCO Letter to British Government for the return of Parthenon's Marbles". UNESCO.
- "UK has not written back to UNESCO Letter" (PDF). UNESCO.
- "Greece could use Brexit to recover stolen Parthenon art". Deutsche Welle.
- "Corbyn vows to return Elgin Marbles to Greece if he becomes prime minister". The Independent.
- "Neil Macgregor to chair 'World collections programme', to share British cultural excellence with Africa and Asia". United Kingdom Government News. 18 January 2008. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- "Senior officials 'high earners' salaries as at 30 September 2015 - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. 2015-12-17. Retrieved 2016-03-13.
- "Hartwig Fischer confirmed as British Museum director". BBC News. 29 September 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
- Hili Perlson (8 April 2015). "British Museum Director Neil MacGregor To Step Down at the End of the Year". artnet.com. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
- Knight, Ben; Brown, Mark. "Appointment of Neil MacGregor as head of Humboldt Forum silences critics". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
- Neil MacGregor unveils plans for Berlin’s ambitious Humboldt Forum
- "Shakespeare's Restless World". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- Neil MacGregorBBC Radio 4. "Germany: Memories of a Nation". Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- "Neil MacGregor to step down as Director of the British Museum at the end of 2015". British Museum Press Release. 30 May 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
- Presenter: Neil MacGregor; Producer: Paul Kobrak (23 October 2017). "The Beginnings of Belief". Living With The Gods. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
- "The pink list 2007: The IoS annual celebration of the great and the gay". The Independent. London. 6 May 2007.
- Susanna Rustin (2 January 2010). "The greatest exhibition you could have | Culture". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
- Buckingham Palace. "Mr Neil MacGregor appointed to the Order of Merit, 4 November 2010". The Royal Household. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
- It's an HOnour: AO. Retrieved 28 August 2015
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Neil MacGregor.|
- Collected news and commentary at The Guardian
- Collected news and commentary at The Independent
- A History of the World, BBC and The British Museum
- Portraits of Neil MacGregor at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Works by or about Neil MacGregor in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Neil MacGregor at TED