Ellis on the Cambridge Theft

A jade vase and recumbent buffalo and horse
Some of the objects taken from the Fitzwilliam on April 13

Dick Ellis can always be relied on to provide a sensible commentary on a recent theft. Speaking to the Cambridge-news he argues it is unlikely that the thieves stole the objects to order. The 18 stolen objects were taken from the Fitzwilliam museum, and as always the trick is not the stealing, it is selling or profiting off the theft. Ellis notes to the BBC:

Almost certainly, in my opinion, the museum was targeted in the same way as we saw thieves target rhino horns when their price went through the roof. They have an appreciation that in the last couple of years the Chinese art market has now outstripped the United States and European art markets to become the premier art market in the world.The thought is that if you steal some quality items – and you will find quality items in museum collections – you can sell them on to a Chinese market that has an insatiable appetite for this sort of thing.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Ellis on the Cambridge Theft”

  1. I suppose I should be asking this of Dick directly, but I am not as sure as he is that these items were not stolen to order by a Chinese collector. We know that within China itself collectors have paid for locals to dig up artifacts, and for smugglers to take them out of the country so that the collectors can “buy” them abroad and bring them back into China. It is not that big a step to imagine one of the many new millionaires in China thinking it might be easier just to have someone break in and steal from Western museums items that moreover from the Chinese viewpoint really belong in China. I am not saying this is more likely than the scenario Dick paints but it is not beyond the range of possibility.

  2. That’s news to me, I’ve not heard of that kind of a collector/smuggler/buyback in China. I’d point to the Durham theft as a far more likelier scenario, as I think does Dick. I do think the Chinese art trade at least on paper has far more regulation than any other nation, and the claims that China is a free-for-all for looted objects have been unsupported.

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