In 2019, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 14, in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Dick Ellis.

 

Can you tell us something about your background?

I served as a detective in London for 30 years and re-formed the art and antiques squad within the Organised Crime Group at New Scotland Yard. I spent over ten years investigating art crime on an international level and carried out investigations in many different countries including Egypt, China and the USA. These investigations included running covert operations such as that which recovered “The Scream” in 1994 as well as seizing and returning over over 6,000 antiquities to China and disrupting an entire trafficking group in Egypt, the UK and USA. Since my retirement from the police I have continued to work in the same field, operating on behalf of the private sector. This has resulted in some important recoveries such as two paintings by Picasso stolen in Switzerland whilst on loan from a German museum, which I recovered in Serbia and an important work by Lempicka stolen in The Netherlands in 2009, which I recovered in Amsterdam in 2016. This picture was sold for a world record price at auction in New York in November 2018.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

I always think that the presentations on Why Steal Art and Who Steals Art are perhaps the most important, but I am always surprised that the participants find “The Rules of the Game” lecture, setting out the effect that jurisdiction and differing legal systems have on an investigation to be really interesting.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

I hope that the participants will get a real understanding not only of how law enforcement operate in the field of art crime but also who and why art is targeted in the first place. Most importantly though I hope they will see that there are opportunities within the private sector to impact on art crime and that you do not have to join a police force to work in this fiel

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

Every day starts with the opportunity to discuss what we have already learnt and to answer any questions that the participants may wish to ask resulting from the previous day’s lectures. I will then begin lecturing from my schedule but encourage questions to be asked during the lectures so that we can have a real dialogue going about the topic. This interaction with the participants is important as I believe it keeps them interested in the topic and their participations are something that I both encourage and mark them on.

While each year the participants in ARCA’s program are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

I constantly learn from the participants as a result of the interaction in class and from the presentations that they give at the end of my course on an art crime investigation of their choice. I learn about crimes I may not previously have heard about, changes in law and procedures from the participants own countries and the increasing use of technologies that are constantly being developed.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

Most movies provide an entertaining story around art crimes so I do not recommend any to the participants, besides I am not much of a film buff, but I still think that “The Irish Game” by Matthew Hart is an important book about art crime. It focuses on perhaps the most thoroughly investigated series of art crimes from which it is possible to analyse the who, why and what went wrong of art theft. The Medici Conspiracy is of course also a must read in respect of antiquities theft whilst books such as “A Forgers Tale” by Shaun Greenhalgh provide an interesting insight into the world of forgery.

Uniqueness of Course

For me each new group of participants provides me with the opportunity to learn from them and to hear about developments or issues from their own part of the world. For the participant I think my course offers a unique and in depth view of art crime and its investigation from one of the most experienced practitioners in the field, who has worked internationally both in law enforcement and in the private sector. When considering this point in the context of the whole ARCA course, I can not think where else this level of experience and expertise can be found in one place on a single course.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

Hard to pick one but I think I would like to follow Dick Drent’s security course. Apart from being highly relevant to my own work the participants always really enjoy the course and visiting a museum to check out their security sounds like fun.

What to do in Amelia and Italy?

I would encourage every participants to throw themselves into the unique opportunities that present themselves in Amelia and the surrounding towns and cities during the summer months. The medieval festivals are fantastic and welcome participant participation and are a great way to meet and be accepted by the locals. I have attended music festivals, and feasts throughout Umbria and the wine is one of Italy’s hidden treasures. This is all in addition to visiting as many of the sites as possible be they archaeological, religious or architectural. Italy has a lot to offer and I would recommend that participants embrace it as broadly as they are able.

Are there any interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class?

A personal favourite and recent discovery of my own is the Museum of Wine at Torgiano – with a tasting room next door!

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

The conference is now on the calendar for an increasing number of international experts and specialist lawyers. It goes from strength to strength (thanks to everyone affiliated with ARCA’s efforts) and provides both a forum for current topics and a great centre for networking.

What else?

ARCA’s having provided modules in the UNESCO training programme in Beirut in 2018 it is clear sign that we have an increasingly important role to play in providing training and expertise to allied professionals that is relevant to the field of cultural heritage protection, especially to those working in countries affected by war and conflict who have important concerns as it relates to the trafficking of cultural heritage. We have recently signed a consultative agreement with the British Museum to provide this type of training in tandem with the development of their new antiquities in circulation database. I think this is in recognition of the increasing role that ARCA and its participants have gone on to play in this field of expertise.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org

Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

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