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Expert advice: Everything to know about keeping fine art on board

Proper paperwork is vital

Using a cautionary tale of a Spanish owner who had an original Picasso seized in Corsica, John Leonida (pictured) of superyacht law firm Clyde & Co, vividly illustrated the need for proper paperwork. “In this particular instance, the owner could face four years in jail and a €1,000,000 fine,” he explained. “There are certain pieces of art where the state has a say in what you can do with it, just like a Grade I listed building.”

Helen Robertson from Royal Museums Greenwich added that knowing the provenance of certain materials, such as rosewood and ivory, is just as important for satisfying customs officials.

With all this in mind, Leonida urged owner’s representatives and captains to get their paperwork in order before setting off on a maiden voyage, saying, “Many owners now have art advisors who can explain these things. Having thorough art documentation is as important as getting the plumbing right, and why would you skimp on a thing like that?”

Art on board needs caring for

Taking a historic piece of art to sea can lead to it deteriorating rapidly if it is not properly taken care of, explained Robertson, highlighting the unique risks of salt water and engine room vibration.

That’s not to say that a yacht isn’t a suitable place for storing art though. “Our museum would love to have the potential environmental controls you can have on your yachts, such as UV resistant glazing and air purification and filtration systems,” she added. “You have the tools to be able to carry vulnerable materials already, but you have to be aware of the maintenance of these systems — crew training is really important in this regard.”

Digital art is evolving

The practice of storing art on board is as old as yachting itself, explained interior designer Guillaume Rolland of Christian Liaigre, who used the example of King Charles II’s personal yacht, which was filled with huge paintings.

Looking to the future of art on board, the panel considered the application of digital art, which can already been seen in the form of video walls and digital frames. “I think a time will come in 40 or 50 years when people will appreciate digital art in a way that we appreciate a Warhol today,” argued Leonida, before adding that displaying artwork in a digital form avoids all of the legal problems associated with storing originals on board.

Safety vs security

Naturally, superyacht owners who choose to store valuable artworks on board will place a strong emphasis on securing their masterpieces, but there is a need to balance this against other concerns, Robertson explained.

“A lot of fire and flood incidents happen in ports, so it’s about weighing up the option between maximum security or quick release mechanisms. You’ve got to have a plan to remove the art in a hurry if necessary,” she advised.

Copies must be marked as such

Some owners choose to use their yachts to display copies of artworks that they own, with the originals kept safely in a vault on dry land. While this approach may seem sensible, it is not without its drawbacks, added Leonida, “They have to be marked as replicas or they can be mistaken for forgeries and destroyed by the customs authorities.”

Art on board is not for everyone

The prevalence of art on board was clear to all attending the Superyacht Design Symposium, with many delegates sharing confidential tales of masterpieces that they had worked with, however, many yacht owners prefer a more minimalistic approach on board.

“We met one owner who refused to put art on the boat,” Rolland recalled. “He wanted to be able to enjoy art in a very peaceful atmosphere and he wanted to be able to focus on the boat and the environment instead. When you are on the sea, there are so many other things to appreciate.”

This article was originally published by Boat International.

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