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Art on Board the Superyacht

author/source: Holly Jade O'Leary

Art on Board the Superyacht 

“The same principles that apply to fashion should apply to yachts, a yacht should stimulate all of the senses, not just the nautical senses” - Jon Bannenberg.

Bannenberg & Rowell

 The Sydney born architect is widely acknowledged to be the global leader in modern yacht design, combining imagination, architecture and aesthetics within thrilling and functional vessels.  Many superyacht owners are also art collectors, with art lending a focal point and bridge between investment and intellect, contributing in symbiosis with interior design to the luxury experience.

 The Art Basel & Global UBS Report 2018 authored by cultural economist Dr Clare McAndrew communicates that the global art market is experiencing rapid growth of 12%, and is currently valued at $63.7billion.

 The purchase of art requires a conveyancing process, the transfer of legal property from one person to another and the assignment of rights from contract to completion. Alinea Law demystifies the transaction, handling sale and purchase agreements, consignments to auction houses and galleries, licensing, estate planning, assignment of intellectual property and offering a standard of best practice, communication and education.

 Art is often used as an investment vehicle and the process of buying art has to be safeguarded to ensure insurance requirements are met, and the client’s best interests are protected.  Handling high value art on an international basis requires insight into anti-money laundering and international cultural heritage laws, including the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Imports, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Imported Cultural Objects, affecting due diligence procedures. 

 Superyacht owners and charterers require arts supervision to minimise liability.

 This includes:

  • Forensic and technical analysis to eliminate fraud
  • Logistics of art conveyance
  • Security of art
  • Maintaining optimum climate and environmental conditions
  • Art handling and supervision
  • Education of associates and crew
  • Luxury assets management for stakeholders
  • Collections Management
  • Tax including Customs and Excise duty paid on items bought in other parts of the world.

The UBS report states that 33% of HNWI are active in the arts and collectibles market and that 47% of investors with assets worth over $5 million expect to see a return on their investment.  The value of sales of works sold for over $10 million increased by 148% of over 10 years. 

The three largest markets for art are the United States, China and the United Kingdom, which dominate 83% of the market.

The display of art lends visual impact, offering an opportunity to improve creative and emotional intelligence and leverages the potential of cultural and appreciative investment value within the yachting experience.

 When art onboard is considered from a holistic perspective; the legal, tax, cultural heritage and conservation implications have to be accounted for, alongside the education of crew.

In 2015, the Spanish authorities indicted Spanish billionaire Jaime Botín for smuggling, having seized his €26 million Picasso painting of a Head of a Young Woman (1906). Botín bought the painting from Marlborough Fine Art in London, in 1977. Spanish law prohibits nationals from exporting “any movable property belonging to the Spanish Historical Heritage”. In 2012, the Spanish branch of Christie’s Auction House had applied to the Spanish government for an export license, in order to place the painting for sale in London. The Spanish government refused, and the work was catalogued as a national treasure, with the imperative that it was not to be removed from the country.

The Spanish Board of Classification, Valuation and Export of Spanish historical patrimony advised:

 "There is no similar work that exists in Spain, making this work one of the few paintings produced by the painter during what is known as the Gósol period, the discoveries at this time strongly influenced not only Cubism but the subsequent evolution of 20th century painting,"

The ‘Head of a Young Woman’ was painted in Gósol, a Spanish village in the Catalan Pyrenees, during the summer weeks of 1906 where the artist spent time with his lover, Fernande Olivier. In 2015, the Picasso,  was seized from the Spanish bank Santander’s 62 metre yacht Adix, which was flying a British flag.  Botín owns a stake in Adix, but was not on board at the time.

 The ongoing case is an example of how bringing art on board the superyacht can involve legal complications. Insurance companies expect art owners to employ professionals to secure maximum protection of art works.  

Pandora Mather-Lees

Alinea Law speaks to Pandora Mather-Lees, art historian, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Pandora is a leading expert on art on board the superyacht, and was a celebrated speaker at the Superyacht Investment Conference 2019.

Pandora holds a first-class degree in the History of Art from Manchester University, and an MSc in Ancient History and Italian from Oxford University. She is a member of the Worshipful Society of Art Scholars.  

Whilst Vice President of artnet’s global sales she promoted luxury brands, galleries and auction houses to art collectors, working extensively with assisting them to promote their works online and is skilled in helping companies prime new markets. As Managing Director of Bridgeman Art Library she worked closely with Viscountess Bridgeman to bring on board artists, galleries, private collectors, museums and auctions houses to manage their copyright, licensing and involvement in art projects. It was then that she developed an interest in education, establishing Bridgeman Education, an online image resource.

Pandora is a founding member of The Art Due Diligence Group.

 1. Your background encompasses a vast amount of services and knowledge expertise within the arts, and facilitation of the arts. The recent CITES agreement identifies over 35, 000 regulated plants and animal species that could be at risk of becoming endangered and was created in the spirit of cooperation between 21 countries. The existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important to safeguard these resources for the future and mitigate ecological damage.  What steps can be made to encourage conservation?

This is an important question. I would always come back to the need for education so that those at every touch point with such artefacts understand the consequences of their actions.  Importantly however, it is also about creating awareness and engendering a cultural sensitivity. 

Stemming the procuring and trafficking endangered species in the first instance, is the key so tackling the issue at source is vital.  However, that is easier said than done. So, we need to educate on different levels. Someone purchasing an artefact covered in python, a crocodile handbag or an ivory ornament just doesn’t understand the significance of this. There is also a trend now towards the use of antiques and decorative arts in modern interior design programmes and even paintings themselves and their frames can have any number of materials embedded into them.  Think of sculptures containing butterflies for instance. The law as regards ivory is constantly being reviewed and new regulations are coming into place in the UK. It is preferable just not to handle ivory at all.

Exporting regulated items without the correct licence is an offence, it is effectively smuggling and can result in a prison sentence.  This puts a burden on transportation companies as well as the owners and their employees.

You mention 35,000 species and I have looked through this comprehensive taxonomy produced by the CITES organisation. It is really hard to identify all of these illegal materials which can end up in a myriad of objects. Border controls are stringent and one cannot expect a customs officer to be a zoologist and I have heard of items being seized at random even if they are not infringing the law, while investigation takes place. 

Naturally with superyachts visiting exotic destinations and the owners being attracted to beautiful objects, it is possible that they may inadvertently make a hazardous purchase. 

The CITES organisation and organisations such as African Parks work tirelessly to ensure that there is greater awareness around the world on this subject.  I am in touch with their Special Envoy to assist in this education process in a forthcoming discussion group.

 ‘CITES’; The convention on trade with endangered species and Cultural Heritage: National Treasure Laws on Cultural Property, must be respected when considering art on display and in transit on the oceans

21 countries have signed up to the CITES convention regulating trade on over 35, 000 species, and any infringement of these rules could result in preventing a vessel from continuing its itinerary.

Appendix I includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals. Trade in these species or even parts of them is completely banned, except in rare cases such as scientific research.

Appendix II: Contains species that are not yet threatened with extinction, but could become threatened if unlimited trade was allowed, this also includes species which look similar to those on the list, for conservation reasons. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally, but there are strict rules 

Appendix III: Species whose trade is only regulated within a specific country can be placed on Appendix II if that country requires cooperation from other nations to prevent illegal exploitation. 

2. You have 20 years’ experience in the arts encompassing a vast range of disciplines. Could you outline your personal favourite epochs of Art?

Personally, I find the Modernist Movement and early 20th century abstraction to be the most appealing.  It was a vibrant and very creative period in the history of art.  I love Rothko, Kandinsky, Klee and the German Expressionists, but also French artists like Paul Delaunay.  The Surrealist Movement and the creative expression in Paris during those years interests me in the way that artists, writers and poets came together to explore a new way of looking at the world that was changing so fast before their eyes.

As for the historical, I studied much ancient Greek and Roman art which fascinated me.  I love Roman wall painting and have explored how this influenced 18th and 19th century interiors, with the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century.  It was a good grounding as the history of art continually refers back to the classical period, even in contemporary abstract painting. 

3. Attendance of your forthcoming Managing Export Sanctions Risk round table discussion group will offer valuable knowledge for the captains and senior management present. When a buyer wishes to invest in a new yacht or yacht management company, what training in relation to the handling of art would you suggest to ensure a competent and informed crew?

I would first advocate a thorough overview of the objects on board, their condition and information we have about them.  There would be a ‘collections management’ process whereby we gather data and ensure all management, crew and captains are aware of the scale, scope and any issues.  Following this assessment, recommendations would be made for preservation.  Training of the crew is vital to this preservation and to assisting in managing any risk, especially if something is likely to be moved for any reason.  The training would include art appreciation, an overview of the art market so that the crew understand the yacht owner as art collector.  Then there would also be more practical training in subjects like logistics, placement apropos climate and light damage, risks with cleaning, insurance, framing and so on.  There is also a higher level where participants can learn more about art history to be able to converse with guests at a certain level (as they might about wine) should they be asked questions. I also have a ‘collectors’ services’ module where I talk about different service providers in the art world so that participants know what exists, should they ever be asked.

Pandora Mather-Lees offers a certified course: Training in the Practical Care of Fine Art & Design on board Superyachts, Estates and Private Residences, which educates on art history, contemporary requirements in the handling and maintenance of fine art and offers an introduction into art as an essential feature of the luxury industry.

4. Art reflects, mirrors, satirises and creates a narrative around culture. The purchase of high value art has a multifaceted purpose; it is a commodity and an extension of personal taste, aesthetics and values. Which historical and contemporary artists do you consider to be the most interesting?

I love the work of Auguste Rodin for its ability to communicate such a combination of passion, sensitivity, sexuality and energy in stone.  Rodin was an expressionist for me and his work has influenced so many after him.  The works literally grow out of the stone and are beautiful from whichever angle they are viewed.  Rodin has almost become over-popularised, but nevertheless it was avant-garde in its day and even now his oeuvre stands on its own and stands the test of time.

 Recently the Vienna Tourist Board invited me to curate and conduct a tour of the Klimt/Schiele Exhibition at the Royal Academy for members of a private club in Mayfair.  I had always loved Klimt, but not Schiele.  To me he has always been an ‘artists’ artist’ and aesthetically I found his work raw and grotesque.  Nevertheless, making a further study of his work forced me to understand him better, to delve deeper and find correlations with his work and that of Klimt and his predecessors in art history. I could also see how he must have influenced artists such as David Hockney.  This was challenging, but ultimately very rewarding and I now look upon Schiele with a different eye!  The point of this is that by understanding and learning we come to appreciate what lies before us.

6. Please could you outline which steps you would suggest to be best practice to a superyacht owner who wishes to invest in art?

 Don’t rush into it because you have found the perfect piece and want to acquire it immediately! Art is by nature unique and often people are too hasty to put that red dot on the painting in a gallery or art fair without doing due diligence.

 I am a founder member of The Art Due Diligence Group. This is an organisation established to assist collectors with high value transactions.  This could range from handling reputational damage issues for dealers, mediation for disputes, litigation, security, art law questions, actions for art fraud and due diligence on the object itself, such as provenance research and investigation of stolen art databases.  I would ensure that due diligence is done on the artwork, on the transaction and on the parties to the transaction. Of course now with AML laws becoming ever more stringent, there is a strong KYC (Know your customer) process required before handing over large sums of money.   

I would always say if a deal looks too good, this may be one of many red flags and so adopting the right process is vital.  For instance, we have a 36-step checklist created by an art law barrister and set protocols which should be adhered to, as well as using the right professionals.

Image accreditation:

 Pandora Mather-Lees presenting at Superyacht Investor Conference.

Other images provided courtesy of Bannenberg & Rowell 

Photo Credit: David Churchill.


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