I recently bought an original art piece from a Spanish artist I am acquainted with. I had nightmares of it arriving torn and stained from being roughly handled through customs or getting rained on while out for delivery. Luckily, I feared over nothing, and my artwork arrived in perfect condition wrapped in a thick shipping tube and then covered in stretch wrap. While I find great value in my artwork, it would not be considered particularly valuable to the greater art community, which got me to thinking “how is valuable artwork protected while in transit?”
There are several distinct problems that come with shipping some of the world's most valuable artwork. For one, accurate appraisal for insurance is difficult due to its original and possibly antique nature. Second, the antique nature of some art makes it especially susceptible to damage due to environment changes. In the Mona Lisa’s case, the piece is 500 years old and incredibly fragile. Now the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is not moved often, but it was placed on loan with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1962. This would be only the second time the painting had ever left French soil with the first being when it was stolen by a former Louvre employee in 1911 (Gelfand). Many opposed the loan of the painting in fear that the transatlantic voyage would cause irreparable harm, so extensive protocols and precautions were set in place. The famous lady made the trip in a specially made temperature- controlled case held within a watertight, fireproof container with a 24-hour watch of security guards and museum officials. As the ship entered the New York Harbor, it was escorted in by the national guard and met with the elite Secret Service as well as local and state security officials. While the artwork was en route to its first stop at the National Gallery, all traffic was stopped, and the transport group drove through every red light in its way (Gelfand).
Now not many pieces of fine art will warrant this level of caution, but there are some aspects of the Mona Lisa’s journey that are standard across the transportation of high value art pieces. The main one being a framed artwork should be packaged in a box within a larger case that is weatherproof to limit exposure to any potentially damaging elements. To further minimize potential element damage, plastic wrapping can be applied to the outer container, such as in the case of my unframed canvas in cylindrical packaging. If this is not possible, then thoroughly tape all seams or areas that could snag while in transit. Additionally, all space within the shipment container should be filled with synthetic packaging material, such as bubble wrap, to reduce unwanted movement. Though it is impossible to plan for every possible contingency, there are some standard practices for best ensuring fine art reaches its destination in its original condition. While I will never buy an expensive paining like the Mona Lisa, tips like these can help ensure that of every piece of my miniature art gallery arrives in the same beautiful condition it left in.