What Worries Today’s Billionaires? Protecting Priceless Art From Flying Champagne Corks on Their Superyachts

A new course teaches crew members how to care for blue-chip art collections on the high seas.

Billionaire art collector Joe Lewis reportedly keeps a Francis Bacon triptych onboard his yacht, docked in London. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images.

How do you protect your blue-chip art on board a yacht? It’s a problem only the privileged few face, but it’s apparently a growing problem nonetheless.

The British billionaire collector Joe Lewis reportedly keeps Francis Bacon’s Triptych (1974-77) aboard his yacht, docked in London, while the deputy prime minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, is thought to keep several hundred works of art on his, according to Bloomberg

So what do they do when a wayward champagne cork flies or some seawater splashes aboard? That’s where art historian and conservator Pandora Mather-Lees comes in. Mather-Lees told the Guardian that she first set out to help billionaires properly store art on their boats after getting a call from a collector whose prized $110.5 million Jean-Michel Basquiat painting was damaged while on his yacht.

“His kids had thrown their cornflakes at it over breakfast because they thought it was scary,” she told the Guardian. “And the crew had made the damage worse by wiping them off the painting.”

In response, Mather-Lees started offering a specialized course (which costs €295 per day) for yacht crew members. Crews are often well-equipped to deal with an array nautical situations, but not art conservation. In the case of her client, the crew “had no idea [the Basquiat] was worth many millions,” she told the paper. “Now the rich are increasingly bringing their art collections on board their yachts and it’s vital that captains and crew know how to care for these pieces.”

Yachts don’t have to be hostile environments for art, however. “Something people always say to me is ‘why on earth would you carry art on yachts?’” National Maritime Museum conservator Helen Robertson told the Guardian. Modern superyachts are packed with technology and “can be very controllable. Systems for temperature and humidity can surpass those you would find in galleries.”


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