The glass sculpture looked dirty and they put it in the dishwasher. The owner of the boat had cost 90,000 euros and that washing ended the shine of the piece. The couple of the same appeared chipped one morning and the crew blamed the seagulls for pecking the surface. On another boat, they tried to tear off the wrapper that covered one of the walls of the newly launched boat: it was an installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Burning candles alongside millionaire paintings are also common, as are festivals, champagne, and Picasso’s paintings. A bad combination that ends with the cork impacting the canvas.

They are not scenes from a Peter Sellers movie and it is likely that they were not shot because they are implausible, but all of them have been witnessed by the British historian Pandora Mather-Lees, who dares to tell EL PAÍS the anecdotes, without giving names or references. Work so that art in the hands of the wealthy does not suffer. Since yachts over 40 meters long began to be built, the boats have been a second home for them, the billionaires, who carry part of their collections on their ships.

There is more attention to the interior than to the sea

Pandora Mather-Lees

A club to which the Saudi prince and heir, Mohamed bin Salmán (MBS) could have joined, if it is confirmed that he is the man behind the millionaire bid for Salvator Mundi, a Leonardo in question. An art expert revealed a few days ago that the painting hangs from one of the salons of the Serene, the MBS yacht, a strong man of the Saudi regime, in low hours after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the monarchy, in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

They filled their interiors with beauty and forgot the exterior: “There is more attention to the interior than to the sea,” explains Mather-Lees, who made headlines last January. He knows the conservation problems of contemporary art in the hands of 1% of the population and does not skimp on unusual stories, such as the cork bursting the canvas of the Malaga painter. Unforgettable also the rescue operation of a Basquiat, buried by the cornflakes that the owner’s children stamped at breakfast. That painting scared them. The crew, a shower in maritime affairs, recalls the specialist, made the work worse when she wanted to clean it up.

“They have more space to house art, whether it’s painting, sculpture, or special ornaments and design. The arrival of the new Russian wealth has made owners like having their best pieces on board, “he says. That is why the interiors are designed with more and more luxury, with more art and with more vanity: “The owner likes to show his special pieces to his guests,” he admits.

The first to set the trend and send the most expensive pieces on the market afloat was the Russian Roman Abramovich. By the time his Eclipse was sailing, in 2010, interior designer Terence Disdale had decorated the 162-meter-long ship, weighing 13,000 tons, two heliports, two swimming pools, a disco, three speedboats, a mini-submarine, 11 rooms and 340 million euros. Price. Disdale had bought 35 works of contemporary art, including a painting by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, sculptures by Simon Allen, and abstract paintings by Trevor Bell, among others, to set the second largest luxury yacht in the world.

‘Head of a Young Woman’, by Pablo Picasso.

Mather-Less claims to have seen yachts with more than 800 pieces of art, with a market price that would double that of the boat. “There are superyachts with better collections than some national museums,” he said at conferences organized by Superyacht Investor, a magazine dedicated to reporting on the yacht lifestyle. His latest article gives the definitive and economical solution to watch streaming movies on board.

What about insurance? The main insurance company in Spain points out that, although they have made some exceptions “for some very VIP client”, they never insure on yachts, because “it is an additional risk”. The British specialist tries to remove danger from the matter. He says that the conditions are optimal, because “there is excellent engineering that can control environmental factors, especially when there are guests on board.” “If the captain is sensitive to the pieces, they can control the conditions often better than in a museum! It is a matter of conscience, “he says.

Lack of awareness

They are works of art that give the owner status, but are not valued for what they are: unique and irreplaceable

Ana Galán Pérez

So that they do not commit an “Eccehomo”, Mather-Lees educates the crew in heritage conservation, for 295 euros a day. They can afford it. He says that the ideal is that both owner and crew are aware that what decorates their boats is more than decoration. Ana Galán Pérez, president of the Association of Conservative Restorers of Spain (ACRE) explains that private collectors are often unaware of the risks that can affect their pieces. “Often these pieces are merely decorative and are presented in spaces of daily use. They are works of art that give the owner status, but are not valued for what they are: unique and irreplaceable, ”says the expert.

Both Galán and Mather-Lees agree by pointing out some risks in the deposit of art on yachts. Along with environmental conditions (light, temperature and humidity, as well as saline air) and the action of human beings, there is the threat of export sanctions. The most famous case is that of Jaime Botín, accused of ignoring the orders of the Ministry of Culture and removing Picasso’s Head of a Woman from the country without permission. The banker will go to trial for a crime of smuggling. And lastly, install the art correctly: if the Rothko you’ve purchased is too big for the room where you park your jet skis, don’t hang it rotated 90 degrees.

Rich things

Then there is Jeff Koons, who makes the yacht the work of art. It was designed in 2013 by the Greek Dakis Joannou. A boat over 130 meters, excessive, with pop Lichtenstein winks, in an echo of British naval camouflage from the First World War. The billionaire told Forbes that they did not abide by rules, programs, or plans when they designed it. “We did what we wanted.” The yacht is called ‘Guilty’, ‘Guilty’. Joe Lewis – another billionaire – has on his 98-meter boat (‘Aviva’, docked in London), a triptych of Francis Bacon, from 1974-1977, which he bought for 30 million euros in 2008. That same year Roman Abramovich bought another Bacon triptych for 77 million euros, which also rests in his ship.

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