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How to transport an artwork?

An artwork is a particularly fragile object, be it a painting, a sculpture or a piece of antique furniture. It is therefore essential to take all the necessary precautions for its transportation, whether it is done in the context of a museum exchange, the purchase of an artwork or the relocation from a private collection. While museums have professionals to take care of the transportation of the artworks, this is not always the case for individuals. Here are some tips to best protect your artwork during its transport.

Check the artwork at the its departure and arrival

It is important to check if the artwork is in good condition, before packaging and upon arrival after unpacking. This is called a condition report, which is necessary if you want to sell an artwork of great value. This condition report is first used to verify that the object is not too fragile to be transported, but also to ensure that it has not been damaged during the transportation. It must mention all the defects that the artwork could have before transport (stains, brittleness, perforations, various traces), the details of its assembly and its framing if necessary, as well as good quality photos showing the general condition of the artwork. This document represents a written proof that will be required by your insurance in case of any subsequent damages to the artwork.

The long way home I, Birgit Fechner, 2013, Acrylic, Pencil on Canvas, 140 x 110 cm

Prepare and pack the artwork

The careful preparation and packaging of the artwork is very important to ensure it is well protected during the expedition. Poor conditions during transportation can be the cause of sometimes irreversible deterioration. The packaging must be able to withstand shocks, which are very common during air transport, deformations, as well as variations in temperature and humidity that can be very dangerous, especially for old paint.

We generally place three layers to protect the artwork: firstly, a flexible and chemically neutral material to cover the artwork; then, a thicker layer to absorb shocks; finally, a rigid packaging. If the artwork in question is a painting, or a framed photograph, it is also recommended to use foam corner pads to reinforce the parts that are particularly exposed to damage caused by dropping the packagaing.

When properly packaged, the artwork should be placed in an appropriate container for its size, weight and fragility. Whether it is a rigid cardboard box, a wooden box or a hermetic box (depending on the fragility of the artwork), the container must be provided with a padding and a rigging system to limit vibrations, and to prevent the artwork from moving and being damaged during transport. The use of the rigid box is necessary when the artworks requires protection, especially during very long distance shipments.

Women in love, Zi Ling, 2017, Watercolor on Paper, 27 x 32 cm

Choose a specialized transporter

If you are unfamiliar with the transportation of art pieces, we recommend that you use a specialized company that has all the necessary equipment and expertise. These professionals are specialized in the packaging and handling of precious and fragile objects. Some companies also offer specific types of transport in adapted vehicles equipped with performance suspensions or interior upholstery.

If you still want to organize the transport of the artworks by yourself, you must make a specific detailed quotation from a parcel carrier such as DHL or FedEx. Nevertheless, while specialized transport companies are generally covered by specific insurance, ordinary transport companies are often reluctant to transport an artwork if it is not insured in advance.

Perform the necessary administrative steps

It is thus strongly recommended that you obtain a specific insurance before transporting a precious or fragile object. Some general insurers will cover the risk of damage up to a certain amount, to an artwork in their basic contract. But if the artwork that you wish to cover is of great value, it is recommended that you subscribe to a specific insurance which will be completely adapted to your project. The insurance will cover the risks related to the transport and manipulation of the object during its displacement (risk of loss, theft, damage…), as well as to finance its restoration if possible. If you want more information on the different ways to insure an artwork, you can read our article: How to insure an artwork?

Twist and Turl, Beate Köhne, 2017, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 100 cm

We also recommend that you are informed about all the administrative steps to take with customs, if you want to transport your work internationally. The circulation of artworks is very regulated in Europe, but the legislation remains variable according to the country, and it is the same if you wish to transport your work out of Europe.

In France, artworks that are temporarily (during loans) or permanently exported must be subject to a written customs declaration. A detailed inventory must also be sent to the customs services. Depending on the country, you may have to pay customs fees. You can check with the customs services of the country concerned for more specific information.

Here are the main precautions that need to be taken if you want to transport an artwork, as part of a loan or sale. As part of the purchase of an artwork, the transport is carried out by the gallery or the collector who sells the work, but in most cases you have to take care of the cost of transport. 

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