"Immortality in art is a disgrace" - F.T. Marinetti (1876 – 1944)
Travels with My Art
July 30th, 2010

SHIPPING YOUR PAINTINGS if you are an artist exhibiting your work at a gallery some distance from your home or even abroad can be a tricky, difficult, expensive and nor without risk to the work of art. If you are the owner of a personal collection it can be even more traumatic as, unlike the artist who may ship pictures with some frequency and is therefore familiar with the procedure, the private collector may face this problem only when moving house.

The obvious response is, hire professional packers and shippers, especially those with established experience in shipping works of art. This is the practice followed by important art museums on those occasions where the institution does not possess its own in-house art-packing department. This bespoke service is the best solution to shipping works of art. However, even here the physical work is overseen by the museum’s paintings curator and conservator who, eventually, accept responsibility should the painting be damaged in transit. It is the reason that museums require that a curator travel with the work of art to its destination, supervise the unpacking of the painting and its hanging in the case of an international Old Masters show: and repeat the operation all over again for the return journey.

The private collector who hires the services of professional fine-art shippers often does not have the luxury of personally overseeing all stages of the painting’s packing and shipping. Reputable firms will give you clear answers to your questions and will show you how they pack and ship paintings and volunteer references from previous clients allowing you to verify their claims.

In July 2010 the author undertook the dismantling, packing and shipping of an Old Masters collection in the possession of an Irish state-run institution forced to close because of current adverse economic conditions. How we accomplished this might be useful, to ensure that the packing and shipping firm you hire know what they are doing. If you are brave, use this information to personally pack and ship your own paintings in safety.

Picture1
Hendrik van Balen Antwerp 1575?-1632 ‘Girl with
Bouquet of Flowers.’ Painting by Flemish artist from
suppressed Tullamore Old Master Museum, Ireland.


Even before dismantling the collection we had all the paintings photographed, including the picture frames, measured all the paintings and wrote down the condition of the paintings and frames and all visible damage. You need this information for insurance purposes and to ensure special attention is paid during packing of fragile paintings and frames. Also, attaching a small photo to the front of the painting’s wrapping is a simple way to identify the painting inside and indicate the front of the picture.

Picture1
Rembrandt van Rijn, “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” Irish National Gallery.
Travel container designed by the author of polystyrene,
balsa wood and air barrier in carrier case to provide a balanced environment
during the masterpiece’s travel for exhibition in Japan.

The picture frame separates the painting from its surroundings; they have been around for as long as paintings have existed. Guarding your painting from mishandling and damage, it is the mudguard of the fine-arts world; that is, while the picture is hanging on the wall. During packing your painting’s frame, rather than being a protection, becomes rather a danger to the picture’s integrity. Frames are a decorative surround for the work of art and are not designed to protect a painting during transport. Pieces of furniture in themselves they are awkward, heavy, difficult to handle and likely to have their corners knocked off.

Shipping a painting in its frame creates the danger that other framed paintings packed with it will press down on the picture surface and force it against the inside edge of its own frame and create a bulge in the canvas or the paint layer’s edges will become chipped. Prevent this by inserting a square of robust cardboard into the frame, just above the paint layer, before packing as an emergency barrier. Another useful technique is strong tape wrapped about the frame in a lattice shape so that the tape absorbs the shock of a heavy object coming in contact with it.

The problems that packing framed painting create explain the large heavy and awkward timber boxes you will sometimes find stacked in museums storage areas. It is one reason that you should consider the painting itself and its frame as two distinct packing and shipping projects. In the important Rembrandt shown here, we packed the masterpiece, minus frame, into a made-to-measure case that could be easily handled. The National Gallery of Ireland curator was able to carry the painting on board the aircraft for the Japan exhibition and park it on a reserved seat beside him. The ambiental conditions of the passenger section of the airplane ensured the work of art travelled safely, something that could not be guaranteed had it been shipped in the hold of the aircraft (where the much less expensive picture frame travelled).

Depending on your frame’s style, especially elaborate gilt and gesso or carved wood frame from before the twentieth century, you will be shocked to see how small your painting actually is when it is out of the frame. The solution to packing problems suddenly become much easier.

Wrap the painting in tissue paper, it helps avoid scratches to the delicate surface, and tape to the back of the painting. Wrap each tissue-wrapped painting in layers of bubble wrap and tape securely. Use a marker to indicate front of each painting or, better still, attach a photo of the painting; this allows one to identify, quickly, the painting inside.

The bubble-wrapped parcel needs to be protected against rough treatment during shipping. Danger will come from protruding edges and corners, the most delicate part of the painting, apart from the paint layer. Wrap each of the four corners with an additional layer of bubble wrap and secure it with packing tape. Protect the four sides of the parcel, especially important for paintings on timber, by making a solid bubble wrap sausage-roll that is taped around the parcels edges.

Use a braces and belt approach against the possibility of rough treatment or accidents during your paintings transport by creating a solid box enclosure for the bubble-wrapped parcel with rigid foam (Styrofoam) boards: they are normally used for insulation. With a Stanley knife and white vinilic wood glue cut and glue the six panels together. Your lightweight and secure container can be shipped or carried by hand, packed into a large carrier case and, artist or art collector, you are safely on your way.