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Fine Art Transportation. Learn about insurance, risks, Import license.

The transportation of artworks is a reality that implies certain risks for the items to be transferred. For example, they may be damaged or stolen while being transported from one place to another, like a temporary exhibition. Transportation and handling of artworks, whether these are paintings, sculptures, or vintage cars, requires a lot of security. It is also demanding of specific atmospheric conditions for each piece, a packaging solution adapted to the characteristics of the item, and qualified and experienced staff who handles the valuable cargo.

Some of the important art organizations, museums, and galleries namely the Royal Academy of Arts, UK, even write in their Terms & Conditions agreements. According to these agreements, artworks wrapped and delivered by commercial carriers, such as DHL or UPS or similar, cannot be accepted.

Different ways transporting works of art

Whether an art collector or owner of a gallery, art transportation is inevitably a part of your business. If a work of art is not delivered to your gallery or to your door in the same condition in which you bought it, it will be worthless, and you will not be able to enjoy the new addition to your collection.

Although it is generally overlooked just as a mere formality, art transportation can be tricky. After you have purchased that beautiful piece of art that you immediately fell in love with, and after paying the price for the artwork, this is the moment to consider the transport options. You probably don't want to go for the “white van man” offer, but rather hire a professional service, preferably someone who has a lot of experience in handling artworks.

You can also consider transporting the artwork yourself if it is possible. However, this might have some problems like proper documentation for each of the items you have just purchased.

What are the risks involved in shipping

According to some galleries, the biggest risks during the transportation of an artwork are breakages, tears, loose and missing elements, and smudges. Moreover, when handling an artwork, strong light, damp air or even cigarette smoke can be risky. Another very important detail is the way the artwork is wrapped and prepared for shipping.

All these questions should be asked before you decide how you want your artwork to be treated. Then you can decide whether you want a hassle-free delivery or to save some money and do the administrative work yourself. If you would like to entrust the whole process to professionals, hire a full-service art shipping company, who will handle everything starting with coordinating retrieval, wrapping, packing, crating where necessary, delivery, and unpacking as needed.

Vibrations as a destructive factor during transportation

Vibrations have been identified as one of the most important risk factors during transportation, especially when it comes to pastel paintings. They are the most fragile artworks because the medium adheres poorly to the support. Pastel paintings are made up of a complex set of layers applied directly to a paper or parchment. It should be noted that vibrations during transportation consist of a range of amplitudes and rainflow-counting algorithms, widely known in the aircraft industry.

As an example, let me mention the loan of four pastels by Edgar Degas. All handling operations were supervised, no accidents occurred, the truck was specially prepared for transporting a fragile load, but despite these precautions, a noticeable amount of pigment was deposited on the inner side of the glass covering the pastel paintings.

It is impossible to completely avoid any vibration of the artworks during transportation; however, it is possible to reduce it with procedures that are applied directly to the paintings or their frame; materials used to cover the packaging; selecting the means of the transportation, and its suitability for the task.

It is also important to note that paintings that cannot be prepared in advance of their shipping are more at risk, especially if the frame does not fit perfectly, particularly for oil paintings.

Insurance is an integral part of the art business

It might not sound as beautiful as “art and wine” but “art and insurance” are essential for successful artwork conservation and management. Especially when art fairs are opening again and art transportation slowly gains its place in the market.

When it comes to acquiring new artwork, it is essential for the buyer to take control of the transportation and insurance options. You need to understand the way in which insurance premiums are set. For example, a 5-ton sculpture, which has been displayed in a museum long-term, has guards in a temperature-controlled museum. A fragile glass sculpture, just bought in a market of antiques or an antique shop, would have much lower insurance premiums.

Risk assessing is evaluated by the nature of the work of art:

  • the degree of movement to which it is or will be exposed, the level of care and protection it is given,

  • the final evaluation is regarding the likelihood of varying perils such as theft, accidental damage, fire, or floods, with the last leading to the risk of financial depreciation.

The last will not be the same in every case. For example, an Old Master by Titian, filled with paint and restored several times and an acrylic by Rauschenberg with its surface of monochrome both suffer water damage during the transport. While the Titian will be possible to restore and during the process it will lose relatively little of its artistic value. The Rauschenberg will be destroyed, as it is almost impossible to match the pigments and cover the damage without it being easily visible.

What to do if the work of art is damaged

Have you thought of what happens if the van or truck suffers an accident while transporting your artwork? How will artwork be valued by the insurance company? While risk allocation might be a possibility for you, you must first speak with the shipping company.

In the transportation business, it is generally a standard insurance value that is established for all items transported, and mostly this insurance is much lower than the actual value of the artwork. If you have your own insurance policy that covers it, it means you are most likely to get back the amount of money you paid for the artwork.

But it can also happen that the insurance provider will reject the claim because your policy didn't include this type of damage. Therefore, before you believe your hired transport company, make sure you cross-check everybody's insurance plans to confirm coverage in case of the unexpected.

It is very important to check that there are no gaps between the seller's and buyer's insurance coverage because the risk of accidental damage in commercial transit is significant. Unfortunately, the expertise and know-how of handling fragile artworks vary widely, and accidental damage or theft is a great risk.

Why and in what cases do you need licenses

In case you are investing in emerging artists, you may not be required to obtain an import license. The importation of works of fine art, antiques and collectible items into the EU requires an EU import license. Those are deemed high risk, for example, items related to archeology and removed from monuments and sites, and those which are at least 250 years old.

If the items are manuscripts or incunabula only, the importer requires an import license if their market value is 10,000 € or more. The general rule is that the export of such objects is forbidden, with some exceptions.

The license is issued by virtue of the Minister of Culture of the country where the artwork has been located. In relation to objects that do not fall under the cultural patrimony definition, permission must be obtained from the country's relevant services. These types of permissions are purely administrative and are granted unless the item falls under the definition of cultural patrimony. If the item is not deemed high risk, a declaration by the importer that the item was not unlawfully removed will serve.

Collections must be checked to determine if the items fall within the scope of cultural property

The updated changes to the Regulation on the Import of Cultural Goods takes time to prepare and should be done well and with attention to detail. Therefore, collectors and dealers should audit their collection to determine whether the items in their collections fall under the scope of a cultural property subject to the Regulation and make sure these are accompanied by the documentation required to be allowed into the EU.

This appraisal is particularly important for collectors and dealers storing cultural property in free ports outside the EU that they may wish to import into the EU. Shipping companies can retain export documentation for a period of time; therefore, I would recommend that the collectors and dealers talk to their shipping companies in order to ascertain what documentation must be in their possession related to the collectors or the dealer's property. If possible, the originals of the documents should be retained by the collectors and dealers of every single copy that is required to accompany the item.

Also, it is important to know that artworks exported from the EU to a non-EU country, where the countries have no specific agreements, require an EU export license if the EU age and value limits are met. However, it is always significant to keep in mind the application should be done correctly. For example, the case of the portrait of Prince Camillo Borghese by Gérard. When the gallery in Italy sold the painting to the Frick Museum in New York, it applied for the export license from Italy to the USA. Some time later, the Bologna export office claimed that they made a mistake and the painting must be returned due to the importance of the artwork for Italy.

The public administration should generally conduct any assessment within 18 months from the issue of the license. However, depending on the legal grounds for revocation, the public administration is also entitled to revoke a license at any time based on the grounds of false or misleading declarations.

There are many things to keep in mind when transporting artworks, whether it is for the purpose of a temporary exhibition, a loan to a museum, a purchase, or just because you have moved countries and now want to have your collection in your new home. It is always a good idea to contact a lawyer for collection management advice and assistance.


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Gunna Freivalde

Areas of Practice: Arts Law International Transportation & Logistics ​Art appraisal

Gunna has obtained a diploma in art law from the UK-based Institute of Art and Law and is a certified art appraiser. Before she set up her legal practice in Brussels, Gunna worked as a lawyer and independant legal advisor in Switzerland, Russia and Spain. Gunna has been a speaker at various legal seminars and academical courses dedicated to art law and Intellectual Property matters.

She has been an evaluator and judge at ICC Moot Court Competition for the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies and the International Bar Association, a member of American Transportation Lawyers Association, UK based A-law, Asociación de Escritores y Artistas Españoles. In a personal capacity Gunna is actively involved in a number of organizations and fundraising initiatives supporting important art and environmental protection projects, is a Trustee at Tigers4Ever Board of Trustees and volunteers at A-Law, UK Centre for Animal Law.

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