Dusting the Picasso

19 March 2009 By Rubi McGrory

There stands a good chance that no matter what size yacht you work on, there are several original works of art adorning the walls or flat surfaces. It’s also likely that you stopped looking at them as decorative objects the very first time you had to dust them.

So what do you really know about the art on your yacht?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French Impressionist painter whose work can be seen in museums around the world and has sold at auction for as much as US$78 million. M/Y Corazon (the name has been changed) had a small oil painting by Renoir in the master suite. I do mean small, not more than eight inches; it was most likely a study for a larger painting. Still, it certainly was not a coming-to-a-hotel-near-you special.

And it was hanging in the bathroom.

Oil paintings, if properly treated, should have a coat of varnish to protect them from the elements, but this does not mean they cannot be easily damaged. Sunlight, artificial light, dust – even the oils on your fingers – all contribute to the destruction of fine art. But by far the worst enemy in the marine environment is humidity, especially salt air.

Art behind glass is especially prone to humidity damage. If not framed or cared for properly, microscopic particles of moisture can sneak into the material and wreak havoc by introducing either bacteria or mold which, over time, may destroy the piece.

Exercise great caution when cleaning and dusting the paintings on board your yacht. Don’t introduce any cleaning agents beyond a soft cloth. Audrey Wagner, fine artist and gallery manager, recommends using a dry Swiffer pad or duster (not the broom-style floor unit). If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call a professional art restorer. “One bad swipe of a cleaning cloth can create tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage,” Wagner says.

And not all art is hung on a wall. Sculptures and other three-dimensional pieces adorn tables, cupboard tops and other horizontal surfaces on board.

Stew “Jamie” once picked up a Limoges horse sculpture to dust under it, only to find only half of it in her hand. She and the engineer learned a lot about porcelain repair very quickly that day.

You could be touching a vase fashioned by Picasso’s own hands (his paintings range from $40 million to $120 million). Wagner again recommends using a Swiffer pad to dust three-dimensional objects. “You can’t be too tender when it comes to fine art,” she says. “It is always better to be way too cautious. Profuse apologies for destroyed investments grow old fast.

You may be spending your days in the company of some of the finest art on the planet and not know it. Even if you don’t have to dust it, be sure to educate yourself about the work; it will only make you sound more intelligent if ever asked.

Engineer “Jeff” shared a yacht with an original Jackson Pollack painting. An abstract artist, Pollack currently holds the record for the most expensive painting ever sold ($150 million). He is known for his very specific style, which involves pouring, dripping, spraying and throwing paint onto the canvas. He has even been known to roll a tricycle through the paint to distribute it.

Jeff recalls, “Guests would come on board and say 'what a tasteful salon, but what a horrible painting.' What they never realized is that the painting cost more than the boat. I felt lucky to have the chance to see it every day and learn more about it. I never loved it, but I loved the opportunity to experience it and be near it.”

Have you ever been tasked with caring for a museum piece on board?