Expert Interview with Pandora Mather-Lees

This Expert Interview with Pandora Mather-Lees, Superyacht Art Consultant, showcases her experience in preserving high-value art in the marine sector and why superyacht crews need special training

Picture of Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Pandora Mather-Lees

We are joined today by Pandora Mather-Lees, Managing Director of Pandora Art Services in London. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today, Pandora.

Can you describe for us the lines of work you operate in and what problems you aim to solve for your customers?

I am an art historian with some 20 years experience in the commercial market; my current work involves protecting cultural heritage by training those responsible for and caring for fine art and design objects in a private setting.

The training is adapted for household management, butler academies and interior designers direct or through training companies. My main area of focus right now is risk assessment for captains, crew, yacht management and family offices running superyachts. As second homes, yachts today have hundreds of important objects on board at any one time. 

My job is to alleviate the burden on crew to avoid hazards, reduce risk, reduce stress, reduce costs and above all to appreciate and enjoy what they see around them every day.

Why did you decide to start the initiative to promote Art on Superyachts?

I was working on luxury marketing projects on the Cote d’Azur which included a project for Hedley’s Group Logistics and I became aware of the amount of fine art moved for private clients between yachts and residences in the area and indeed across Europe. 

Attending events and visiting colleagues at the Monaco Yacht Show each year I noticed that there was so much training dedicated to interior crew on subjects such as wine and flowers, but little dedicated to the very valuable objects on board. 

So this prompted me to create a bespoke course, utilising my art history degrees and my work over the years in many different aspects of the art world.

You have described previously some horror stories about how art is sometimes mismanaged on superyachts. What is the root cause for this mismanagement?

Yes I often joke that if I had made these up, nobody would believe me! The champagne cork popping into a painting is a classic, yet sounds like a cliché. 

This is real damage and apart from the cost of repair, it also causes the crew untold angst, wasted time and can be a career-limiting mistake. So, to answer the question, I would say ignorance, haste and misjudging the risk. 

On yachts, not everyone will be aware of the value of the objects around them and many of these are not what they seem. Crew cannot be expected to be art experts on top of all the other aspects of yachting and often they just don’t realise. 

They work long hard hours, can get very tired and can be asked to move something at the last minute. It is a combination of these factors which can lead to untold damage being done in seconds. Very expensive and exclusive designer objects also get damaged. 

There was one light worth some €90,000 damaged by throwing cushions into the interior in haste to lock up and go ashore to decompress. It just happens, but the more you can train and educate people to avoid it, the better for them and of course the owner. 

Why is it important for superyacht owners to display their art collections on board? Would they not be better displayed in a museum?

Yes and no. 

In one sense the climate on board can be managed perfectly, sometimes better than a museum, should the guests be accommodating and should the engineer and crew realise this when the vessel is out of guest mode. 

On the other hand pieces must be rotated, assessed and covered to avoid the effects of light, saline air and humidity. Light damage can be one of the worst agents of deterioration on yachts due to the number of windows and beautiful sunny places they travel to. 

The ArtRatio blog article on ‘Displaying Art Collections on Superyachts‘ goes into more detail on this issue.

Whether artificial lighting, natural light or bounced light, lighting experts should be brought in to verify the impact and to measure the number of lux-hours the objects would be exposed to over a year. 

There are other options out there for paintings and objects such as commissioning an identical replica piece. However it is often the case that many owners want to have their prized possessions around them to enjoy. 

The yacht is often their retreat for relaxation and enjoyment and in many cases their ‘preferred home’. Having been on board some incredible vessels, I can quite understand why. 

Owners use their yacht for entertainment, for business and for family time; it is there to share with guests so it will inevitably be a showpiece. It is a time to relax and enjoy your treasures and a manifestation of your hard work. 

Owners might be criticised for having a priceless and unique Picasso at sea, but I also feel it is a good thing they appreciate the art rather than storing it in a freeport where it cannot be seen at all. Owners also expect comfort, luxury, excellent service and beautiful surroundings. 

I think part of that comfort is having your own belongings with you and being able to feel they are safe at the same time in one’s own private space. 

When you conduct a collections management risk assessment, what red flags do you look for?

Well the list is endless and you have to be alert. Assessing the exposure to damage is the first task which involves reviewing the placement of objects and what risks can be mitigated. 

Proximity to sprinklers, galleys, windows, hot shower areas, passing individuals and so on. Guests and crew in the proximity of a work are often tempted to touch objects and this has caused damage to sculptures in particular. 

With this pressure on crew, I look to see who is trained, how au fait they are with what they are dealing with and what they should know. The next level of red flags I look for include documentation, export risks and itineraries. 

Artworks can be subject to confiscation over national treasure laws, endangered species laws (CITES) and more recently, the new cultural heritage regulation. Additionally there are the tax considerations – entering certain territories can trigger a tax liability. 

What is the most important recent trend that can impact owners wanting to display art collections on superyachts?

There is now better technology to manage risks with objects on board – such as your own – ArtRatio ‘smart glass displays’. ArtRatio’s cabinets and frames are indeed a good option and I am happy to work with you for this reason.
I would recommend this where an owner has an interest in maritime history, maybe a beautiful maritime map or old ensign, that they just had to have displayed in the salon to show to friends, where the paper, vellum or textile may be vulnerable.
The technology I mentioned offering a replica copy indistinguishable from the original can be a fun talking point for the owner, but it also provides a deep 3D scan to 1/10 of a human hair which shows up problems before the human eye sees them. This is so important too in preserving condition and hence value.
The advent of new technology is also assisting in managing an excellent climate on board, provided engineers are trained to use correct temperature and humidity where they can.
As for other trends, I am aware that customs officers are choosing to board vessels more frequently without notice which is obviously a concern as few are trained sufficiently to understand what they are looking at and may decide to confiscate something while they undertake investigations.
Too much fine art is moved around and moving art is the biggest single insurance claim (water flooding aside) so this is another trend to be aware of. Moving art between properties and yachts is therefore hazardous.
Family offices are now looking to develop their services and undertaking yacht management. Traditionally, they are not yacht managers so they need to come up to speed with requirements and potential hazards across the board.
Finally, crew turnover is very high from what I see. This means there is less continuity in the training and understanding of what is on board.
It is vital to understand that to have art on board requires investment in at least a one day workshop to reduce the risks.

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