Off to Sunny(ish) Spain – Part 1

The Museums Service has just undertaken an important international loan of three paintings to the City of Culture Museum in Santiago de Compostela, Northern Spain.


The huge and amazing museum which forms part of the City of Culture on a hill overlooking the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela

The exhibition was an enormous one, the name of which translates as ‘Fresh Water’, consisting of 650 loans from all over the world,. The paintings we have lent are: John Constable’s ‘On the Stour’, William James’ ‘London Bridge’ and George Gill’s ‘Waterfall’ and I had the arduous task of couriering them….OK, I can see the smirks so I will explain the process of being a museum courier:

When you send a museum object abroad you use a fine art transportation company and, especially if it is an important object, most museums will send a courier with it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you travel with the object (although you might) but you are there when the object is unpacked to check that there is no damage and to oversee its safe handling and display at the venue. So to courier objects you need to know them very well, have very good records of their condition, and be an experienced object handler. You also need to be aware of museum security and environmental standards. It is a big responsibility (especially as the Constable painting is the most precious one we have), but no one knows and loves those pictures like I do!

Before the paintings even left, there was a lot to do as well, which Claire Reed will explain in Part 2 of this blog, and the process of the loan began last summer when I was approached by the Spanish museum. I had to get permission from Southend Borough Council (who runs the Museums Service), check insurance details, provide descriptions, measurements, valuations, permissions to reproduce – the list goes on. Finally, the paintings were crated up and loaded for their journey on Monday 10 March. I went to Spain to oversee their installation on Monday 17.

The following is a brief pictorial record of the day:



At the museum, there were dozens of mysteriously crated and shrouded artworks all over the place. I was actually very glad that my artworks were relatively small and uncomplicated to hang – some were enormous and heavy and needed extra support, others were very fragile.


After bringing our crated pictures up from the storage area, they were unwrapped by the Spanish art technicians ready for inspection…


This is Maria closely inspecting the Constable painting. Our paintings are in excellent condition but it can often be the frames that have suffered over the years – after all, they are there to protect the artwork as well as to enable it to be hung. Maria took pictures of every tiny mark on the frames so that a record is kept. This way, if further damage occurred whilst in their care, we would know.


This is the George Gill painting being placed with Marta, the curator of the show, giving very precise instructions! The larger work in this picture is our ‘London Bridge’ by William James, so two of the Southend pictures stayed next to each other for company.


Don’t ask me why but this is the Constable painting looking very tiny, hung next to a very large depiction of water lilies lent by Aberdeen. I thought it might be rude to ask why these two works were hung together but I am sure there are very good reasons – for once it was not my job to worry about such things!


How did that picture get here?! Of course I needed a Spanish omelette and a coffee after a successful installation. And the sun was shining (apparently for the first time in months).


Until next time,



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