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What Does It Take to Transport a 111-Year-Old Painting?

The SDMA Curator of European Art details what it takes to escort Maria at La Granja around the world


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Photo by Hailey Hofer

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s Maria at La Granja, which depicts the Spanish artist’s daughter in Madrid’s royal gardens, has traveled approximately 81,565 miles since its completion in 1907.

Maria logged her first trip on an ocean liner, to her inaugural exhibit at the Hispanic Society of America in New York in 1909. Then San Diego philanthropist Archer Huntington purchased Maria for $4,000, transported her here by train, and in 1925 gifted her to the San Diego Museum of Art, the first piece to enter the museum’s permanent collection. She’s gone on loan 10 times in the last 50 years to exhibits in Dallas, her native Spain, and beyond. Here, SDMA Curator of European Art Michael Brown details the entourage and special care that it takes to escort this 111-year-old lady around the world—or even just up the I-5.

 

Nonstops Only

While San Diego’s airport is closer, Maria flies only out of LAX, because it has more nonstop flights—layovers could risk overhandling. On a recent trip back from Madrid for exhibitions at the Thyssen and Museo Sorolla, she was driven six hours to Barcelona for the nonstop option. Still, she’s comfortable in either a cargo jet or passenger plane.

 

But She Prefers Driving

Whenever possible, Maria prefers road-tripping via cargo truck with air-ride suspension over flying, to avoid being too far from her escort. These instances require two drivers in the cab at all times to account for fatigue and shift changes.

 

Crate & Peril

Maria never travels without a custom-made wooden crate that’s about eight inches larger than her 5.6-by-2.8-foot frame. The crate is water and vibration resistant and temperature stable at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity.

 

Check for Dings

Similar to a rental car, Maria undergoes a condition report—essentially a 360-degree visual check for scratches and dings—whenever she’s packed or unpacked.

 

Time to Settle In

Maria must acclimate to her new environment in a vault or other secure area for 24 hours before leaving her crate. Then the curators of SDMA and the borrowing museum supervise while professional art handlers unpack her and complete another condition report before the painting is hung.

 

Never Without an Escort

SDMA curators like Brown (pictured) have an eye on Maria through every step of her travel, from the time she’s unhung at SDMA to when she’s put on the studs at the borrowing institution. Like a teen on Snapchat, the curator documents the painting’s every move via cell phone photos—even watching from the terminal as she’s loaded into the cargo compartment of a commercial airplane.


Maria at La Granja
​San Diego Museum of Art (in the southwest corner of the upper rotunda)
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park

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